Monday, March 18, 2013

A Teamwork Tale

This weekend, for the first time in a year and a half, I laced up my shoes to race a half marathon. As you can probably guess, the long lag time between races of this distance had me a little nervous. If that weren't enough, I STILL have some of the laryngitis/chest cold symptoms from the cold I contracted the week before Disney Princess and I have just been exhausted and not sleeping well for the whole week leading up to the race. Needless to say the sum of these factors was that I spent the week before the race vacillating between being incredibly anxious about the race and figuring that I had enough strikes against me that the pressure was off because I was going to run a time somewhere between unremarkable and disastrous. When I signed up for the race I had 2 goals in mind: don't walk (more on that later) and, hopefully, sneak in under 1:24:59. I honestly wasn't sure that I had either goal in me but I also knew that the only way to find out was to prepare as best I could and give it a go.

Despite my concerns going into the race, I was also really excited for the weekend. As usual, Ellen and I were traveling together but this time we were also joined by a bevy of our Bull City Track Club teammates. I had travelled to Kentucky with Rachel, Jen and Caren and knew that I loved spending time with them; as a bonus our fab store owner Kim was racing as well. It was exciting to be going to a race with such a big team of women and that anticipation balanced out at least a small amount of my anxiety.

In the few days before the race I began implementing pertinent elements of the soon-to-be-patented Ellen and Allie official marathon (and now half marathon) prep program. I guzzled down improbable quantities of electrolyte-laced water, tried to sleep extra, ate A LOT (mostly carbs, taking an exciting break from my regular mass quantities of veggies) and fell asleep nightly with visions of my weekend packing list dancing in my head. 

Saturday morning finally rolled around and after a shakeout run/race-planning session with our Oiselle teammate Allison and some delicious crepes and coffee Ellen and I hit the road for Wilmington. Both the drive and bib pickup were extremely easy and before we knew it it was time to cheer for Kim's husband Jason as he dominated the 5k. Then it was off to dinner and some emergency last-minute St. Patrick's Day accessory procurement, green nail painting and finally, bed. Unlike most pre-race hotel stays I was able to sleep like a log but before I knew it 5 a.m., and race day, rolled around. After a hearty pre-race breakfast of bagel with nutella (thanks Caren!), lots of water and a LUNA Lemon Zest bar, it was time to go see what I had in me for the day.

We started the day with a walk/jog/History of Rap part 4 dance party on the way down to the start. Unfortunately we we having too much fun to work in much of a warm up and I was a bit unsure of how this was going to affect me. Before we knew it the time had come to drop our bags, line up, assess the competition and go!

pre-race (post walk/jog/dance party),
sporting our fab new Oiselle
spike bags and our lucky shamrock
hair clips
Although I was still completely unsure about how race-ready my body was I had decided upon an aggressive race plan: start out at 6:25 pace and try to keep it up as long as possible and run with Jen and Rachel. Jen is a 2:55 marathoner. Rachel is 13 years younger than me and beat the pants off of me at XC Nationals. I am a soon-to-be 40 year old 3:19 marathoner. You can see why this was maybe a hair brained plan. Nonetheless, 6:25 pace suited both of their race plans well also and I was delighted at the prospect of running at least part of the race with teammates. 

A few things about this race before we get into the mile-by-mile recap: the weather was perfect - high 50's, little wind. The course was almost completely flat save for 2 very small bridges and a few rollers in the residential neighborhood. And the race support is AMAZING. The water stops are all manned by alumni clubs of local universities and they compete for the title of "best water stop". They were probably the best organized and most consistently enthusiastic aid stations I have ever run by! I really have nothing bad to say about the race organization and the course. If anyone reading is looking for a fab half or full in the spring, I would absolutely recommend this one.

Okay, back to the running. Once we got underway I was surprised by how good 6:25-ish pace felt. It certainly wasn't as easy as I would liked it to have been but from the get go the pace felt decidedly manageable. We went through mile 1 in 6:23. Early in the second mile we passed the only 2 other women in front of us and the 3 of us merrily picked up the lead women's bike and charged ahead together. Mile 2 was a little quick, in 6:12, but I got a bit worked up about getting over the bridge so I know I rushed a little. We settled down in mile 3, hitting it in 6:25. (That said, this was the mile when my watch began beeping early. It beeped early for the remainder of the race and came in at 13.23 miles. I am sure we didn't run the tangents perfectly but it was interesting that the gap between my garmin's account of the course and the course markers happened mostly in one completely straight mile.)

