Friday, June 14, 2013

Racing x 4

For 4 weeks recently I raced every single weekend. The last time I did this was when I was about 32 years old and I have always looked back on that stretch of time with awe that I was able to make it through that a whole month of racing. I remember how exhausted I was by the fourth race and I thought that I would never be able to accomplish a streak of hard racing like that again. And then all of a sudden I found myself back in a 4 week streak. This wasn't even supposed to happen: I threw the third race in "for fun". Unlike the first time I raced for a month I also kept my mileage between 54 and 65 miles each week (far more than my last time I tried this stunt) and kept up my regular weekly training schedule of a VO2 max workout, a LT workout, drills and 2 core workouts per week throughout the month. Every single week I thought I was going to if you want to find out if or when that happened, read on!

Week one was the Capital City Classic 10k. If you want a recap of how that race went you can simply refer to my previous blog post. But to review: the first 5k was fantastic and was terrible. Truly awful. I couldn't breathe and struggled through the second 5k a full 3 minutes slower than the first. When all was said and done, I found myself sitting on the curb looking like this:

Pretty much sums up how I felt about the race as a whole.

I would be lying if I didn't tell you that I was pretty freaked out by that race. I had NO idea what went wrong: did I go out too hard and blow up? Was I affected by the heat, humidity and pollen, all of which were very high that day? And most importantly, was it going to happen again? We (my coach and I) figured that the culprit was the pollen since my problem was breathing-related, but there was just no way to know for sure. Fortunately I felt pretty good during my workouts that week and managed to keep my nerves at bay as I prepared to set foot on the track (!!!) for race number two: the Southeastern Masters 5,000 meters. 

Southeastern Masters was my second EVER track race. Since I didn't run competitively in high school or college I really haven't been on a track much at all. I was excited about this race for two reasons, one of which was completely silly. First, in my first ever track race (back in 2007) I ran 18:00.51 for the 5,000 meters and it has haunted me ever since. That was the year that I set all of my PR's from the mile through the 10 mile and until this spring I figured that those PR's would stand forever. But all of a sudden I am finding myself running faster than I thought I ever would and I knew I had a chance to vindicate having missed out on running sub-18 by the narrowest of margins. So my goal for this track race was to break 18, and I really felt fit to do it. Second, I was excited to wear my spikes again! Nike had generously provided the Bull City teams with some sweet spikes for XC Nationals last winter and I love them! I know, I know, I am a total rookie wearing XC spikes on the track, but these things are so comfy that I can't see any reason to replace them with a proper track spike. So I simply switched out the actual spikes so as to not impale my fellow racers, cleaned off the mud and headed to Raleigh for the race. 
It's all fun and games
until the gun goes off
I was nervous about this race: have you ever seen an outdoor track???? It looks HUGE when you have to race around it 12 and 1/2 times! But I kept my cool pretty well throughout a long warm up and set foot on the track feeling mostly calm. And sweaty, unfortunately. Thunderstorms were in the forecast and it was about 90% humidity at race time! Just before my race my trusty split timer and Oiselle teammate, Allison, showed up, and when I saw her all my nerves just melted away. I was excited to have my own personal cheering section and ready to get to work!

This race was an all-ages, co-ed masters race, so we had everyone from a 20 year old college girl to 70+ year old men and women on the track at once. The upside of this was that I had a lot of people to chase and lap, which helped the time pass. The downside was that, after the 20 year old blew up 600 meters into the race, I ran solo. I did get into a nice pace groove pretty quickly and the laps passed at an astonishingly quick rate. (I remember getting just bored to tears at my first track race and I was dreading that. But it never happened on this day!) Before I knew it I was halfway, then at 2 miles, then 1200 to go and so on. I really never felt like I might not finish; while I was certainly working hard I was also always well within myself. Before I knew it it was time to kick for the final 200 and all of a sudden I was over the finish line. In 18:18. Bleh. Nowhere NEAR my sub-18 goal! Sigh. It is definitely frustrating to know that all I needed to do was run 1.5 seconds faster per lap and I would have hit my goal. I heard Allison calling out the splits of 88 and 89 instead of 87 but I just never shifted gears! Upon reflection I realized that I didn't pick it up mostly because I was afraid to redline and blow up. I also know that the heat and humidity played a big role. My last track 5k was run in cool, foggy San Francisco and I am still becoming accustomed to racing in the southern heat and humidity. So I chalked this up as a good time trial and mental exercise and moved on.

