Zeitgeist

After enjoying my first road half marathon last year in Moab I made plans to run another this year with the goal of improving my time by about 90 seconds to run 1:35. Plans to visit family in the fall lined up nicely with the Zeitgeist Half Marathon, so I signed up for what I hoped would be a scenic, beautiful-fall-weather half and penciled some 13.1-oreinted training into my summer/fall plans. The course had some significant hills (1,180 feet of climbing/descending over a loop course with each hill being ~2 miles long on each side with a flatter 3 miles at the end), but I had hope that with a lot of luck and some strong training I could still dip under 1:35.

After my delayed start to summer training due to injury my mileage started to increase beyond what I’ve been able to do since about 2012 and my 5k/XC focused training was starting to lead to some quick workouts and races. I also found two new wonderful running buddies to do long runs with. For the half I loosely followed the Kara Goucher training plan for workouts, but did a double run day about every other week, occasional double workouts or a workout and race most weeks, and long runs up to 16 miles rather than the shorter recommended maximum long run of 11 miles that she included in the plan. I felt strong enough towards the middle of the training plan to add an extra 2-mile repeat onto one workout, and an extra tempo mile onto another. I definitely skimped on the strength training (oops…) but tried to do core 3 times a week.

Perhaps the most important modification that I made was to incorporate hills into the tempo repeats/longer tempo runs. Starting with the Switchblade workout in week 6 I began doing my workouts at a spot where I could warm up on flat road for a couple miles, and then could do my repeats going up a mile or so on a steady climb, and then turn around and practice my turnover and relaxation on the speedy descent. I learned to focus on holding a controlled grind on the uphill, and to then quickly switch to a focused ‘spin’ on the downhill. I could hit my goal average pace (say 7:30/mile) by grinding up at a steady 7:50 pace on the uphill and then pushing my turnover to hit a 7:10 coming back down. On longer tempos I did the initial tempo on the flat or on more gradual rolling hills and then added part of the steeper climb/descent to practice climbing and descending while tired, and to practice hitting the flat again after a big downhill and maintaining the gained momentum. My quads suffered but grew stronger, and the repeated practice at uneven pacing to hit a solid average pace helped me to mentally prepare for the fluctuations in pace and attitude that would hit me out on the hilly race course. 7:15 pace started to seem like a reasonable goal, if I could just maintain my optimism and focus on the hills…

 

Some very solid mileage heading into the race! The long runs and long workout days really boost the total for the week.

 

The week before the race I crammed in a final long workout, a longish run, and my other runs into the first 6 days of the week so that MountainMan and I could drive the 12 hours to my hometown without worrying about runs. I felt ok, but developed some severe calf tightness while sitting in the car. I made it through a final short workout and some easy runs the week of the race, but ended each run worried that I’d managed to really injure myself. My left calf was especially bad – the Achilles was tight, my fibularis longs/brevis tendons were tender to the touch and would spasm randomly, and my soleus was sore every time I stretched. If the pain hadn’t shifted to a new spot every day I probably would have been even more worried (real injuries tend to stick to one spot rather than jumping place to place), but even with the somewhat reassuring ‘taper twinge’-like behavior I was concerned. I spent the days leading up to the race icing and gently massaging the muscle and tendons, hoping I wasn’t going to have to step off the course and throw away my chance at a good race thanks to a last-minute injury.

Final workout! Calf actually felt fine during this, but hurt on the easy run the day before and the two following easy run days.

Pre-race run in the rain. Calf hurt *except* when going uphill or doing strides so I figured I could at least rock the hills and sprint the rest ;P

 

With the apprehension about my calf being able to last the whole 13.1 miles and the self-inflicted pressure to take full advantage of this rare half-marathon racing opportunity I spent the days leading up to the race with a stomach full of butterflies. However, an early birthday celebration with family the evening before helped me to relax and get some solid sleep, and I woke up the morning of the race feeling focused and alert but not overly anxious.