Mile 4 came up in 6:22, still right on pace and feeling good. Jen, Rachel and I were still running in a nice pack and I was enormously happy to have them there. I took my first Clif Shot gel (espresso, as usual) at mile 4.5. Mile 5, unfortunately, felt really hard and was a 6:18 split. I theorized that the problem was that energy was going to my belly to digest the gel and told myself that I would feel better in the next mile. For whatever reason, mile 6 did feel better. We hit the split in 6:20 and I marveled at the fact that we passed the 10k mark about 30 seconds faster than I had raced a 10k in last fall. This was a huge boost of confidence. We crossed the halfway point feeling good as mile 7 came in at 6:22. 

Unfortunately, the race was about to get a LOT harder for me. We entered the residential neighborhood in Wilmington and our pace started to pick up a bit. Before I knew it we were dropping miles that were much closer to my lactate threshold pace then my half marathon pace and that difference took its toll very quickly. My respiration picked up significantly as we went through miles 8, 9 and 10 in 6:15, 6:13 and 6:15. Rachel decided to make a go of it and scooted off at mile 8. Despite her cold and stomach flu she was running strong and I knew that she was aiming for a sub-1:24 so I was completely okay with letting her go. Jen began to chase her down at about mile 9.  While I truly wish I could have gone with her I also felt at that point that I was absolutely at the edge of my capabilities. (Of course, in retrospect I am beating myself up for not having run faster or tougher, but that is another story.) 

I tried to take a second gel at mile 9 and, for the first time in my racing career I was unable to choke it down. Looking back I realized that I was working incredibly hard but at the time I was just annoyed. I held onto it for a while in hopes that I would be able to nurse it down over time but then realized that all I was managing to do was get poop-colored gel all over my singlet and the back of my leg. With that I chucked it in a trash can and actually stopped for a split second in mile 11 to wipe the gel off my leg so that it didn't look like I had had an, um, accident. In the moment it seemed like a totally reasonable thing to do but as soon as I stopped I realized how silly I was and I just got my hustle right back on. Ridiculous, but funny in retrospect. Maybe the lesson here is that I should stick to vanilla gels later in the race. (I did also consider stopping to find out what the heck was causing pain under my big toe but fortunately I had the good sense not to stop, sit down, take off my shoe and examine what turned out to just be a blister mid-race. Guess I still had a little clarity in the final miles.)

Although I was starting to hurt, a lot, I was able to celebrate the fact that I went through the 10 mile mark in a time that smashed my old 10 mile PR by almost a minute and a half. The boost of excitement that brought was pretty brief though and I quickly returned to swinging between the feeling of "I am exhausted, I want to stop, I can't do this" and hearing Carrie Tollefson yell "Get After It!" in my ear over and over again. Regardless of how much I wanted to walk (which was a LOT) I succumbed to CTolle's signature phrase and just kept gettin' after it. Mile 11 was a pretty abysmal 6:26 and there were a few jogging-ish slow downs in miles 12 and 13 (both 6:22's) but, much to my delight I never walked. Not once. This, my friends, is a first in my half marathon racing history! As my energy flagged and I watched Jen and Rachel race off ahead of me I just kept reminding myself that the best thing I could do was keep running hard because then I would get the pain over with sooner. So on I trudged. Finally in the last mile I started to calculate where I was time-wise. When I realized that I could run the last mile at slower than 7:00 pace and still run a PR I felt enormously relieved and my energy picked up. This obviously didn't translate into a faster split but I sure felt better about myself.

If I didn't have proof, I
wouldn't believe it myself!
Finally, finally I turned the final corner and the finish line came into view. I had stopped looking at my watch at some point during the final mile and I just mustered the best possibly kick I could. The clock was over to the side of the finish line so I couldn't even see it until the moment I crossed the line...when it read 1:23:35. WHAT?!?! A 1 minute 54 second PR?!?! Honestly, even now, I don't know what to say. I was just in absolute shock.  At the beginning of the year I boldly (and foolishly, I thought) had stated that I wanted to run 1:23 for the half. I frankly didn't think it was possible, and I sure as heck didn't think there was any way I was going to do it this early in the year and yet there it was. In big, light up numbers on the race clock. Maybe I will just take the rest of the year off!