Race 3 was a last-minute addition, thanks entirely to my awesome LUNA sponsorship. Part of the LUNA sponsored athletes program is a stipend that provides for race travel and entry expenses. When Allison said that she was going to race a road mile in Savannah, GA on Memorial Day weekend I got really excited and decided that I wanted to jump on that bandwagon too! I have always wanted to go to Savannah, my family hasn't had a proper road trip in a long time and I was extremely interested in running a low-key road mile as a benchmark before I race 2 bigger deal ones later in the year. So my husband, son and I loaded up the truck and headed off to Savannah to meet Allison! 
pre-race hugs post-warm up
Race instructions printed right on the
bib...genius! Wish I had followed them!
I cannot say enough great things about this little race. The scenery of Savannah is gorgeous (I noticed this during warm up and cool down, not during the race itself), the race is extremely well organized and all the proceeds go to a wonderful foundation that supports the families of police and firemen killed while on duty. The race itself is a point to point race and you can actually see the finish line from the start line. A little daunting, but also kind of cool. 

On to the race itself. The goal was to go out controlled and then pick up the pace steadily. This plan went pretty well at the start: the first quarter was a totally in control 81 seconds. I watched as a few women blazed past me but resisted the urge to chase them. About 500 meters in I passed a woman who had gone out in 75 seconds and was already slowed to a veritable walk; from this point on I was in second place. Somewhere around 800 meters in another woman came up on my right shoulder briefly but I was able to accelerate just a little bit and she quickly disappeared from my peripheral vision. I went through the 1200 meter split right around 4:01 and instantly got really excited! I knew that all I needed to do was run one more hard quarter and I could run a PR! I hadn't thought I was fit to run THAT fast but now all I needed to do was hammer home and I would be set. Unfortunately I spent so much time doing split math in my head and getting excited about a fast time that I forgot to actually speed up. I know that I was pushing pretty hard, but I also know that, once again, fear of tying up and bonking was at the front of my mind. As a result, I was distracted (by math) and cautious (of tying up) that I ended up crossing the line in a disappointing 5:29. It doesn't sound like a big difference to run 5:29 versus 5:25, but when you are only running one mile it is a pretty big deal. All in all though, I can't be too disappointed: I finished second overall, I beat the masters female winner by about 90 seconds, I got the cobwebs out of racing this distance and Allison, Demian, Z and I had a great Savannah vacation!
Wondering why I had run so slow, looking much better than
after my previous race and collecting my very cool award!
Last but not least, I raced Bull City Running Company's hometown event: the Running of the Bulls. This race is in downtown Durham, NC and is notorious for being hilly, hot, but also a lot of fun. Not sure how those 3 features go together, but I was excited to find out. I was also pretty worried about the toll that the three previous weekends of racing combined with three consecutive days of mowing my gigantic lawn had taken on my body. So to say that I was apprehensive as I stood on the starting line would be the understatement of the century. I may have even commented that when the gun went off I was just going to stand still and let everyone else go.

Just a few of the amazing BCTC
women who raced at Running of
the Bulls!
Fortunately, when the gun went off I decided to race. I focused on not going out too hard: my goal was 6-flat, my coach's goal was 5:50. Ultimately my coach won and I went through the mile at 5:50. At this point I was cruising along in 6th place and just trying to run my own race. Mile 2 went through a residential neighborhood and had some nice little short uphills. During one of those hills I passed two women and settled into 4th place. I crossed mile 2 in an alarmingly fast 5:46 and instantly began waiting to blow up and get passed back. I was SO worried that I had gone out too hard! I didn't have to wait long to start feeling like I was blowing up: mile 3 was an incredibly hard mile with a long uphill and I was pretty much redlined from here on out. I wanted so badly to just pack it in and give up but for some reason I was able to hang tough and convince myself that I should keep going. During this mile, just before the long uphill by the ball park, my shoe started to bug me. If you know me well, you know that my shoe lacing is my achilles heel when running. If my shoes get too loose it totally messes up my gait and I run with an uncomfortable, choppy stride. I know that I should be able to get over it but once it starts irking me I just can't! Honestly, I haven't had this issue in a long time, and never with my beloved New Balance 1600's. But as I was tearing down the hill before the biggest uphill of the race I just started feeling like my left shoe was super loose. I made the decision to stop and fix it, which I think is the wimpy thing to do, but I did it anyway. I was probably only stopped for 10 seconds during which my heart rate went down below the red line and I got my shoe fixed up. Obviously I wish that I hadn't lost those 10 seconds, but at the same time I have to wonder if they really were "lost" since I caught right back on to the group of guys I was running with by midway up the big hill.