A beautiful drive along frosty streets under the setting moon brought me to the start, where I had some extra time to relax and watch the sun rise after picking up my packet. The weather forecast had called for snow or a cold drizzle earlier in the week, but the sun was quickly burning off the fog and I opted to run in shorts and my singlet with just a pair of gloves to fend off the high-30s/low-40s chill in the first few miles.

I had one little pre-race panic when I was still 20 people back in line with 5 minutes to the start and had to dash behind a nearby shed to attempt a subtle pre-race nervous-pee. I don’t like contributing to urine puddles in inappropriate places, but the 10 guys lined up against the wall when I dashed around the other side on my way to the start at least made me feel less alone in my awkward grass-watering activities. Relieved that I wouldn’t spend all 13.1 miles dealing with internal sloshing I scurried over to the start and squeezed my way up near the front group in the starting corral.

The race countdown consisted of a cheer-squad style spelling of “Z-E-I-T-G-E-I-S-T” and then a yelled “Go!” as we took off. A small group of men accompanied by a couple women immediately sped ahead through the chilly shade of the starting stretch. I ran along a little ways back alongside another group of lightly dressed men and women and a few misguided souls in full sweat suits. I wanted to start conservatively so worked on staying relaxed in this second group while still holding what felt like a strong pace. After about half a mile we got out of the shaded, tree-lined road leading out of town and onto the sunnier, foothill-surrounded 2-lane road portion of the course. The sweat-suite wearers fell back and I passed one of the quick starting women.

As we headed into the first climb at about 1 mile the two women next to me were still chatting happily while I was doing my best to stay relaxed at what felt like a quick pace. A little bit of doubt entered my mind but I focused on just hanging in behind them and enjoying the diversion provided by their chatter. The two friends eventually cut down the chatter and separated as the hill got steeper, both moving a little further ahead of me.

The first climb wasn’t too bad and the top, at 3 miles, soon arrived. I had glanced at my watch and knew my pace was slower than what I wanted for the average (as expected), so I really focused on my turnover on the 2 mile downhill into mile 5. I felt good, but just couldn’t quite gain on the two women within eyesight ahead of me. I had seen another women go out very fast who I could no longer spot, and could barely make out another women in a blue singlet in 2nd place. I was sitting in 5th and hoped that eventually I could manage to reel in one of the women ahead of me.

My hands had finally warmed up enough to take my orange-and-blue gloves off, but I tucked them into the shoulder of my sports bra so that they flapped lightly as I ran. I hoped the Boise State color scheme would  get me some extra cheers as I ran by the primarily BSU-apparel-clad spectators. I spent miles 4 and 5 trying to slurp down a gel while winding through the streets of a small sub-division, chasing the closer women ahead around the turns on the short nearly-flat section. Every time I seemed to gain a little ground we’d go around a turn and they’d both suddenly have jumped back a little further ahead. I focused on just staying smooth and keeping my outlook positive in spite of the frustration.

At some point a man in headphones passed me and ended up a little ways ahead, but on the whole I’d been running pretty much alone since the 2nd mile or so. I was glad to have my GPS watch to be able to glance down at my pace every once in a while, but was mainly running by feel and trying to maintain (or decrease) my distance from the little group up ahead.

There was another mini climb around mile 6, which fortunately didn’t seem too tough. I was happy to be approaching halfway, with the hope that some of the runners ahead would finally start to fall back. As I crested the little hill and began striding down the descent I realized I could see the final BIG hill stretched along the hillsides in front of me. The number of turns in the road as it wound up, and up, and up was a little unnerving! The head-phone man was dancing and humming ahead of me and I found myself wondering if he’d be able to keep up the dance moves on the challenging climb.

We rolled down the little downhill, leveled out, and then began the big, intimidating climb. I reminded myself that I had practiced this, and tried to channel the hilly long runs with my new running buddies. One of them is an AMAZING climber, so I tried to picture her just a little ways ahead, springing up the incline. Thinking of this big climb as just another challenging long-run climb was comforting and helped to keep my breathing steady as the hill steepened. I also started mentally chanting “cow poooop, cow pooop” which helped to express my full feeling about the hill ;P

Just as I approached the crest, with legs getting quite heavy and my focus having narrowed to just the 20 feet or so in front of my feet, I heard my name. I glanced up and was happily surprised to see my parents and their dog standing just off the side of the road! They cheered me up to the top, boosting my spirits and bringing my mind back into race mode as I crested the peak and started down the other side.

