Thursday, April 16, 2015

Racing roundup, late 2014-early 2015 edition

Oh hey there blogesphere! I bet you thought I had forgotten about you. That wouldn’t be a big surprise frankly, since I haven’t written a blog post in NINE months! It isn’t that I haven’t had anything to say (I have about 10 half-written posts lying around) or that I haven’t been running and racing (there’s been plenty of that). It’s just that on the totem pole of life priorities blogging about my running hobby has fallen pretty far down the list. But I’m putting an end to that today! So bear with me while I spit out a super-quick recap of everything that has happened in the past 9 months leading up to this past weekend’s Cherry Blossom 9.?? Miler up in D.C. I apologize that this is a long post, but hopefully I have learned my lesson and will blog a little more often, thereby sparing you from these marathon posts!

So here we go: nine months of racing, abbreviated:

Lets go way, way back to last summer…after outdoor nationals last July my body decided that I needed a little break (a.k.a. I strained a hamstring) so instead of building on that fitness I took a detour to the local outdoor pool for a few weeks.  This seems to be the theme of racing as a masters runner: whether I want to or not my body demands a full stop a couple of times a year. Lesson learned! Fortunately I didn’t lose much fitness and once I was all healed up I was able to quickly get back to the business of racing and charged into the late summer and the fall with Cross Country on my mind.

Pre race Oiselle team photo!
In late August I ran the Deschutes Brewery 5k with 100 of my Oiselle teammates during Bird Camp and came away with a 6 pack of beer and the Masters win in 18:38. I actually out kicked the masters male winner which I thought should have earned me his 6 pack in addition to mine but no one else seemed to see things this way. While I was a little disappointed in my time I was pleased to have a much better race in Bend than my last racing experience there (Club XC 2013, a.k.a. the race course from hell). Plus it was an amazing experience to race with SO many of my teammates. I am already counting down the days until this summer’s camps!

In early September I started thinking about XC and lined up against a gaggle of college girls for the Adidas XC Challenge. This is one of my favorite races simply because I find it thoroughly entertaining to race against an entire field of girls who could be my children and I love the chance to race with my Bull City Track Club teammates. As we all stood on the starting line I counseled my teammates who were new to the course to not go out too hard…and then proceeded to do exactly that! After the gun went off I got sucked into the pack heading down the first hill and consequently clocked some time in the low 5:40’s or high 5:30’s for the first mile. This made the remainder of the 5k significantly less fun than it could have been but I survived both trips up the 1200 meter hill and was rewarded with a course PR of 18:21, good for 24th place overall (8th if you take the Division 1 girls out of the mix. This seems fair since I am most certainly NOT on a running scholarship!).

Hard at work in Raleigh
Also in September I returned to the NC state road mile championships at the Magnificent Mile in Raleigh. I thought that I might be significantly less nervous than I was last year (when I wanted to throw up or run and hide instead of racing) but nope! My heart was racing right up until the gun went off. Fortunately as soon as I got off the line I was fine. For the first ½ mile I focused on watching my Oiselle teammate Christy Cazzola absolutely kill the competition up front en route to a massive course record and then as the pain set in I just focused on hauling myself home, fueled along by the amazing friends who had come to cheer me on. By some giant stroke of good luck I squeaked out a 1 second PR, broke my own masters course and state record and got the masters win in 5:19. Not sure if I can keep chipping away at that record for much longer but it was fun to raise the bar once again!
Pre-race Oiselle team dinner with Christy!
Hamming it up post-race with Christy,
my incredibly fast and equally
kind Oiselle teammate

Sharing the masters podium with
the incredibly talented Perry Shoemaker
and the legend herself, Joan Benoit
Fast forward to late November and the Masters 12k National Championships in Alexandria, VA. Just like last year Ellen and I set off for our annual “girl’s weekend”, which for us involves Ellen running Richmond on Saturday (where she smashed the 90 minute half marathon barrier!), me running the 12k National Championships on Sunday, comfy hotel rooms, dinner at Bertuccis and a mandatory trip to Ikea on the way home. I had a goal pace in mind (6:10 to 6:12) and unfortunately I realized pretty early on that I wasn’t going to hit it, which makes for an incredibly frustrating race. To keep myself from dropping out I played mind games with myself for the duration of the race (predicting my 5k split, then my 8k split, etc…) Despite being off my goal pace everything was going swimmingly overall…I was sitting in second place, running as hard as I felt I could without crossing the redline, amusing myself while I ticked off the miles as best I could…and then just after the 7 mile mark none other than Joan Benoit Samuelson slid quietly past me. I knew she was back there and I knew I had slowed down a little bit between mile 6 and 7 but I was still somehow shocked when she flew by. But then the most incredible inner dialogue started up in my head. It went kind of like this: “well, coming in third because I was beaten by Joanie is nothing to sneeze at. But wait…she isn’t really gaining on me! Oh shit! I almost just clipped her heel. Allie, do NOT trip Joan. No one would ever forgive you! You know, she really isn’t gaining on me AT ALL. I wonder if I can outkick her! I have been running some pretty good 200’s at the end of tempo runs. Maybe I could beat her! Whoa. If I outkicked Joan Benoit Samuelson it would be the greatest moment in my entire running career. What a great race story that would be! Hmmmm, is beating a legend totally tacky? Will people hate me for it? Will Joanie hate me for it? Shit. I don’t know! But I think I need to go for it.” And so I went. I just hunkered down and hauled myself past her, kicking as hard as I could. I knew that there was a good chance that I could go down in flames, that she could unleash an even better kick than me and could nip me on the line or that I could tie up and stumble in behind her. But I just drove towards the line and didn’t look back. End result? I survived the effort, outkicked Joan by 3 seconds and walked around with a ridiculous grin on my face for the next week or so.

