The Other Half, Moab

Race photos are finally up, my legs are mostly not sore anymore, and the blisters on my pinkie toes have receded to mild bruising – time for a race report!

I was pretty excited going into this half marathon since I had 8 weeks of solid 30+ mile weeks in my legs and several 12+ mile long runs, plus some strong half-marathon focused workouts. My long tempo (7 miles at marathon pace + 10 seconds) had gone well and predicted that I could probably handle low 7:20’s pace, which would put me well under my goal of 1:40.

Unfortunately, I was also *extremely* nervous about the potentially hot weather and longer race than I’d run since over two years ago. I completed my final ½-focused workout and felt ok but not great, and then spent the next couple days nursing a strange little Achilles twinge that popped up seemingly out of the blue after a hilly easy run. After a couple days off my last couple shakeout runs went by without any pain, and I went into race morning no longer thinking about the prospect of crippling injury.

I met up with Fish in Moab the day before the race and we camped out that night, tossing and turning with pre-race nerves.

I was having a *great* time dealing with some cramps and spent my pre-race prep swallowing ibuprofen in the hopes that it would keep the discomfort from impacting my race. On race morning I took a couple final doses as we drove down the winding dirt road back into town at 6am to meet the race shuttles. Fish and I ate some pre-made bagels and yogurts as well boarded the shuttle, and then spent 40 minutes shivering with nerves and cold as the bus wound through the dark canyon along the race route to the start.

We disembarked, spent about half an hour milling about the porte-potty lines, and then reluctantly took our warm gear to the gear-drop van. We spent the last 15 minutes before the race doing a ~1 mile jog to get the feeling back in our limbs (it was in the low 40’s) and then bouncing up and down to stay warm in the starting corral. As the starter made the pre-race announcements we hugged and went our separate ways to our respective pace groups to line up. The local Moab drumming group led us on a slow march to the starting line and then rode their truck off down the course that we would soon be covering much more slowly on foot.

The start was uneventful – a simple ‘1-minute to go’ announcement, a quiet wait, and then the gun. I took off in a small herd and tried to relax, letting the sprinters and speedsters fly ahead. My watch told me I was just a bit under pace so I settled in and let the slight downhill carry me along. At the 1 mile I passed a few people who’d started out too fast but otherwise mostly held even with all but the lead group who were already pulling way. The next few miles followed the same trend, with steady mid-7-teens showing on my watch and the quiet patter of feet providing the only distraction from the long road ahead.

At mile 4 I started to get passed and got a bit concerned. However, my watch still showed relatively even splits and I felt like I was pushing just as much as I could without going too far so I let the passers ease ahead and worked to just stay relaxed and keep an eye on the people who seemed to be holding my same pace. I had a nice chat with one younger guy who thanked me for acting as a good pacer as he pulled slightly ahead, and spent some time admiring another gal’s unique attire and earrings as she ran just ahead of me. I still felt good enough to chat briefly  with my fellow racers and examine my surroundings, and was able to get enough water at the aid stations to avoid feeling thirsty in the still-chilly air. I felt a small Achilles twinge but had no lingering pain so was only mildly worried.

As we passed the 6-mile aid station I told myself that the race was ‘half over plus a bonus mile’ and focused on keeping my pace up while not thinking too much about the remaining miles or my Achilles, which had developed an annoying habit of twinging once or twice a mile whenever I hit a slight downhill or stepped too hard. The cycle of one mile without an aid station and one with every two miles was breaking the race up nicely, and the volunteers were enthusiastic and well organized, making the water stops smooth and upbeat. Mile 7 was our last flat mile and I just focused on relaxing and gradually working towards the small forms of the racers ahead. I worried a bit that the climbs would aggravate my Achilles issue, but figured I wouldn’t know till I took my first few uphill steps.

