Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Dog Days Are Over: The 2012 Winter Sun 10K

The dog days are over
The dog days are done
The horses are coming
So you better run

This was playing in the final minutes prior to the start of this year's Winter Sun 10K. I really can't think of a better way to accompany the blog for the last official race of the 2012 racing season.

The Winter Sun 10K in Moab has long been a popular race with Grand Junction runners. Years ago, it was a fairly small affair, mostly made up of members from the Moab and GJ running clubs. From those humble beginnings, the race grew into one of the larger ones in our region, with typically 600-700 runners showing up to run the wickedly fast course. It remains very popular with those of us from Grand Junction for a variety of reasons: the proximity to home, the opportunity for Mesa Monument Striders members to pick up a guaranteed entry into Canyonlands, and the chance for us to represent and compete with some of the better runners in the region. 

This is the only race I have done every year since becoming a runner, and it's a pretty good road map of the path I've taken since first lacing up. I made the podium in my age group at this race the third time I ran it, back in 2009, squeaking into 3rd place for the 30-39 ladies. Then, the next two years, I won my age group, running what is still my 10K PR of 41:45 at the 2010 race. This was to be my last year running in that age group at age 30-39, and I really wanted to close it out with one last age group win before moving up to 40-49/Masters ladies in 2013. Ultimately, though, I realized that ANY kind of podium finish was going to be something I'd have to run hard and fight for; there are a number of fast women in my age bracket, and they're always "game on" at this race.

The weather typically falls somewhere between pleasantly cold and sunny, and brutally frigid, at this event. In 2009, the temps topped out at about 10 degrees; race director Ranna and one of her race crew had to shoo some of us out of the warmth of the high school to start riding buses up to the start, rather than everybody waiting for "round two" of buses. This year, it was truly bizarre to feel near-warmth in the air. I'd only brought down a long sleeved compression shirt, and was wishing I'd paid better attention to the forecast as this was going to be short sleeved/sleeveless racing weather for sure. Oh well-at least I had a running skirt, not tights, so my legs would get to breathe a little bit. I'd ridden down with a small group, and besides us, there were tons of other runners from Grand Junction and surrounding cities in Moab for this unseasonably warm race day. We got our stuff, packed my van full of people, and headed to the start. 

The temperatures just seemed to be climbing, and when I headed down the road to do some warming up, I was really regretting not having a short sleeve option. There was soreness in my body that had me regretting somewhat the decision to cross country ski the previous Sunday, hit a couple of hard speed workouts midweek, and do the "seemed like a good idea at the time," now somewhat traditional day-before shakeout run/hill climb/pre-race bushwhack on trails near the Department of Energy complex, hanging over the river back in Grand Junction. Oh well. It is what it is, I told myself, and even though I wasn't jumping out of my skin with energy, I knew I had to trust my training. A solid year of speed work was in my system, and a number of other running "firsts" in 2012. I was going to choose to be confident that I could hammer out a good run when the gun sounded.

Cheryl and I had a friendly wager riding on this race. I have the edge on longer distances, and she claims the short distance end of the spectrum. This was the first time we'd race something in between together, so we figured it would be good motivation for both of us to put a refreshing adult beverage on the line for the one of us who crossed the finish line first. She was also feeling the heat, and made a decision a few minutes before the start to strip off her shirt and run sports bra-only. I was seriously considering this-but, no, sorry folks. I'm pretty physically fit, but after four pregnancies, I just don't let that gut out for the world to see. I was just going to have to deal with being hot today.

When it came time to line up, I reminded Cheryl that it was NOT a chip timed race, and we needed to be right up on that starting line. When we got up there, to my surprise, I saw brand-new mom, 2011 Winter Sun champ and Olympic marathon trials runner Megan Lizotte, looking like there was no way she'd grown a human inside her recently. There were a few other focused looking ladies up there, and of course Kevin K, Kevin O'B, and Marty on the starting line. Another fast Junction runner, Jay Valentine, whom I'd never seen at this race before, was up there. We'd brought the gong along, and Marty's dad was up on the corner, already making some noise on it before the race even started. Ranna welcomed us to the "Last Winter Sun ever, if you believe the Mayans," getting a good laugh from the crowd. In that last minute I shook out my muscles and tried to empty out my brain as much as possible. I didn't need to have an endless loop of "I'm sore, I'm tired" in my head, I just needed to run and stay focused on the run. Ranna gave us an "on your mark," and then we shot off.

Video of start and other portions of race courtesy Kevin and Nora O'Brien:

This race course is net downhill, and the only hills on the course come early. It's pretty crowded in this first mile and I just sought to get out of that lot at the golf course without weaving, and running tangents as much as possible. From the start, there were 6 or 7 women out ahead of me, including Cheryl, Megan, Lauren from Moab who clipped me near the end of the Monument Downhill a few months prior, some gal as tall as me with pink compression sleeves, and Robin from Flagstaff who finished second here last year. Right away, there was also some other gal running very, very close to me. I mean, practically on top of me. I thought about shifting over to get out of her way but thought, no, she was the one cutting into me. With earbuds/headphones at that. So, I accelerated a little to try to get away from her.