This is pretty much exactly how I felt
post-race. For days.
I have thought about this race a LOT since November. It makes me very uncomfortable that I was so excited to beat someone else because in general I am not racing to beat other people; I race to challenge myself. I felt especially uncomfortable about how excited I was to beat an American distance running icon. But after lots of reflection I realized that the joy I felt following this experience was two-fold: first, I never, ever imagined that I would be capable of racing on the same level as Joan Benoit Samuelson. Never. It is truly far beyond my wildest dreams of my running abilities. Second, I was just immensely proud of myself for being able to talk myself up during a race and to lay myself out there like that. I struggle with negative self talk quite a lot during races and I have never put myself out there like that in previous races. It was almost like some other, significantly more confident person took over my brain for 30 seconds and conned me into taking that chance. I would like to invite whomever that was to come back and join me for all my future races!

Z sported his Oiselle colors and flew
through the Turkey Trot kids race.
The icing on the cake of the whole experience was having Joan tell me that I was “feisty” afterwards. I have never received a greater compliment and I now have a new race-day mantra (when I can remember it…see below).

After the glory of the 12k I ran a low-key Turkey Trot in 18 something. I really cannot recall my time; all that mattered about this race was that Ellen and I finished 1-2 and we both took home some amazing shiny gold plastic turkey trophies. Some races aren’t really about the racing and are more about the race day fun. This was definitely one of those days!

BCTC Masters women. I am SO lucky to
get to race with these amazing ladies!

The year wrapped up as it always should, with Cross Country Nationals. The Bull City Track Club masters women’s team headed up to Bethlehem with the explicit goal of improving our 4th place team finish from 2013 to a 3rd place finish. We ran a truly stellar team race with all of us finishing within just about a minute of one another. I ran a fantastic first 5k and a miserable sixth kilometer but it was just enough to land me in 9th place and net me a lifetime 6k PR. Unfortunately, based on our post-race scoring calculations, we ended up back in 4th place as a team. We spent the rest of the day feeling pretty frustrated by this but also looking forward to what we needed to improve for next year. Given this, imagine our surprise when we learned during the awards ceremony that we should not give up running for math because we had actually finished SECOND! Never in your life have you seen 4 middle aged women more excited to have NOT won something. Holy cow. Our little team is comprised of an archivist, a pediatrician, a veterinarian and me (a stay at home mom/50’s housewife) who all only started running seriously as post-collegiate adults so it is a huge accomplishment for us to be able to compete with all the ladies who have significantly more extensive and high-level running backgrounds than we do. But, as our fearless team director pointed out, there is no resting on the laurels of second place and all the little things we talked about working on still need to happen, especially since we probably can’t mosey around under the radar anymore.

Post-race with 2 of my favorite Oiselle team-
mates, Jackie Gruendel and Jen Found
Early in the race, Oiselle teammate and friend Jen Found
in the background and surrounded by a who's who
of masters women

After Club XC I tried to keep training; indoor track was right around the corner and I was hoping to parlay my fitness into some fast times on the track. Sadly my body once again had other plans for me and I ended up tweaking my left leg the exact same weekend in January that I had hurt my right foot last year. Next year I will NOT be running at all that week! The injury took me out for 3 weeks, during which time I learned how to do insane VO2 Max workouts in the pool (swimming, not even aquajogging!) and semi-mastered my flip turn, all thanks to my awesome masters teammate Ali Klaitman. All that swimming left me with a great base level of fitness and some ridiculous shoulders, and it got me back to running without too many fitness losses. Unfortunately my left glute went on vacation sometime in early March and just stopped firing. Because of this I decided to forgo indoor masters track nationals and saved my still pesky and unpredictable left leg for Raleigh Relays, which is a collegiate meet. I have been registered for this race for 3 years now, but the first year Z woke up puking and last year I was in a boot so I had yet to actually make it to the race. I was absolutely determined to NOT be absent from the starting line this year, even at the expense of Indoors.