We finally hit the climbs, and the first big climb actually turned out to provide a nice boost as I passed several racers who I’d only expected to see the backs of for the rest of the race. My calf/Achilles actually felt better on the climbs than the slight downhills so I figured it couldn’t be too much of a serious problem. The climb to mile 8 cover 170 feet and gave me my slowest split (8:01) but the experience of passing people on the climb counteracted my concerns about the slower pace. The next mile was downhill, and then to ten miles was rolling climbs and drops. The downhills had luckily stopped aggravating my Achilles (thanks endorphins!) but were now making my feet suffer. Every downhill made my feet slide forward in my shoes, grinding my soles against the footbed and scraping my toes against the front of my shoes. I’d never had this problem in training, but had also never done quite such a long hilly run on the asphalt.

Processed with Snapseed.

I can’t decide if this is a smile or a grimace :-[]

Hitting eight miles had put me at the ⅔ mark and the prospect of only having 3 miles left when I hit the ten-mile marker put a little pep back in my legs, which were starting to suffer from the climbs. I had passed a few more men on the uphills with my short, quick stride and was now surrounded by a small group of older men, with the nearest woman about 30 seconds ahead. As we crested the final hills at 11.5 miles the drummers were there again, and the beat of the drums simultaneously gave me the shivers (thanks late-race, overly-emotional running brain…) and gave me a beat to run to up the final incline. From there it was all downhill or flat. I threw a last cup of water over my head at the 12-mile aid station in the hopes that the cold water would shock me into some sort of final push.

The men around me began to pick up the pace in the last half mile, but the final stretch turned out to be frustratingly long, with several twists and turns before the hidden finish. I prayed there wasn’t another runner gaining on me as I failed to hold off the group of men who I’d caught on the last hill. I was suffering and didn’t have any extra energy left to pick up the pace and fight off any kickers. We dropped down to 6:40 pace and it was all I could do to keep the group in sight as I flailed and gasped my way around the multiple blind turns.

Mercifully, I *finally* turned the final curve and only had 100m to go, and no one came up on me in that last straight. I got close enough to read the finishing clock and gave a low energy “whoop!” in my mind when I saw a ‘1:3_’ in front of the final digit rather than a 1:4-something. I heard someone yell out “seventh woman!” as I came through and managed a smile for that and the wonderful volunteers who were handing out medals and directing the runners towards the water.

I stumbled about for a bit and then grabbed some food and rushed back to cheer in Fish, who finished right on the dot of her ambitious ‘A’ goal with a perfect 10-minute-pace average (off of mainly hiking/backpacking training!). We spent the rest of the after-race celebration limping on sore feet and enjoying the bountiful feast of ice cream, chocolate milk, watermelon, and, a rare thing on a Utah Sunday, beer! I got a very unexpected age-group win and we both enjoyed some fun chats with fellow runners before heading back to the shuttles and some more substantial lunch food.

fullsizerender-8

Boom! We did it 😀

Looking back at my past races this spring/summer I realized that I ran this 13.1 mile race at the same pace that I held for my 5-mile race back in May! Going from a 37 minute all-out 5-miler to a 1:36:40 half marathon makes all those arduous workouts, tedious recovery runs, and tough long runs feel much more effective and much more worthwhile. This is also my first actual PR since my toe injury almost 5 years ago, so I’m both extremely pleased with the race and excited to see what I can do next season.

Hurrah for awesome racing buddies, only mildly unhappy Achilles tendons, challenging (but fun) courses, and the blessing of being able to train and then actually apply the resulting fitness in a good race!

Advertisements

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.

IMG_7511.JPG

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

Bonus race!

Guess who got to skip her lonesome 4-mile tempo run this week and instead jumped in the world’s most fun (if still slightly lonesome) 10-runner-field 5k! I was one happy runner – thank you rec center employee who thought “Hm, I should start a race series this summer”!

I spotted the race the day before thanks to a running club friend and quickly rearranged my training week to switch my workout day to race day because who the heck can turn down a $15 5k that promises to a) be flat and b) be followed by a “glowing party in the park”?!? My legs needed a turnover boost anyhow, so a shorter, more intense workout fit well into my plan for the week.