Now was my time to really push! The peak of the hill was right around 8.5 miles, so I knew I had less than 5 to go, and 2 of those miles were steeply downhill. My quads were aching, but I forced my legs to turn over and started spinning down the hill, battling the fatigue that was pushing me to heel-strike and flail my arms. As the incline eased slightly I was able to stride out more effectively and realized that I felt *strong*. As my parents drove by my mom leaned out the window and pointed out that I was (finally!) gaining on the group ahead. I had my own doubts about catching them, but her encouragement got me looking forward as I focused on speeding down the sloped road.

Around 10.5 miles I had finally gotten up to just a few feet behind one woman in white and the head-phone man. An aid station appeared as we rounded the corner and I made the sudden decision to skip the water and instead surge like a wild woman to get around the two while they were preoccupied. The plan worked perfectly – I felt a surge of adrenaline as I went around on the outside, watching the pair slow and reach for cups, unable to respond. If my heart rate hadn’t already been pretty maxed out I’m sure it would have been beating extra hard over the next hundred meters as I slightly frantically pushed the pace to get a solid gap and squash any thoughts they had of re-passing me. I had decided to go for it and was now running fueled by a mixture of fear and excitement – there were two miles to go and now I had the extra motivation of being chased!

The slight downhill was heavenly after all the climbing, and I was enjoying the chance to really push the pace and no longer worry about going too hard and collapsing on a climb. I felt like I was in the last couple miles of a tempo run, starting to strain but buoyed by the proximity of the finish line. I glanced over my shoulder a couple times to see if the woman in white was catching back up, but appeared to be in the clear. For about half a mile I was free to just focus on my turnover and on pushing the pace.

Rolling! And making weird faces because maybe they’ll help me go faster 😛

My parents were still stopping every little ways to cheer, and my mom again brought to my attention the fact that I was once again gaining on a pair of runners. This time the woman in blue who I’d barely been able to see until the last mile or so was the target. I was gaining steadily on her and a male runner.

As sometimes happens to me when passing people towards the ends of races I had a moment of doubt – if I passed these two then they would be chasing me too! What if they responded with a surge? What if I couldn’t handle it?? As weird as it may seem I’m sometimes afraid of passing people, because I know it can lead to a battle to the finish, and those battles HURT. However, I swiftly realized that at the pace I was going I did’t really have any choice about passing, so I committed and tried again to pass as aggressively as possible to discourage them from coming along with me. A speed bump helped out at just the right moment, as I was able to push off for an extra boost off the top just as I was passing. Once again I got no response from the runners I was passing, and the extra adrenaline propelled me just a little faster.

Finally I hit the half mile to go point. My legs were burning, and I found myself hoping fervently that the course was not, God forbid, long. I could just see the second place woman ahead of me, but was giving it everything I had and not gaining. With about a quarter mile to go I spotted the last, unexpected hill. With the finish line still not in sight, but down to the left of the course behind a bank and some trees, the volunteer waved us *right* up a short, but steep little incline! A small sign posted on the course stated “no, we’re NOT kidding” and the amusement of seeing it helped counteract the panic of wondering if my quads could handle one more climb.

Fortunately, I did not collapse into a heap on the last hill, and quickly found myself at the top and in view of the finish! As I started my descent the second place woman finished, and after 20 seconds or so of sprinting down the hill I also crossed the line, slightly stunned to see the clock still ticking up in the 1:32’s! I shuffled through the finish, thanking the volunteers, and emerged into the sunny parking lot outside the finish coral to be greeted by my parents, who’d somehow timed all of their cheering perfectly to still arrive for the finish.

 

 

I ended up technically getting second, as the first place woman wasn’t really registered, and with a PR of almost 4 minutes. The place had helped motivate me during the race, but the PR was the more significant reward. I’d somehow managed to knock nearly 4 minutes off my time on a fairly brutal course! All the workouts, long runs, and time spent stretching, rolling, and catching up on sleep had really paid off.