Mid-race, probably thinking more about coffee than
Despite the fact that my left glute wouldn’t wake up and fire during my race warm up I switched into my spikes and trotted up to the line with 29 college girls and one other lone masters runner, hoping that my body would get with the program when the gun went off. The glute did cooperate but race itself, unfortunately, was nothing to write home about. I don’t think that my fitness or my glute were the culprit; my brain was. Somehow I just completely forgot all about positive self-talk and my nifty new mantra ("feisty!") for the entire race. I mentally was NOT into it, as evidenced by my internal monologue, which went something like this “Gah! This is SO boring. Why am I here? I’m not feeling super and this is just hard. I am going to stop. Today just isn’t my day. But shoot; if I stop Allison and Ellen are going to be so mad at me! They came out to watch and cheer for me. I can’t drop out! Okay, I will keep going. Ooohh, look! That girl is from a college in Ohio! I should ask her if she lives in Cleveland! No Allie, you can’t talk to another runner during a track race. Focus. Gah! This is boring and hard. How many more laps do I have?”

Ultimately I made it through the race and ran an 18:19. It was hard and I was spent at the end, but I think this was partly because I ran the first 1200 or so in lane 3 (rookie mistake; this was just my 6th track race ever) and partly because I obviously just wasn’t mentally present. But as I thought about it more I realized that last year at this time not only could I have not run 18:19 but I was in a boot and couldn’t run at all. So I have decided to be happy with this time as a rust buster and to work on my internal monologue a bit.

Post-run with Heidi. I am DEFINITELY 
not taller thanshe is in real life.
After Raleigh relays I headed home to visit my parents, sleep a lot and just enjoy running for the week. My glute continued to bug me but I had some great runs, including logging a lovely long run with my Cleveland friend (and Salty Running founder) Laura Pizmoht and a bunch of miles with my Oiselle teammate Heidi Greenwood. These runs ended up coming in handy just a couple of weeks later as they showed me that I could, in fact, run through having my glute act up a little bit instead of thinking that I needed to just stop every time it stopped firing and my hip flexor seized up.

So that finally brings us to Cherry Blossom! Last November, Ellen and I decided that in lieu of a spring marathon (for her, not me!) we ought to check one of our bucket list races off the list so we registered for Cherry Blossom. I figured that it would be good for me to get a little bit of longer racing experience back under my belt in hopes that doing so would help me with that pesky 6th kilometer at the end of Club XC. Seemed like a great idea at the time! Fast forward to this spring, and I have done exactly one long run over 10 miles and have a bum glute that just can’t decide if it wants to fire or go on a tropical vacation every time I head out for a run. Needless to say, my training was a little iffy. I honestly never pondered NOT running Cherry Blossom, but I was pretty dead set that I would just fun run it with Ellen. And then 2 days before the race I got this text from my dear friend and BCTC masters teammate Ali: 

“I would like to add (since there's no sugar coating) that I think you should not fun run this race. Trust your've said yourself you don't feel like the top end speed is there without all the quarter repeats, etc. but damn, think of all the tempo runs you've crushed! Just go out in control, see how you feel and adjust from there. My guess is that it's going to feel easy and good, then go for it! Even if you can't place technically, do it for yourself. No negative talk, you've done the work, this distance in some ways is going to be perfect at this point. I know how tough you can be...”

Well, um, okay then! I may have some blind spots but I am smart enough to know that sometimes our friends know us better than we know ourselves. I was lucid enough to know that this was one of those moments, so I decided that I should be grateful to have friends who know me so well...and I should give it a go at the race. I had already dropped back from the Women’s Advance Start (where the elite and pro women start 12 minutes ahead of the field) and into the first seeded wave. The day after I made the switch I learned that my Bull City Track Club teammate Rachel was racing in the WAS and I was pretty bummed to not get to race alongside her as we are incredibly compatible pace-wise. But I also knew that given my (lack of) preparation and injury woes I was in the right place. My last minute race plan was to get started around 6:20 pace and run that for as long as my left leg cooperated. Then when it punked out I would just drop back and finish with Ellen. In my mind I expected that to happen at about mile 2 and certainly no later than mile 5. 