Podium sweep!
Rachel (1st), Jen (2nd), me (3rd)
When all the dust settled, Rachel had won (with a PR) with Jen hot on her heels (also in PR-time), both about a minute ahead of me. I am in awe of them that they were able to put a minute on me in those final few miles; as I slowed down they both sped up significantly. We were so giddy to have all PR'd and  swept the podium that the pain of the race disappeared almost immediately into my mental rearview mirror. And I am just indescribably grateful to have been able to run with, and then chase, such amazing, talented women. I knew even when I was out on the course that there was simply NO WAY I would have run the pace I maintained without them and I believe that even more strongly as I reflect on the race. I gathered so much strength from being in our group and I know that I have them to thank for my massive PR.

5 of the 6 speedy BCTC/Oiselle
women...missing 2nd place
finisher Jen!
Shortly after we finished our fantastic teammates came rolling in...first Ellen with Caren right behind her, both also in HUGE PR's. Very shortly thereafter Kim showed up, rounding out our perfect team PR streak. Somewhat improbably our entire group all had stellar days. We spent the next 1 and 1/2 hours celebrating our races with a big old dance party (and free beers, cookies and coca-cola) as we waited for the awards. Then we finally got down to the business of cleaning up, heading to the beach and eating. 

Post-race dance party!
BCTC bull horns...and beer. All the makings
of a good post-race celebration!

At the end of the day we all headed home happy and satisfied. Each and every one of us ran our absolute best, mostly for ourselves but also because we were part of a wonderful group and we all wanted to do our best for the group. Okay, also (as we all admitted) because we didn't want to be the one person who had a cruddy day. Two sides of the same coin as far as I am concerned. As Ellen and I drove home we remarked (multiple times) how motivating it was to spend the weekend with, and race with, such a strong, funny, positive group of women. I know that for many people running is a singular pursuit, but today was a wonderful example of why I love training with, traveling with and especially, when I am lucky enough, racing with a team. Whether we ran in a pack or covered the race distance without having a team member in sight we were still a part of a larger group and that team bond pulled us all along to the finish line just a little bit faster.

Friday, March 8, 2013

A confession

I ran a half marathon in a tutu. And a tiara. I, who may or may not have been known to have scoffed at folks who run in costume in the past, happily and willingly donned a tutu....a homemade tutu nonetheless...and a sparkly foam tiara and trotted around Disney World 2 weekends ago for well over 13.1 miles. And guess what? I LOVED it. Of course, if you were anywhere even NEAR Facebook that weekend you already know all about this, but for the few of you to whom this may be news, there you have it.

Carter and me in 1991
at our senior dance
Of course, here is the caveat. I didn't love running in the tutu and the tiara because they are awesome to run in. (In truth, the tiara was a non-event...I couldn't even feel it on my head. But the tutu was kind of a pain to run in. Those things are NOT built for speed!) But I loved running in them because it meant running alongside this chick ---------------------------->>>
my friend of almost 25 years, Carter. Carter and I were roommates when we were juniors in high school and have remained friends despite all of the miles that have separated us over the years and the vast differences in our daily lives. While I am now a running stay at home mom she is now a running OB/Gyn and mom of two. Her ability to balance all of that while keeping a fantastic sense of humor makes her one of my heroes. When my family and moved to N.C. a year and a half ago, we moved to this town and this state specifically because she was here...because I knew that (despite all the miles and years) by moving close to her my husband, son and I would have family to help us settle into a new life. In summary, Carter is a world-class friend and a totally inspiring woman. So when she decided that she wanted to celebrate her 40th birthday by running her first half marathon at Disney I was instantly 100% on board. Just watching her get ready for this race has been phenomenal...when I moved here Carter's standard run was 4 miles at about a 10:00 pace, but over the past 6 months her long runs have creeped up from 6 miles to 12.5 miles at sub-9:00 pace and her weekly mileage has doubled. She worked HARD and by the time the weekend rolled around she was totally ready to rock the half marathon distance.

This is the part of the blog where I will inundate you with photos and a little race recap of my first-ever "girls weekend". There is some serious running in here (skip to the 5k for that) some long humid sauna-like running (refer to the half marathon portion) and just some silliness (see ALL the photos). Here is how it all went down:

Tutu at RDU.
All the cool kids
are wearing them...
6:00 p.m. Friday: we headed down to Orlando. Ellen's tutu was a little too awesome for her suitcase so she treated all the travelers at RDU to a little tutu-preview.