The race wasn’t until 8pm (in an effort to have it run under the nearly-full moon) so I spent the workday and afternoon hours leading up to it in slightly nervous, excited anticipation, trying to chill out since it was just a fun run and reminiscing a bit about the misery of evening-race jitters back in my college track days. It finally hit 6:30pm and I drove over to the park, figuring I could pick up my race number (if there was one), dink around the park a bit, and then warm up around 7:30. However, when I got to the park an hour before the scheduled start time, not a single runner or race volunteer was in sight.

After 20 minutes another gal from running club showed up and we nervously jogged around while scanning the vacant scene for our fellow attendees. We had almost given up hope that the race would run when we noticed a course marker and another runner looking just as confused as us. We clustered with her and continued our search for the registration/start area.

IMG_6471

Waiting for sunset

Finally, a few more reflective gear and glow-stick clad runners appeared, and the race director materialized from a nearby outbuilding to lead our very small, confused group to the super-official un-marked start line. Our warmup was long gone by the time the ten of us toed the line separating the brick pavilion patio from the asphalt running path, but we took off with happy hoots and laughter all the same. I had thought one of the guys in the group might prove to be a race-pace buddy, but instead found myself alone almost immediately.

I settled into a guesstimated 5k pace and shrugged off the little bubbles of irritation at having spent money on what was apparently going to be a solo workout anyhow. At least I had the race-day adrenaline boost, warmup buddies, a set course to test my fitness on, and fellow runners to exchange cheers with on the out and back course!

As usual in 5k’s, the first mile flew by, the second mile started to pinch a little, and the third mile was truly unpleasant with heavy legs and an uncomfortable stomach working to slow me down. I kept eyeing my watch, trying to keep the pace steady if not quite as fast as I had hoped. *Thankfully*, a small yappy dog helped me out in the last 800m by boosting my adrenaline at the thought of little snapping jaws and I hurried through the finish while desperately hoping not to hurl on the race director’s shoes.

Luckily the gurgles in my stomach subsided after a quick stumble to the nearest drinking fountain and I was able to cheer in my running club friends and fellow racers and they glowed their ways to the (also super official) finish line. Even though only a few of us had showed up the race volunteers revved up the smoke machine and laser light show so we got the full race afterglow party effect in the mostly silent, darkening park.

We may not have had any party music but our ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhhhs’ at the dancing lights around the periphery of the park made for a festive atmosphere. The ‘oohs’ became extra exuberant when several bats flew through the light beams in search of insects! After a few group shots (hurrah for post-race jumping shots!) the group scattered off to search for warmer clothes, food, and sleep. I finished up with a couple solitary loops around the now dark park, enjoying the continued light show now glimmering over the smooth, moonlit park pond and serene park lawns. In spite of a bit of a rocky start and small field, we’d all gotten a great workout and I had experienced my first ever post-race lightshow – definitely more than worth the $15.

I’m so grateful to have ended up in a small town where the population is athletic enough that random weeknight 5k’s are a thing and volunteers still come out to host 10-person fun runs! Here’s to hopefully hopping in more little local races and getting back some semblance of 5k turnover.

FullSizeRender_1

Race report: LaSportiva Boneyard Boogie 11k trail race

Saturday’s race started off tough a few weeks ago when I previewed the course and apparently overextended myself to the point of becoming ill. I tried to shake off the less-than-great impression of the course, but still felt some lingering dread even through Friday’s (heavy-legged) shakeout run. I knew the course was exceptionally tough, and I feared that my relatively low endurance level would turn the majority of the race into a heavy-legged slog.

Luckily, I received two unexpected confidence boosters for this race that stemmed from my decision to join the Oiselle Volee. First, upon arriving home on tired, achy legs and feet on Friday night I discovered a mysterious brown envelope that turned out to be the Oiselle Volee welcome mailer! I immediately added the enclosed ‘I run for Oiselle’ sticker to my water bottle sticker collection and savored the cheerful surprise while downing some pasta and spending some quality time with my foam roller.

