Monday, February 18, 2013

Monkey off my back

If you have read the other posts on this blog, you will already know that I spent the majority of 2011 injured. If you haven't read the other posts on this blog, here is a brief recap: I spent the majority of 2011 injured. I strained my peroneal muscles on the outside of my right shin, caused my poor fibula to have to do a job it isn't designed to do and got myself into a nasty cycle of bone swelling and recovery. Finally, thanks to the mad skills of my 2 favorite sports chiropractors (Dr. Leo Kormanik in Cleveland and Dr. Jason Pirigyi in Durham) I made it off the disabled list and back into running. 

Just about the time I began running again I decided to go and get my USATF coaching certification. My husband kept asking me why I wanted to take the weekend class and get certified and I honestly didn't have a good answer for him. And while I did learn a lot, became more confident in the knowledge I already had and passed the exam with flying colors, the best part of the weekend was that I met my current coach. Andrew Allden is a totally experienced, seasoned coach and he agreed to take me on and get me ready to race as a masters runner. He has worked me like crazy these past few months! In fact, I ran 293 miles in January alone. For a girl who couldn't run much at all last year that was a pretty amazing feat. He has also pushed my speed to new levels. In the past 2 and 1/2 months my lactate threshold pace has dropped from 6:40 to 6:15. This transformation alone is enough to convince me that hiring a coach was the best thing I could have done this year as I can guarantee you that I would have never, ever pushed myself this hard (my LT pace would most certainly still be a comfy 6:40). While the work has been daunting at times it has also been immensely fun and rewarding to put in the work and see the improvement.

Of course, with this kind of training Two weekends ago I looked at my schedule for the upcoming week and I saw that Andrew had put a 5k on my log for the following Sunday. Cue the heartburn. Seriously folks, I was a wreck the whole week! Every single time I tried to think about the race my heart rate went up. It was ridiculous. But I knew I had to do it, both as a barometer of my fitness and to get the racing monkey off my back. 

Part of my no-fail
pre-race meal
After a week of track work, a hard tempo run and a long run on Friday with my good friend Carter (who is prepping for her first half marathon next weekend!) it was finally time to race. I can't say that I really tapered at all, although I ran an easy 12.5 miles Friday and an easy 4 miles Saturday. On Sunday morning I got up and headed out for a 3 and 1/2 mile shakeout run. The race wasn't until 2 p.m. so I knew I had to structure the day a little differently than a regular race day. Post-run I had a big baked sweet potato, a latte and I did a LOT of laundry. At noon I downed my favorite flavor of LUNA bar (lemon zest!) and packed up. 

I am very, very lucky to have a husband, son and friend who are willing to give up the better part of a Sunday afternoon to come to a race with me, so fortunately I didn't have to go to the race solo. Instead I had the awesome cheering section of D and my son Z and Carter came along to race as well. Just having them there took my anxiety down by a big notch. As we all piled into the car I began to feel a little more calm. Once we hit the road there was no going back, so the anxiety abated even a little more.

With Carter, my high
school roommate,
friend of 25 years and
a fab runner in her own
And then, as we approached the race course, we drove up a BIG hill. Uh oh. I knew the course had been changed and was "on top of Dix Hill" but I really didn't know how big of a hill we were talking about. The answer was big. And the top of the hill was NOT big enough to accommodate a whole 5k on its crest. This was not going to be a flat race. During our warm up Carter and I got a nice idea of just how hilly the course was, but amazingly, instead of the hills making me more nervous they actually made me feel significantly more calm. There was NO way this was going to be a fast race so I just threw all of my attachment to pace and time out the window.

With the course preview done it was finally time to start. Just before I jumped into the start area my husband reminded me of my race plan (relax at the start, focus between 2k and 4k) and also reminded me that I tend to thrive on the uphills. Those reminders proved to be immensely helpful to me over the course of the race. I then quickly sucked down a double espresso clif shot for good measure, found my Oiselle teammate Allison, lined up and before I knew it we were off. 

Mile one: the start was downhill...for about 100 meters. We then turned, leveled off briefly and started a 1/2 mile or so uphill. As soon as the road pitched up the one girl ahead of me put on the brakes and I was alone in front of the women. This was a little daunting mentally but I just tried to relax and keep my effort in check. We finally crested the top, turned and started downhill. I thought about pushing all the downhills but very quickly realized that the prudent thing to do was to use them to recover unless I was in a situation in which I NEEDED to push. I hit the mile in 5:50 and felt surprisingly good.

Mile two: We continued downhill and then quickly headed back uphill, steeper this time. I passed a whole pack of men, which was entertaining. A woman cheered "first, first girl!" and I chuckled at the thought that she thought I was a generation younger than I am. This mile featured a lovely 50 meter out and back with a hairpin turn around a cone. Evidently this was necessary to allow the race to have the start and finish line at the same place. I think I would have voted to have just pushed the start line back 100 meters, the finish line forward 100 meters or some combo of the two. Running down a hill, slowing dramatically to go a round a cone and then having to accelerate back up the same hill is just not a recipe for speed. Mile 2 was still 5:53 however, so that is okay.

Mile three: Oh. My. Gosh. This mile started midway between the bottom of the hill and the top of the hill (where the finish line was) The first .2 or so was a steep downhill all the way to the bottom. Then we headed back up. And up, and up. At mile 2.5 we hit a ridiculously steep section then the course mercifully transitioned into a much gentler grade. I knew that I wouldn't get caught at this point so I did relax a little bit but I just kept pushing and willed myself not to walk. I was ultimately successful on both fronts and despite feeling like I was going to die I did manage to pass a few guys who were clearly suffering even worse. I finally hit the 3 mile mark in 6:05.

With the finish line in sight my legs felt like rubber but I mustered a kick (5:14 pace) and crossed the line in 18:34. I was totally spent but I had, for the first time in my 5k running history, really parsed out my energy well over the course. I hadn't looked at my watch since mile 1 and I was THRILLED with the time. I have been working my tail off lately, but I know from past experience that sometimes good training doesn't necessarily yield good race results. Not to say that I won't screw up a 5k in the future, but on this day it worked out for me and I
am grateful for that. I was also pleased that after the first 1/2 mile I was not passed by a single person and I managed to pass a ton of guys (I was 16th overall I think). For someone who tends to start fast and then struggle this was a big accomplishment. And really, more than anything, I was just so happy to be running injury-free and to have the "getting back to racing" monkey off my back! I can't wait for the next one this coming weekend (and it will be flat!!!). 

Carter with her age
group award!
Nice 1-2 finish for
Oiselle team NC! 

An added Oiselle teammate Allison finished second and my friend Carter WON the women's 40-44 division. I have watched Carter develop as a runner this year and watching her discover her name at the top of her age group was probably the best part of my entire day.

So there you have it, the "first race back" check box has been checked. Of course, it isn't all puppies and roses in my running world: in the week since the race I have been reminded of how fickle the sport of running can be as I managed to both get sick and re-aggravate my temperamental popliteus muscle (for the 99.9% of you who don't have a clue what this muscle is, it is a small and obscure muscle behind the knee that can becomes appallingly tender when I overpronate, run in the rain and wiggle my foot in my wet shoe, etc.). But challenges like that are as much a part of running as having a great race and after a year off of running. Thankfully the illness is behind me, and with a little crackerjack active release work hopefully the sore muscle will be a thing of the past before this weekend's racing begins!

(P.S. Lest you worry that I
am taking my running too seriously,
my next race report will be
featuring this accessory...)