A few lessons learned:

  1. I was stronger than I expected. Course-specific training and increased mileage were *extremely* helpful for this race. If I hadn’t practiced so many steady-but-strong uphills and aggressive downhills I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t have caught those women at the end, and just might have actually collapsed on that final short hill!
  2. My conservative pacing, although a bit frustrating at the start, resulted in a very strong finish. When gradient-adjusted, my second half was a little faster than my first half, and I felt like I had rationed my energy perfectly. I felt strong towards the finish, but was also starting to doubt the ability of my legs to hold on much longer – a perfect place to be right at the end of at half marathon! I will admit that after recovering I started to wonder whether I could have gone out a little quicker and moved up with the 2nd place (technically 1st place) woman, who started out just ahead of me at mile 1 but was 20 seconds ahead at the end. Passing people at the end was fun, but maybe if I’d been alongside her I could have fought for the win! I may have to test a slightly more aggressive 13.1 strategy at some point, but the pacing that I used last weekend worked remarkably well considering how rarely I race this distance.
  3. Sometimes taper twinges are really just taper twinges. I have no idea why this happens but it seems to be a common phenomenon. Theories?
  4. A good cheering crew works wonders. I think I still would have closed on those last couple of women at the end, but having a little external pressure and encouragement was amazing! Having a parent/dog cheering section was probably my favorite part about doing a race back in my home town 🙂

 

All in all it was an amazing day – I was blessed with *glorious* Fall weather, a strong field of runners to chase, a little family cheering squad, and an unexpectedly speedy time. I still have a few final weeks in my racing season and I hope to carry this momentum forward through my final race, and to use if for confidence in my next year of running!

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Sub 20, and an altitude-conversion post college ‘PR’

After the rather disappointing summer trainging spent slogging my way back into shape post injury, and a few decent but not thrilling early fall races, I was starting to have my doubts that I would meet my original season goal of breaking 19 minutes (a 4% improvement from last year, to put it in relative terms). I still have my hopes up for a quick final 5k at the RSNA conference, but also know that colder weather could make it more of a toughness-testing slog than a quick race. I discussed my goal dilemma with MountainMan and he suggested a still-challenging, but maybe more reachable in the short-term goal of breaking 20 minutes at altitude (over 5000 feet). This new goal would let me focus on earlier season races (so any fair weather racing at RSNA would be more of a bonus) and would let me focus for a while on goal-at-altitude pace, which is moreconfidence boosting than the short, lung-busting effort of trying to hit sea-level 5k pace up here at 8000 feet.

Although my few races so far hadn’t been spectacular, recent workouts made me believe I was finally getting into similar form as I was in last year when I just missed a sub-20 at my final cross-country race with some of the local Oiselle voleé team members. It had been a few weeks since my last race and I was itching to get in an all-out effort to see what I could do. 

Two of the races I was hoping to run were scheduled for the same day (and were either on a somewhat boring course or on a more interesting/fun but slow course), so I ended up signing up for a totally different race that one of the Oiselle voleé women was directing as a first-time race in Denver to raise money for migraine research. As someone involved in medical-related research the idea of running to help raise funds for someone else’s research was appealing!

I did the long, dark drive up to Denver, registered and warmed up, and got to meet a few new teammates on the starting line.

halfway through the drive – holiday lights already!

Weird fish on my warmup 😛

starting-line social club 🙂


After a few pre-race instructions we were off! I knew one of the women I’d met on the start line was a speedster, so focused on relaxing while running next to her over the first half mile. Another runner, a tall man in a bright yellow shirt, soon came up between us and I fell back to third in our little line, running stride for stride a in a row a bit like a track race for the first mile or so. The pace felt fast but I figured I would just hang on, keep pushing, and see what I had in my legs and lungs on that morning.

 

By 1 mile to go we were a bit more strung out and I was focusing on keeping my turnover up and pushing through the growing discomfort. I knew I was on pace for something near 20 minutes and was hoping my normal pattern of a slow 2nd mile and faster third mile would hold true.