IMG_6447IMG_6448

On race morning I received another needed boost in the form of a Oiselle singlet flashing by during my warmup. I ended up stretching next to the singlet’s wearer (Rachel) and asked if she was with the local Oiselle group. It turned out she was from a few towns West and was returning to the trail series after a year or so off for a back injury. We happily chatted as we walked to the start and lined up together on the line. As the wave of racers took off onto the short dirt road stretch before the single track I tucked in behind her and we climbed the first hill together. The feeling of having a teammate and a singlet to keep an eye on in the crowd of runners brought me back to my high school and college days and provided reassurance during the heart-pounding uphill sprint to the single track.

BoneyardBoogie

The quick course narrowing meant spending time in trains, trailing slower runners and then sprinting past groups of 1 or 2 on the turns or slightly wider sections. I was fortunate to be in almost exactly the same shape as my new-found teammate, and we spent the first 1.5 miles within a few runners, alternating between settling in and popping out wide to surge ahead in the line of runners.

At around the 1.5 mile mark I felt good and pushed ahead a bit, passing Rachel and another woman. I kept climbing, feeling pretty good until 2.5 miles. After 2.5 things started to get tough since we’d been climbing steadily since the start and it was beginning to warm up as the sun rose higher overhead. I focused on keeping the doubts quiet and impatiently looked for the 2nd aid station, which signaled the switch to downhill running.

IMG_6454

Up, up, up, doooooown

The 2nd aid station finally appeared out of the sagebrush and I happily grabbed some water, choked on it, and started my descent. I hadn’t gone more than half a mile when I heard two runners thundering down the windy, steep singletrack behind me, feet moving at least twice as fast as mine. I couldn’t match their speed so pulled to the side and let them pass. Happily, one was a buddy from running club and one was an extremely long-legged dude, so I didn’t feel too bad letting them wiz by at breakneck speed.

However, I really struggle with the downhill speed, especially on tired legs, and I was soon passed by another woman. The day had started to get truly hot and I was beginning to drag. Getting passed was discouraging, but luckily balanced out by the opportunity to pass several younger men/boys who had apparently gone wayyyy too hard in the first 3 miles. Around mile 5 I realized I only had 2 miles left and briefly pushed the pace. However, the heat and my own exhaustion fought back, and I paused briefly on the side of the trail as an unpleasant combination of despair in ever being done and hyperventilation overcame me. A woman’s voice from behind yelled ‘Are you ok?’ and snapped me out of my little pity party. I yelled back that I was fine and began running again to try to stay ahead of this concerned rival. We ran together over the last mile, with me focusing intently on matching her (much smoother) stride in an effort to stick with her.

With 400m left I knew I wasn’t going to catch her, so I just focused on pushing through the last (paved & flat, hallelujah!) little bit to keep anyone from sneaking by behind me.

BoneYardBoogie

Pace/elevation profile. Windy trails do not make for steady running 😛

In the end, Rachel finished just 40 seconds back and we ended up placing 1-2 in our 20-29 age group. Go birds! I was happily surprised by the placing, and with my overall 8th place in the Women’s category, considering the relatively deep field of local ultra stars and serious trail racers. I finished in just under an hour – decent considering the course record of 51:08 and my complete inability to ride the downhill rather than clomping down it like an overly-cautious draft horse.

The after party was excellent (yogurt, pasta, salad, and a gear raffle) and any disappointment with my race (like the stopping and downhill struggle) was alleviated by the great atmosphere and post-race talk with the many friends from running and cycling club, plus my newly-met Volee teammate, who’d joined in the fun.

IMG_6455

The two lessons I took away from today’s race:

  1. Team helps soooo much. I’d almost forgotten this with all the decent runs alone lately, but it really does help to have the moral support and team mentality mid-race.
  2. I am in desperate need of some downhill form work and downhill strides to help with my speed. It’s free velocity so I really shouldn’t turn it down.