Perfect day, 9 year old version
Armed with this crackerjack race plan, Ellen, Rachel and I drove up to D.C. with Z in tow and reenacted as much of our fall girls weekend routine as possible. But this time, instead of staying at a hotel we got to stay with my friend Jackie Gruendel who proved herself to be the best hostess ever! We were greeted with treat-filled goodie bags and while we adults went off and raced Jackie gamely carted Z off for what may just have been the best day of his life featuring a kids race, duck petting, fire truck visiting, lots of dog cuddling and a healthy dose of miniature donkey and horse feeding. It just doesn't get much better than that and I am incredibly grateful to Jackie for not only watching Z so that I could race but also showing him such a good time!

Race morning was gorgeous and after a warm up spent mostly marveling at the stunning cherry blossoms, Ellen and I cheered on Rachel as she got underway, shed our layers and headed to the start. As we stood on the starting line the race director announced that due to an active crime scene out on the course the race had been rerouted and would now be shorter than 10 miles by some mystery amount. I had the strangest reaction to this news: instead of being frustrated I was instantly relieved! All the pressure was off; since this wasn’t a 10 miler it became just a fun run in my head. It also seemed SO much easier to run 9.?? miles than 10 miles. All totally illogical, I know. Logic aside, when the gun went off I felt completely at ease.

The view from our warm up
I also, evidently, felt faster than I thought I would. My first 3 miles were 6:06, 6:06 and 6:11. I wasn’t trying to go fast; in fact, midway through the third mile I saw Ellen approaching in an out and back section and I took the time to run over to her, hop up on a median and give her a big high 5. Not exactly racing behavior. By mile 4 I thought I should slow down a little bit, so I split a 6:14. But then in the fifth mile who should pass me but Joan Benoit Samuelson! Cue the internal dialogue: “well, this race is much more her forte…I mean, it is a LONG race (as opposed to the 12k, which was short?!?!). Nothing wrong with being passed by Joanie, especially because I’m not really ready for this.” Of course I went on to split a 6:10, but whatever. But then, somewhere in the next mile we went up a little incline and I passed her back. Mile 6 was a 6:11 and I was starting to wonder when I was going to fall apart. I mean, here I was, running MUCH faster than I had intended to…faster than I have been running my lactate threshold workouts, faster than I thought my 10k pace was. Surely I was going to just blow up soon. And my glute…when was that going to fail? It definitely acted up during the race; at one point my leg almost just went right out from under me. But each time I was able to calm down and get back on track.  When I hit the mile 7 mark I did start to slow a little bit. I couldn’t convince my body to choke down any more gel and the effort was getting harder. But I clocked a 6:15 and told myself I only had a few miles to go. Mile 8 was a 6:14; I was getting tired but still feeling much better than expected. But I knew that the finish was uphill so I made the mistake of letting that fact get to me and consequently I slowed down in mile 9 to 6:21. I was pretty tired by then and I told myself that I needed to slow down so that I could get up the (not very long) hill. Hmmm, I think I may still need to work on that mental toughness thing a little more. The only saving grace of that last full mile was having Jeff Caron appear by the side of the road yelling my name. (It seems to be a special talent of Jeff’s to appear right when I need a pick me up right the most.) Finally the signs marking the last 1200, 800 and 400 meters came into view and I just tried to imagine running one last repeat in a track workout. When I saw the clock I honestly just couldn’t believe the time: 58:47 when I crossed the line. When all the dust settled I finished 5th in the masters field, behind Jen Rhines (who still races as a pro and clocked a 53:10) and 3 women who all have marathon times in the high 2:40’s and low 2:50’s. Definitely NOT what I had expected when I got up that morning!

Post race, all smiles with Ellen and Rachel. Upside of a
novel race distance: PR's all around!
In case you are wondering, my watch showed the revised course as 9.47 miles; it was hitting each mile marker after the reroute right at .47 for the entirety of the race. At first the race organizers recertified the course at 9.54 miles but later they revised it way down to 9.39. I am guessing that the 9.39 is the closest to being accurate; I know that while I did really try to hug the tangents it is impossible to do so perfectly. But truth be told, I really don’t even care!!! I am honestly just overjoyed that I was able to run that far at an average pace (6:12) that I never, ever imagined being capable of running. I went through the 8k in a time I would be happy with for a stand alone 8k and through the 10k in my second fastest ever 10k (38:19). Is it a little bit of a bummer that I cannot claim a new 2 plus minute 10 mile PR? Sure, a little bit. But the effort is what counted on this given day, not the specific distance PR.

Now that the shock of Cherry Blossom has begun to wear off I realize that I just need to hunker down and, more than anything, work on my mental game. This spring and summer are littered with mile and 5k races and while the fitness is there, I know that my challenge is going to be raising the bar on my mental toughness. Time to work on being a little more feisty!