Race report and training thoughts

I finally ran a race in my Oiselle Volee team singlet! So *official*. It turned out to be a bit of a disappointing race for my first race really representing the team, but it was a gorgeous course and a big group of running club people turned out so I had both my more virtual/long-distance team to represent and my local social running club to cheer on.

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The race takes place annually and runs around the upper ski resort starting at 10,000 feet and topping out around 11,000 feet altitude. I had run the 5k version last year so knew what to expect as far as the lung-squeezing lack of oxygen and tough uphill start.

In spite of knowing what was coming I wasn’t feeling very nervous pre-race, which is usually not a great sign for me. If I’m not nervous for a race I sometimes have trouble getting into race mode once the gun goes off. I also felt a little off due to taking a few days off the week leading up due to a weird gluteus medius cramp that had pulled my hip out of whack temporarily. Literal pain in the butt…

When the start went off I felt ok but didn’t have much pop. I tried to stay steady and calm in the first mile as we climbed gradually up the dirt road. I passed one woman (BlueShirt) at the 1-mile mark and then climbed onto single track of the second mile. In the second mile I caught another woman (WhiteShirt) who was having a bit of trouble on the more technical trail and waved me and a couple men to pass as she recovered her footing and composure from a near fall. I figured she’d gone out too fast and didn’t really expect to see her for a while. I was now in third and started to think that with a bunch of fast women out of town for Pikes Peak maybe I could *finally* podium one of these races!

Going into the third mile I ran in front of a guy from my local running club, cruising through some nice gradual single track and frosted grass on the shaded backside of the mountain. Going into mile four we hit some tough climbs and technical downhills and he switched me spots and then started to pull away. I knew I probably needed to stay with him if I wanted to keep the women behind me at bay but I found my legs growing heavy and actually had to power hike a few of the climbs as we kept winding through the fourth mile. I didn’t want to have to undergo the pain of a competitive finish, but just couldn’t find the leg power to keep rolling on the uphills.

The downhill going into mile five seemed like a relief at first, and I pushed myself to really turn over on the smooth single track. However, I could tell I was still losing ground and I started to wonder where the runners behind me were. I started seeing WhiteShirt and BlueShirt going into a series of switchbacks at mile 6 and felt a little panic in my stomach. “Shit!” was all I could think – they were coming up strong and I had nothing in me to hold them off. I focused on holding my pace and prayed that I would be at the finish line before they caught me.

However, mile 6 threw in a nasty surprise – a gnarly series of switchbacks, dips, and rocky trail sections on a newly cut route. I heard Blue and White working together to catch me, and couldn’t pick up my pace without flying off the trail. WhiteShirt suddenly appeared right behind me and flew by with a shout of “on your left!!!” I watched her go with a bit of despair but kept telling myself that I could get back up there…

BlueShirt was gaining fast in the last 400m and we were both flying around the switchbacks as fast as we could. BlueShirt slipped by me with maybe 100m to go and in spite of desperately trying to stick to her butt around the last switchback and the final 50m sprint on the dirt road to finish she beat me by 5 seconds.

I cross the line feeling deflated. I had pushed it throughout the race but had never crossed the line into real pain and was now left wondering if I could have held onto third if I’d put myself through more pain in the middle miles and built up a bigger gap to the Shirt gals. I also felt disappointment with myself at failing to practice the fast downhills like I knew I needed to after the very first race. The fear of injury has held me back, as has a general dislike of fast downhill running – I don’t enjoy working on the things I’m not good at, even when the logical way to improve is to address my weaknesses.

This trail season has shown me where a lot of my weaknesses lay. I generally fall back after a strong first half (endurance), I suffer on some of the longer/steeper climbs (leg strength), and I keep getting my ass kicked on technical downhills (agility). At least I know what I need to work on!

On a more positive note, after analyzing my results from this race and past races I realized that I’ve always stayed within 10-12% of the leader’s total time behind the lead woman and actually managed the exact same pace for this race as the first race, which had the same average grade (157 feet/mile). If I consider that this race was 3000 feet higher in elevation that gives me a pace conversion of an extra 25 seconds faster per mile, which would make this recent race a decent improvement over the first race in the series. With that knowledge about the approximate pace conversion and my consistent distance behind the super-fit lead women who’s been winning every race at least I know I’m not regressing, and am probably actually improving in spite of consistently losing spots over the last mile and ending up placing a bit behind where I want to be.

Here’s to working up the courage to work on my weaknesses for these last few trail races and going into next summer’s trail race series!

#headupwingsout

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Team

Guess what I finally got in the mail! My Oiselle Voleé singlet! I’ve been (impatiently) awaiting it’s arrival since the original team membership order this Spring, and had almost given up hope on its arrival after the original order was lost by the USPS forwarding office. However, it finally made its way to me and I am thrilled that I’ll be able to officially represent the team next time I race!

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Why am I so excited to join this team? After all, I’ve seen a few criticisms about the newest form of the team, including the comments that it’s too big, too impersonal, or is a trick to get people to pay to advertise the company’s clothing. From what I know the original team was much smaller and had a few more perks, so in comparison the newer team set-up, with many more members, a focus on online rather than face-to-face interaction, and a membership fee rather than exclusively free perks.