Once we arrived in hot, humid Orlando, where the forecast was predicting 90% humidity and record highs all weekend (uh-oh) we immediately went to bed. Super thrilling, I know, but Ellen and I had BIG PLANS for Saturday. Unfortunately, while Ellen went right off to sleep I opted for the "stay up almost all night coughing and losing your voice" option. Sigh.

Pre-5k. Notice that it is PITCH
BLACK out there?!?!
3:40 a.m. Saturday: the alarm went off. By choice! Ellen and I got up and donned our Oiselle singlets, my LUNA tattoos and warm up shirt and our racing flats and headed off to the Happiest Place On Earth. While it was clearly still night outside of the park, as soon as we arrived at the race start it was freakishly daytime-like thanks to all the flood lights and the music. Lots of music. The Funky Chicken, YMCA, and the Harlem Shake, family style. (?!?!) We picked up our bib numbers and proceeded to run many, many loops of a parking lot as a warm up, eat my obligatory pre-race Clif Double Espresso gel and drink a lot of water in a futile attempt to replace all the sweat we had lost during the warm up.

6:30 a.m. Saturday: Starting gun of the Disney Family 5k. With this comes my only complaint of the whole weekend. If you refer to the registration information for this event it is listed as a 5k. There are results of other 5k's that are run in the RunDisney series. This 5k cost $60 and 8,000 people registered. Given all that info it stands to reason that this will be a race, right? Evidently it was wrong to make such an assumption. A couple of weeks before the race RunDisney sent out final instructions that included casual mention of the fact that this would be a "fun run with no official results and no awards". Huh?!?! I mean, I am all for the fun runs of the world, but I would have loved to have known that this race I had paid $60 for and was getting up in the middle of the night for wasn't a race! I have to admit, I got a little mad for about 5 minutes when I first read this info. But then I decided that I would still run it, at race pace, and use it as a mental toughness exercise and a time trial.

When the gun went off it instantly became clear that there were plenty of other people in the (seeded by pace even though this wasn't a race) corral who were determined to race this thing. Two girls got out in front of me and were running at what felt like a dead sprint. It was pretty clear to me that I wasn't going to be keeping up with that so I just tried to run my own pace. By settling into a manageable pace I was actually able to pick them both off by the 3/4 mile mark. And then I was alone. In the dark. Running around Epcot. It was SO WEIRD. The music was playing and there were flood lights and a few employees getting the park ready who would cheer a bit as I streaked by but otherwise I was just running along solo. I went through the mile in 5:50, feeling the effort and the humidity a bit, but my legs were still turning over well. Because of the humid conditions and my cold my effort level was definitely greater than it was during the hilly 5k I ran a few weeks ago (and that is saying A LOT) but thanks to the training I have been doing I was able to keep cruising along at the high effort. At about 1.5 miles in I briefly lost my focus and started getting lost in how hard I was was working, how tired I was, etc. Fortunately I got my act together pretty quickly and went through mile 2 in 5:48. First time I have ever been faster in the second mile of a 5k in my life! The third mile was, unfortunately, by far the hardest. Obviously I was getting tired, but then...I went off course. Ugh. There was a small area where the course just wasn't clearly marked and I followed the guy who was way out in front of me the wrong way. I figured it out pretty quickly, but I lost about :30 total with that mishap. Even without that little scenic detour behind the bathrooms this mile had the most twists and turns which didn't help my pace. I came through that mile (per my watch) in 5:58. Slower, but still under 6:00! Even though I was frustrated, a little tunnel-vision-y and just plain tired I ran my last .23 miles (not .12, but .23 thanks to my getting lost) in 1:05...good enough for an 18:50 finish time and first woman overall in the non-competitive fun run :) While it is definitely frustrating to run that hard and then have an inaccurate time due to getting lost, I was thrilled that when I converted my time to remove that extra distance I came out with an 18:10, which would be a new road PR by 5 seconds for me! I will spare you any race photos from this event because I frankly look like I am either about to keel over or have just received the shock of my life (thanks to the camera flashes because it was dark out!) in each and every one of them. 

Oiselle super-fan Joyce!
There was LOTS of Oiselle
and LUNA love in Orlando!
Ellen and me, post-5k.
Finally, the sun came up!
Once Ellen finished her tempo run (which garnered her a fifth place finish because her tempo pace is now totally speedy), she scraped me up off the pavement where I was waiting for her and we set off for our cool down. The cool down was interrupted by a delightful conversation with two New Balance employees, a Oislle fan encounter (hi Joyce!) and, of course, a few photo ops. By 7:30 a.m. we had been up for almost 4 hours, run 7.5 miles & were totally ready for a nap.

