Wednesday, October 17, 2012

All The Other Chicks With the Pumped Up Kicks: A Weekend Wrap-Up

This week, after the mayhem and excitement of the big triathlon week, I resumed what looked like one of my best running weeks in a long time, hitting all my regular workouts, and additionally made it in to yoga for the third Monday in a row. Heated power yoga is something that had been largely absent from my summer fitness routine but always provided me with good core stability, balance, and flexibility. Additionally, it's a good outlet for purging any daily stress, turning my mind and body to mush by the end, and I haven't met a person there who wasn't pretty cool. Getting back in that environment has kept me feeling fresh, and motivated to work hard.

As the weekend approached, our weekly running club e-mail came out with reminders for all the upcoming week's events. Turned out there was a 5K on Saturday morning, something new that a couple of local churches were putting on to benefit Colorado Discover Ability, a pretty sweet group that helps people with disabilities get out to enjoy a variety of outdoor activities like skiing, snowboarding, rafting, and climbing. They were serving a full breakfast after the race, too. I hadn't heard anything about the race until then but was totally down with supporting CDA, and consuming mass quantities of food. I was a little tired following a the triathlon and a good training week, so I didn't commit one way or another.

Getting up on Saturday, I was focused pretty intently on my coffee, being a slug, and tracking friends at other various races online. I decided, for that reason, that I needed to get up and go do something, so the 5K was on. Heading down to a local park in a cool drizzle, a little tired and not mega-motivated, I thought hmmm, maybe I should've stayed home but I'm here and committed now. 

There hadn't been much publicity on this race so the crowd was pretty small. That said, they'd succeeded in getting out a variety of people of differing abilities. Looking around, it was strange that I did not see any of the men who could regularly be found in the top-10 at any given local race. Odd, but there have been a number of races on the local schedule recently, and some bigger fall races coming up for lots of people. I didn't know a lot of the people here (also unusual), though, so I knew anything could happen. When it was time to line up, another tall gal I remembered from races a few years ago toed the line near the front with me, and we took off up the road a few moments later.

Right away, I was in the lead. Weird! And right away, I was on a steady uphill. I shut up that part of my brain that started asking "WHY are we doing this, again?" and just trying to establish a good rhythm. As I was doing this, Annie, that tall runner chick, moved past me. She got about ten feet ahead but I increased my cadence and didn't let her pull any further away. Getting to the top of the first hill, it was pretty cool to see the older women working the aid station by the church where we'd finish, and get that positive energy back from them when they saw two ladies coming past one and two. 

Turning the corner, we got a break from the hill, and I felt a bit more settled. I pushed, and although Annie still was ahead of me, I was able to kick it enough to not let her pull far away. Every time I kicked, though, she'd take it up more and I just wasn't catching up to her. 

Turning downhill, which is usually my forte, I realized I was racing someone who was sort of identical-tall, longer-legged, and able to hammer with a high cadence. She actually widened our gap slightly here even though I think I was starting to pick up my pace. I stayed on pace, though, and didn't let her slip away totally. Taking several twists and turns through a local 'hood, we came back to that hill climb we'd run at the beginning, where we'd go uphill and then turn at the church for the finish. 

Moving up the hill, I finally started making up some ground. I didn't know what kind of finisher she was but was now nearly right behind her as we reached the top of the last hill. As we rounded the final corner, I prepared to make my move but she wasn't rolling over and dying for me, rounding smack in the center of the  curve with not enough room to pass on the inside. So, I took the longer, harder, outside pass and just ran like hell. I thought for sure she'd kick it up and we'd be racing hard to the finish but that was sort of the end of it. I made a clean break, and lengthened all the way out to what wound up looking like about a 14 second overall win-a first for me-at 21:35. Would that time normally even win the ladies division at a race? No. You race whomever shows up, though, and I was happy to log the win, get my speed on for the day, and enjoy straight up, all-out racing with another lady.

The next day, I was feeling especially tired, but it was shaping up to be a beautiful Sunday. I needed a long run to continue preparation for the Rim Rock Marathon, and the Run To Whitewater was an ideal opportunity that would provide a good challenge, and change of pace from regular long runs on the Colorado National Monument. My friend Cheryl is running Rim Rock as her very first marathon, and I'd told her I'd thought this would be a good training opportunity for her too. So, we set about our musical cars routine early, driving out to Whitewater, leaving my car, and riding back to the Bangs Canyon staging area in her truck. While there'd been a huge crowd here the year before, this freebie club run seemed to be back to its typical dozen-or-so runner rate. This was perfect. I was tired from the day before but there's a great benefit to be gained from back-to-back hard runs, as I've learned over the past few years. I planned to "race" this with Cheryl most of the way, at "training run plus" pace, as I like to call it. 