Finally we hit 400 to go. I had gained on the guy in 2nd but couldn’t quite get up the gear to move around him, instead falling back slightly as he suddenly surged ahead. I was feeling pretty ragged and prayed none of the 1 mile walkers who were also on the course would step in front of me, as I didn’t know if I had the energy to yell or jump around them while keeping up the pace. Finally the finish came in to view and I gave a last bit of effort while watching the clock numbers come into focus.

19:45…pump arms…46…stride….47….gasp…48….49….lean….50!

Sub-20 was checked off my list and I’d managed to snag second place, helping the Oiselle voleé women in the field to a podium sweep! The small but well-matched front pack in a rather sparse field, the perfect racing weather, and the long awaited fitness had all come together beautifully to bring me to my goal with a few races left in the season. My confidence has gotten a nice boost and I’m excited to see what I can get out of my remaining ‘bonus’ races!

Final race of the season – RSNA conference fun-run

It’s been a long, fruitful season since my first race back in March of this year, and I was excited to have the opportunity to do my final race of the season in Chicago (at sea level!!!) and with my awesome runner/tri-athlete coworker during our big conference week.

We both spent the few days before traveling, attending talks, and prepping for our own presentations (a podium for her and poster for me), which meant any pre-race prep and pre-race nerves were on the back burner. We did get in a lovely shakeout run along lake Michigan, and headed to bed early the night before so that the 6:30 a.m. start (oooof!) wouldn’t feel quite as rough.

Race morning dawned dark and unseasonably warm (45 degrees!), which meant shorts and long sleeves – definitely not the outfit I had envisioned when I packed my tights, wool socks, mittens, hat, and micro-spikes into my suitcase a few days prior. I brought my racing flats along for an extra little race boost and carried them on our 2-mile warmup run to the park where the race start was located.

My coworker and I got to the park and checked our extra gear, did a few drills and strides together, and then lined up at the start. We eyed a few other competitors (“Let’s beat those guys from Philips!”) and chatted happily with one of the women who’d run the race a few times before. It was a low-key start, with a steady friendly chatter beforehand and then a simple “Ready, set, go!”from the starter. I had to squeeze by a couple guys but then took off at what seemed like a reasonable sea-level pace with the windy-city wind blowing briskly at my back. A small lead pack led the way and we were soon moving briskly down the sidewalk along the lake shore.

I made it through the wind-aided first mile in a surprising 6:08 or so (eek!), but felt fine apart from the shock of seeing the surprisingly fast time on the 1-mile clock. Even with my brisk pace another woman passed me like I was standing still right before the mile mark, and another gal did the same right before the turnaround at 1.5 miles. I just kept spinning my legs and hoping I could hold my pace and fend off any more women coming up behind me. The turnaround meant a a direct flip onto the opposite side of the bike path and into the wind, and my pace slowed considerably to about 6:35 average in the final 1.5 miles with the added resistance. I was relatively alone, and couldn’t hear the runners behind me due to the wind whistling in my ears. All I could do was to keep pushing and hope for the best.

I finally caught a few guys with about a quarter mile to go and kicked with the pack as we spotted the 200m-to-go marker. I could see the finish clock from about 50m out and accelerated into the finish in the hopes of getting under 19:40. I crossed the line to find out I’d gotten third (woohoo!!!), well behind the 1st and 2nd place women who’d both run well under 19 minutes(!)

My coworker came in shortly afterwards at just over 20 minutes and we tiredly recounted our race experiences and gathered some food for the run back. Our cool down wound along the lake shore as the sun rose, making for quite the end to our early morning. We spent the rest of the day conferencing, happy to have gotten in a good 7 miles before spending the day in dress clothes and researcher-mode.

To be honest, it was a bit of a weird final race – I wasn’t all that nervous before hand and the results were fairly meaningless (although my 3rd place did get me a spot in the conference newsletter!). My coworker and I both ran well, but had other, more significant things to focus on that day. However, in spite of the low-key atmosphere I was really pleased with the race – I got to both enjoy my pre-race time without the usual anxiety and also managed to run a really solid race that confirmed the times I’ve been looking at with the altitude conversion from my high-altitude race times. It was definitely satisfying to see that I really did have a sub-20 (and a well-under-20!) in me, and that I was able to perform under the slightly weird conditions of such an early race.