Lunchtime, Saturday: Time for the half marathon expo, which was punctuated by multiple visits to the fab ladies at the LUNA booth (I was able to replenish my stash of temporary tattoos) the purchase of light up shoelaces for Carter and the retrieval of my "elite" bib, which I found wildly entertaining for some reason.
Carter and me, all grown
 up and race ready!

The rest of the day was spent napping, relaxing by the pool, drinking lots and lots of electrolytes and eating. All massive luxuries for the 3 moms and 1 non-mom who works 7 days a week. It was bliss. I mean, I really missed my husband and son desperately. No wait, it was bliss AND I missed my husband and son.

cookies soften the blow
of a 3 a.m. wake up
3:00 a.m. Sunday morning and a new "wake up early" PR for all of us. Once again, I had decided to cough instead of sleep so I am not sure I actually had any waking up to do. Once we were all up we celebrated Ellen's 32nd birthday with the gift I had been busting at the seams to give her....personalized iced sugar cookies! These may be her most fave cookies in the world so it certainly started the day off right. Once again we set off for the Happiest Place On Earth, this time with 23,000 of our closest friends, in the middle of the freaking night. 

with the 32nd b-day girl
Once we ditched our race day bag and walked the 20 minutes to the starting corral area I decided to do a little warm up. The only area to run was a .10 mile stretch so I just ran down and back for 2 miles. By the time I was done I was drenched in sweat - at 5:00 a.m. it was 66 degrees and 90% humidity. With conditions like that I knew that it was going to be a long morning. Once I hopped back into the corral I quickly discovered that my "elite" bib meant that I was considered qualified to answer lots of questions on topics ranging from "how do I improve my half marathon time so I can get into the "A" corral" to "how do I turn on my heart rate monitor and GPS". Bemused as I was I was also extremely flattered at this perceived expertise and I was happy to help where I could.

5:45 a.m. The gun for our wave goes off. Confetti...sorry, fairy dust...shoots into the sky and fireworks rocket off. And finally so did we! Holy cow was it ever crowded out there though. As soon as we got going I realized that Carter and her college roommate Colleen were MUCH faster than the other women in our corral and so we commenced project "pass 3,000 other competitors. Nicely." There was a LOT of weaving (like .3 extra miles worth of it!). For the next two-plus hours we ran through a LOT of Disney parking lots, right down Main Street U.S.A., THROUGH the Cinderella Castle in the Magic Kingdom (which was actually incredibly cool and exciting), past just about every Disney character ever created, around the giant golf ball at Epcot and even past the site of my running off course incident of the day before. While I can't say that it was ultimately the most scenic race course I have ever run on there were some pretty exciting and entertaining moments. There was also a lot of humidity and unfortunately the combination of the humidity and all the weaving around people definitely took their toll on our overall pace. Despite all of that Carter pushed hard throughout the entire race and had a great attitude, even during the rough latter miles. And ultimately, 2 hours, 7 minutes, 35 seconds, 13.41 miles, 3 bathroom stops (thanks humidity), 4 discarded tutu sightings, a 4 Clif gel net gain and way too many men in bad princess outfits later Carter, Colleen and I crossed the finish line smiling and happy and Carter became a half-marathoner. I am immensely proud of her and incredibly grateful that I got to experience this whole journey to race day with her. I may have even shed a few tears. (Okay, I totally did.)

8:00 a.m. Best part of the day begins...cue the ridiculous, fun photo shoots. I am just going to let the photos do the talking here folks. But seriously, what's not to love? When you are wearing a tutu and a tiara you kind of need to live it up, right?
Usain Bolt. Well, sort of...

the MoBot
Ryan Lochte, eat your heart out!

10:00 a.m. We sit down to breakfast. We have been up for 7 hours, have run between 13.1 and 18.5 miles each, have been to Starbucks and some of us have even taken showers. We feel ridiculously productive and also pretty darn entitled to a few extra pieces of bacon. The rest of the day was spent eating, resting, walking around, eating. And eating. Which made it just about a perfect day in my book. 

So, to answer the question that I am sure is on everyone's mind at this point, would I wear a tutu and a tiara for 13.1 (13.41) miles again? While I can't say that I think it would be a suitable speed kit, if Carter asked me to I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. Maybe you'll see us all at the decidedly less humid Tinkerbell Half in California next year...