It seemed that every time I did this, though, she'd accelerate back up and step right into me, even bumping elbows on one of these maneuvers. Getting into the second mile, she said something to the effect of "instead of trying to pass each other let's try to pick off other people! You're pissing me off.....just kidding!"

Oh, hell no. She then went on to tell me that this was her first 10K. I didn't say it to be Know-It-All Old Chick, but I casually replied "Oh. This is my sixth time running this race." I was here to run MY race. I was a little irritated but knew it probably wasn't intentional to be racing right on top of me; just inexperience. I tried to use it to fire me up rather than get sidetracked. When she next said something about "let's go pick off those guys up there! Come on," I replied with "I'm running MY 10K pace. All the passing I do is going to be later." It was both a reminder to myself, and my polite-ish way of saying you run your race, I'm running mine. Right after that, we got to the big hill climb, and I moved past her, never to be bumped again during the race.

Getting into the third mile, we were beginning the long, steady plateau with slight downhill. That wasn't a lie that this was where I'd begin my passing; it's always a struggle for me to keep up with the lead women and men on the one big hill on the course. In this next mile or two, I've always been able to regroup and make up ground. My friend Tom Ela from Grand Junction was ahead of me here, as was Art Rohr, a 60-something runner from Cortez. We always seem to be near one another at regional races, and I bet we might have a darn-near even split on wins and losses. Seeing him was a good sign that I was right on pace.

I was feeling quite fatigued, and kind of had felt this way the entire time. The year I ran that PR, though, I felt the same way, and I turned this feeling into a game, playing tricks on my head. If I hurt really bad, it meant I was running with the right effort for my best performance today. And..I was also halfway through. I played the "just 20 or so more minutes until you're done, and then you can have a beer!" game. I relaxed. And with that relaxation, I was able to pick up my cadence. With that increase in cadence, I "remembered" what it felt like to run hard and do well here. It's all about tricking the mind into not limiting the body from doing what it can do, and was made to do.

Run Fast For Your Mother, Run Fast For Your Father
Run For Your Children, For Your Sisters And Your Brothers
Leave All Your Love And Your Longing Behind
You Can't Carry It All With You If You Want To Survive

I was beginning to fight that second-half fatigue at the same time that I was really starting to plug away and make progress. I did pick off a few of the guys ahead of me, and could see Cheryl not far down the road, who had now moved past the woman in pink compression sleeves. As I was becoming more tired, I had to dig in even more. I knew there were a number of women ahead of me; Lauren was in my age group and long gone. There was a good possibility that even if I ran my best and hardest, I might not even make the podium.  I dug in, shut off my brain and just ran fast. I wasn't sure where Close Running Girl was, or how old she was.  I also didn't know who might be behind me, making up ground and targeting me to pass.

Hitting the hardest downhill section, I evened out with Art again. He's a really smooth, relaxed runner, and I tried to feed off that vibe. His pacing is also very strong and even, so I used this as another way to trick my brain into thinking I was strong and feeling great. When we hit the turn into the residential neighborhood at five miles, I made a slow, careful pass of Art, making sure not to step into him or cut him off, knowing we'd likely remain pretty close all the way in to the finish.  I could see that the pink compression sleeve girl was beginning to fade. I targeted her now; I wanted to get ahead of her no matter what, but she did look like another who could be in my age group.

Turning onto the bike path, I played more head games with myself. I just needed to run a "mile of awesomeness." All out. Hard. Oh, man, but it sure hurt. There's one spot on the bike path when runners cross over a bridge; a surefire way to tell that one is tired and fading is that they'll turn to the side to see who is coming as they cross. I could see Cheryl cross, and she remained intently focused ahead of her. Compression Sleeve Girl got on the bridge, and looked over her shoulder to her left. Blood in the water; I smelled it. I hammered over that bridge like a woman possessed. She seemed to know she was almost on empty, and should could see where I was as well. I chased her down the bike path, gaining ground, but also running out of fuel myself.

In the past, we would've stepped off the bike trail, headed down the road in front of the school on the road, and jumped onto the track from there. This year brought the first major course change since I started running Winter Sun. We stayed on the bike path, running past the children's garden (nice), moving around the back of the school, and then something really different-crossing a short, uphill grassy knoll. This was killer, but with all the Tuesday morning speed group meetings at Lilac Park in GJ, doing the short, steep hill at the end, I didn't seem to be losing any momentum. Then, it was back onto sidewalk, and a final turn into the stadium. This change allowed for something interesting too-a look at who was coming without having to turn and look over the shoulder, since we made nearly a 180 degree turn onto the track. I could see a few men behind me, but no women immediately nearby.