Getting started, the legs were a bit jello-y but there was really no pressure today to hammer like this was my goal race for the year. The leaves were turning lovely golden, orange and red shades, and we runners were really the only ones out there. We kept it going down the first steady downhill of slickrock and then began the first good climb, running some and hiking other sections. Cheryl meandered a bit ahead but a few miles in we kind of evened out and continued to run mostly together for quite some time, kind of flip-flopping the lead several times. We had a gorgeous backdrop of autumn leaves and panoramic views of Western Colorado as we made our way toward Whitewater, and navigated well along the way, not missing any turns.

Not missing any turns, that is, until we got to a closed gate. Confused, we looked at it and couldn't figure out how we lost the trail, and ran down the length of fence to which it was attached. Soon, I realized that we just needed to go through the gate, and that it was confusing because it had been open the year prior. Stepping through the gate, things looked familiar again. We'd wasted a good five minutes on that detour but were now back on track.

Now, we were getting some nice downhill. This course is sort of like Rim Rock in that way, with a lot of climb in the beginning and a lot of descent to finish. It was kind of rocky but my feet seemed to be holding up fine. We passed our one course volunteer who offered us water and snacks, but kept going. When we hit the sign that said "Two Miles To Go! Pizza!" I have never seen anyone take off as fast as Cheryl did. That kick wasn't happening for me today but I accelerated up what I could, moving toward that pizza.

At one mile to go, there was a sign that said "One Mile! Beer!" Okay, NOW we're talking. While this is advertised as "self-supported," and you're told to take care of yourself, the race directors do a nice job of having good directions to start, and food and beverage at the finish. The fun part at this race is that you crest a hill where those in the finish area spot you before you spot them, and then get to drop and switch back down to them. I came around the last curve, heard them whooping, and could see that Cheryl had just crossed into the lot where the finish was located. Two minutes later, I was in the lot too, in a total of 3:21. This was about 20 minutes faster than the year prior. Not bad on tired legs and not watching the clock. Probably the best part of this run was the post-race hang, catching up with people I don't see all the time, and even learning that Conrad, one of the people who puts on this race, has run all the major 100 mile races...Hardrock, Leadville, and even went to Western States for his honeymoon with his race-director wife Kim. You think you know the people in your running community pretty well, and then get to hang out and realize there's even more cool stuff that folks don't necessarily talk about every day.

There was one glitch for the mission; while I was in the finish area, some mean old bee sat on my finger and stung me, the first time in my life I've experienced a bee sting. Man, that hurt like a bitch. My brother had some pretty severe childhood allergies, including severe anaphalaxis to bee stings, requiring a two-year series of allergy vaccinations. Believe it or not, I had NEVER in my life been stung by a bee before this day at age 39, and after I yelped from the sting, I had a moment of panic, not knowing if I too had the same genetic makeup that would cause a severe reaction to the sting. Without even thinking about it, Cheryl and Kim flew into action, Kim holding my finger, and Cheryl using a knife (no tweezers handy) to scrape out the stinger. Before I knew it, it was out. There was no water immediately handy-just gatorade and beer. So, then, Kim made a compound of beer and dirt, and then mashed it onto my finger to help draw out poison. Brilliant, and it felt better already. I didn't know Kim that well before Sunday, but I can tell you she's above and beyond good people. You never know when you might need someone to form a compounding pharmacy at the side of a trail. A few days later, that bee sting site feels fine, though I've been advised that it's the second sting for which I should be prepared, and watch carefully for any reaction.

Now, I'm in the week before The Other Half. It's a special race to me, full of beauty, and without making any deep, literal life comparisons, has been full of ups and downs. I ran my first, best, and worst half marathons here. I'm not sure what this year will bring, but I'm as open and optimistic as I've ever been to the good possibilities, and committing to the work that'll bring me to the finish.

**In a postscript to the "Matt" in my age group at the triathlon: received an email from the race director shortly after publishing last week's blog, informing me that they'd found an error in the results that had moved me into third place in my age group, and would thus be mailing an award out to me. I wasn't going to ask for it, so it's icing that they took the time to let me know they'd corrected results and would be sending the hardware, even giving me my choice of gecko (there are brightly colored geckos on all the plaques in a variety of different color palates). It should arrive in the mail shortly.**

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