After my little break I felt a little more in control but still utterly exhausted. Mile 3 was a dismal 6:23, but it sounds like everyone had a slow mile so I was right on par with the crowd. Mile 4 was still a bit hilly and I took a few "pace adjustments", a.k.a. jogging breaks, to keep me from utterly dying. I am not proud of them, but they were better than walking! Finally, finally I made it to the last mile. With about 1200 meters to go I heard someone yell that "it is all downhill from here! Pick it up" and I wanted to yell back "No!!!!! I can't!!!!!" but I just kept going. Much to my surprise I even closed on the woman in third place! As we charged down the final hill into the athletic park I was able to pass her, thinking (foolishly) that I had closed on her because she ran out of steam. But no...she answered my pass with a blistering kick that lasted the entire way around the park and I had zero ability to challenge her. But as I came around the final corner and squinted at the clock I was AMAZED to see it just tick over to 30 minutes! The goal had been 30 flat, which I thought was entirely out of reach even before the race began and which I thought was gone for sure after the middle miles of the race (I had stopped looking at my watch at mile 2). I really thought I was finishing in 31:xx. But I charged as hard as I could to the finish line and finished in 30:15, good for fourth place, 1st in my age group (which is hard to win around here as one of my favorite teammates is incredibly speedy and also in my current AG!) and a 4 second PR. 

AG cow bells all around
for Oiselle Team NC
At the end of it all I have to say that I am incredibly satisfied with my month of racing. If you had told me that my best race of the month would be my last race I would have laughed out loud, but when it was over that was exactly what happened. And frankly, I think that was my best race because of the experience I gained with the other 3. At Running Of The Bulls I gave up my trepidation about blowing up and I just kept getting after it in the latter miles even as I felt exhausted. My coach has theorized that I have been racing too easily for a few years and I hadn't really tested my limits. Now that I managed to survive ROTB I must say that I agree with him!

pre-race eats
full race kit
A few constants regarding all of my races, just in case you are wondering: first, I eat the same thing before each and every race: a LUNA toasted nuts and cranberry bar or Lemon Zest bar about 2 hours before race time and a double espresso Clif shot about 5 minutes before. I also sip water until an hour before hand. Doesn't matter what the race distance is. This routine has worked really well for me and I have not had any GI issues thus far. I learned the habit of taking a pre-race gel from an old Excelsior teammate in CA and have done this for years. For a long time I figured that it may or may not give me a glycogen boost later in the race but regardless I knew it gave me a psychological boost...when I get tired I just think about that gel kicking in and giving me a second wind. Recently though, when reading the book "The New Rules of Marathon and Half Marathon Nutrition" by Matt Fitzgerald I came upon a section in which the author discussed the actual physiological benefit behind this practice! I am very happy to know that my mind game actually does work :) As for what I wear when I race, that is always the same too: 2 sports bras (that is another blog post in and of itself), my Oiselle singlet (unless I am racing in an official BCTC team event, in which case I wear my BCTC singlet), my comfy Oiselle stride shorts, LUNA and Oiselle temporary tattoos, orange New Balance socks and my fab, lightweight New Balance 1600's. I am a creature of habit so I really don't like to change ANYTHING up from race to race. One weekend I thought that I had misplaced my orange socks and I freaked out! Mind you, I have 5 other pairs of the exact same socks in different colors, but they weren't the ORANGE ones! 

And one final piece of advice: don't mow your giant lawn with a non self-propelled lawn mower the week before a race. As I write this I am laid up, unable to run for almost 2 weeks now...not from the running but from the mowing. We still don't quite know what I did but it looks like I am going to have a nice long layoff as my TFL (or my glute minimum or whatever muscle is actually the problem) heals up and reattaches fully to my bone. Sigh. But hey, at least I got an awesome month of racing in before the break and, for the time being, I don't have to mow the lawn :) 

1 comment:

  1. Great job! Time to learn where your new redline limit is. And I LOVE LOVE LOVE that first picture! ha!