I did consider these cons when applying, and decided I still had many reasons to be enthusiastic about the joining the team. Individual enthusiasm for this form of team may vary, but here’s what has me excited to fly with the Voleé:

  1. Virtual/wide-spread team isn’t  really a negative for me. Sure, I’d love to have people to train with on a regular basis, but I also enjoy the ability to run at whatever time I need to on a given day, and the freedom to modify my training plan and running routes on the fly. My recent experiences with friends in creating virtual teams for encouragement and accountability with training has shown me that being surrounded by team, even if you’re not actually training physically together, is still valuable to staying positive and motivated during the rough patches of training, and being encouraged to celebrate each small success during better times.
  2. I’ve observed great team cohesiveness with all the Voleé that I’ve met in person and online, and I am also ok with not personally knowing every single member of the team. I’d love to meet all the women in my state section of the team, and will definitely seek out teammates to run with/cheer with when I travel out of state. The lack of exclusivity isn’t a problem for me – with a larger team that just means more likelihood of finding women to run with.
  3. The purpose of the membership fee and the benefits that go along with it were clear and seemed reasonable to me. The fee included a singlet and spike bag, membership to the team forums and newsletters, a discounted pair of shorts/tights, free shipping, special team-only sales or early access to sales/items, and a donation to the developing athletes fund. Some of these definitely encourage more clothing purchases, but honestly, anyone joining the team probably already likes Oiselle’s clothing so isn’t suffering too much from the purchase-related perks. I’m honestly ecstatic to have a team singlet that isn’t huge/stinky/required to be turned back in at the end of the season (as I did in every school xc and track program), and can’t wait to use the discount on some pricy tights this winter which I probably wouldn’t be able to buy otherwise (ah, the good Colorado winters…tights wear out quickly up here). Being able to contribute to the emerging athlete fund is extremely valuable to me as I have several friends who are currently in that category, one of whom runs for Oiselle. In my current financial circumstances (i.e., not grad school) I’d actually give more to the fund if that was an option.

I’ve already met 3 teammates in person, and look forward to meeting more as I watch for matching singlets at races (should be easy to spot with the snazzy, eye-catching design!). I’ll admit the singlet also brings with it dreams of open meet cross-country teams, relays, and feeling at least sort-of legit if I end up lining up for any track races next Spring/Summer.

Sure, one doesn’t need an official team to do these things, but I’m excited to move forward with a supportive, enthusiastic team of athletes to call on when I need a boost during a busy, exhausting week, a group to cheer with, or a singlet to run beside in a challenging race.

#headupwingsout

No, I didn’t just join for the snazzy singlet (although they are AMAZING)

About 5 months ago in mid-December, as snow piled up outside and I tried my best to tune out the cold basement air and whirring of my bike tire against the trainer drive, I balanced my phone on the handlebars of my bike and watched the green grass and tan sand of a sunny cross-country course become obscured by a flowing river of brightly dressed runners on the Oiselle Periscope broadcast of the USATF Club XC Nationals women’s race. In contrast to the later official post-race broadcast by USATF TV, this view of the race was bumpy, loud, and chaotic, immersing me in the XC atmosphere on the sidelines and pulling me along as the video stream recorded the frantic cheering-spot-to-cheering-spot sprints that are unique to XC. The cheering around the recording phone increased with each passing Oiselle runner and I found myself smiling, remembering the excitement of running around on a warm-up or on aching post-race legs to cheer on the JV women’s squad or the men’s teams as a high-school and collegiate XC athlete. As I cross-trained alone in my chilly basement the brief vicarious feelings of team membership added to my growing desire to find some way to return to the team atmosphere in my running life.

5 months later and I am now a member of that same team that I enjoyed a live-stream based comradery with while watching that XC race. I had been looking for a way to return to the comradery and extra motivation provided by being a member of a team since a few months after my undergraduate graduation, and that shaky live-stream view of the competing Oiselle teams and supporting cheers reminded me of exactly what I missed about being on a team. When the Oiselle Volée started hinting at a potential new batch of team memberships this Spring I began seriously considering the idea of joining the team.

I had also looked at some other team options this winter, including racing for a team back in my home town that a former teammate runs for, trying to create a team with some other post-collegiate running friends, or just racing in my cycling club’s colors. However, the Volée had some additional aspects that appealed to me over these other possibilities.

Each of my options would provide a long-distance network of supportive and inspiring teammates and a jersey run in, but the Volée option had the added benefits of a much larger and wide-spread team, an established network of existing teammates and platforms for interacting with them online and in person, an association with a company that focuses on women’s running and female leadership, and the perks of free shipping and periodic special deals on running clothing line that combines beauty and function in a uniquely appealing way.

Lastly, by joining this team I had the opportunity to help support the professional division of the team, as 25% of the membership cost goes to supporting the Oiselle Emerging Athlete Fund. As someone with several former teammates who’ve gone pro (one of whom runs for Oiselle), and who cares strongly about the professional side of women’s competitive running, the ability to directly contribute even a small portion to helping developing professionals stay in the sport was incredibly appealing. Oiselle’s decision to use the team membership cost in part as a tool for supporting elite-level competitive female runners goes along with their history of a positive attitude towards competition and supporting the wider issues of fair play, athlete sponsorship that acknowledges athletes as whole people rather than purely numbers, and the balance between team/inclusion and fierce competitiveness.

I can’t wait to rejuvenate my own sense of team and competitiveness as I gain amazing new teammates to cheer with and for, local/regional runners to support, compete with, and learn from in-person, and an enormous virtual, world-wide cheering squad that I will have the privilege to represent every time I put on the Volée racing singlet.

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