I had a split-second mental lapse here, and momentary drop from 200% all-out finish effort. Wait, what the hell was I doing? I put my face down to that zone just a few feet ahead, forward lean, kicking like it was the last lap of my life. I mean, maybe the Mayans were right. After the first quarter I passed Kevin K on the infield-he yelled at me to pick it up. I thought I was picked-up as much as possible but found another gear. I got another 100 down the track and saw Ranna, who yelled at me to push and finish strong. Dangit. Do I really have another gear left? Okay. I could see pink sleeve girl and I'd narrowed a lot. Turning the last corner I saw Marty, who gave a few claps and yelled "C'mon! Push! Push!" I could see the time clock and it looked like I might have one of my best efforts here. I didn't catch Compression Sleeve Girl but this was all about what I told Close Running Girl-Run My Race. Finish strong. I was thinking of my kids now; I'd really wanted them to be able to come down today but they had rehearsals and prep for their dance studio float with the Parade of Lights. I thought of them and ran hard for them. I finished in a time of 43:22. Going back later, I would figure out that this was my second fastest run at the Winter Sun 10K, and 11 seconds faster than the previous year. I finished, and saw Ed on the gong, now banging away for finishers. I felt totally wasted, and knew I'd left it all on the course today. Now it was just a matter of waiting for awards, and seeing how the age groups shook out.

I mingled with friends after; lots of outstanding performances, whether first-time finisher, runner returning to the game, or competitor for the top spots. Marty regained the title he'd taken twice here before. Kevin K finished a very strong third overall, and Kevin O'B had finished fifth and ran a PR. Cheryl knew she was around 4th or 5th woman overall, virtually assuring her a podium spot, and also guaranteeing her a drink from me. The wager had turned out to be a fun thing; an added kick to keep both of us on our toes, and working together while running our own races. Then, the prize drawings and triple crown awards (for finishers of all three "open" races in Moab, Thelma & Louise excluded). I was really, really nervous. Did I make the podium?

Ranna started with overall, and then Masters divisions, before starting with the oldest age groups and working down. Liz from GJ was surprised and excited to podium in the 50-59, then Elizabeth Schnittker, a long time regular, did likewise in 40-49. This was very cool. Then, they moved to 30-39 women. As soon as I heard "In third place...from Grand Junction...a longtime supporter of the Moab races....," I jumped up with a smile and relief. Yeah, I really wanted one more win. But I worked my ass off today. Without working my ass off, I wouldn't have worked into that third place spot. It was a faster time than what won me the age group the year prior, and somehow this was very satisfying in and of itself. I was officially 3rd out of 122 in the age group, and 7th woman overall. In the "Random Factoid Interesting Only To Me" department, the overall female champ, 1st place 30-39, and 2nd place 30-39 were all 30 years old. Which means I don't face off against them in age group until age 49! On the other hand, I join Robin from Flagstaff's age group next year. And Cheryl, who is strong across the board and wound up taking second in 20-29/5th woman overall, will be someone fun to race even when we're not going to ever be in the same division. Always some tough chick out there to keep it fun and keep it fast.

(First in age group, Lauren from Moab, 40:53, Second in age group, Pink Sleeve Girl, who is also named Lauren, but from Salt Lake City, 43:10, and me, 43:22)

Much but not all of Grand Junction gathered for some pictures. Anyone missing ought to be photoshopped would be nice to get a picture with everybody who was there but not right there when we gathered for the photo. In our attempt to have fun, we'd talked about getting Snuggies for the whole crew at the race; it's a good thing that instead, we got organized on bringing the Junction Gong, not Snuggies. It was 60 degrees or so by the finish, and we were enjoying being out on the grass in the sun and warm air. These people are my "sisters and brothers," if you will. We see each other at our best and worst, meet each other to run whether we feel like it or not. It helps forge tight bonds, and part of why our running community is so close-knit yet always gathering new folks.

I'm still on a quest to set a 10K mark faster than what I did in my best racing season ever, fall 2010. That said, this was exactly the kind of race I wanted to with my body, my mind, and my heart. I did it the best I could at any given moment (well, save the split-second letup entering the track). And it was pretty fantastic to see a big podium cleanup by my friends-not just regulars, but others who made it up for the first time.

There's one more event for the year-that's the Beverage Mile Of Awesomeness which will be hosted at my friend Angela's place by several of us who are also officially kicking off a racing team(!) for the first time in our city. It's an exciting time of progress and change. I've also registered with my guaranteed entry for another Canyonlands Half Marathon. This time, I'm planning a very focused and specific training season, with the end goal of making the podium for the first time there. I came close but no cigar last year; it's a good carrot to dangle for myself now, and something that'll keep my training focused over the winter. And with that, it's just about time to bid 2012 adieu, and welcome 2013. How will I do that? Running, of course. With friends, as the clock strikes midnight, another year of great opportunity ahead of us.

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