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This is probably the only way I’ll ever do anything impressive enough to get into the conference bulletin ;P

Now it’s on to a little running break, and then a hopefully strong winter of steady, base-building running, strength work, skiing, snowshoeing, and other fun snow-land activities 🙂

We’re number 2! We’re number 2!

I finally got in a XC race with enough teammates to score! The race was a club/community race a couple hours away and one of my Oiselle Volee teammates had done the tough work of recruiting and organizing a scoring team (4 person team in this case).

I drove down the morning of (over slightly icy roads and through glorious views of snow-capped peaks) and met my 3 teammates as we gathered before the race. It was still chilly but sunny and clear – perfect racing weather! We enjoyed the rare opportunity to warm up as a team, did some panicked pre-race peeing in the bushes (yay for only 1 working park-bathroom toilet and a huge herd of runners :-[), and then lined up in a small grass field for the start. There were about 100 runners in the race and we were several spots deep on the small starting line, shadows blending together in the bright early morning sunlight. We stood and said the pledge of allegiance (which was especially meaningful/nerve-inducing in light of the upcoming election) and then took our ‘ready’ stance to wait for the starting whistle.

“Pweeeeeeet!” The whistle blew and we were off, streaming around the starter and race director who hugged the single telephone pole amid the jostling crowd of runners. I got out well and found myself being swept along the first few turns, legs feeling like they were spinning out of control. At only 400m in we hit the infamous creek crossing, which was less of a creek and more of a deep, rocky ditch that caught several runners unaware. Fortunately my teammates who’d done the course previously had warned me about the tripping hazard and I scampered through without getting tripped up. I then almost ran straight into the back of an older man who’d sprinted the start but was now easing up a bit on the rolling hills. I slipped past him and continued weaving my way along with the rushing stream of fellow runners.

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Looking way more in control than I felt 😛

The first mile was windy, narrow, and rocky, and although my lungs and muscles felt fine I felt like I was running just barely in control, and was a little worried about tripping due to only being able to see the backs of the runners ahead of me and a foot or two of the ground in front of my feet. Thankfully the path widened at the mile mark and I was able to get a bit more room and focus on a group of 3 women ahead of me. We turned onto a small loop for mile 2 that wove through a boardwalk and a long stretch of brush-edged dirt single track. I was holding steady behind the women in front of me coming out of that loop and back onto the wide section, but then got passed by another woman who was moving strongly towards the group. I borrowed some of her momentum to work my way up towards the group going into the single track but didn’t know if I’d actually be able to catch them. We entered the third mile and also started lapping runners who were on their first little boardwalk/singletrack loop.

I tried to gasp a ‘good job’ to each runner I passed as I chased down the pack of women in front of me. I suddenly realized that if I had the air to say ‘good job’ I could probably be pushing harder, and used a little lull in pace as an opportunity to throw in a surge past the entire group of women and towards the two lead women who were starting to pull away in front. The effectiveness of my little burst kind of surprised me – I dropped the group without any resistance and found myself gaining slightly on the woman in front of me.

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Surging past the pack, wheeee!

We came out of the little loop and into the final half mile and I tried to lengthen my stride to see if I could chase her down. As we wound into the final 200m I couldn’t quite close on her, but pushed a final kick as a runner came up behind me, breathing loudly. “Ahhhh don’t let that be that pack of women!” I thought as I sprinted into the finish.

As I bent over feeling a bit barfy I was pleased to see it’d actually been a couple guys that made my finish panicky, and that they’d pushed me to a 20:05 5k! Soooo close to that sub-20 goal! I was even more pleased to get to cheer in my teammates who were sprinting in just a few seconds behind me!

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Goooo Oiselllllllle!!!

There’s just something awesome about finishing a race, hands on knees, and getting to stumble your way to the side of the finishing chute to holler for your teammates! With the first 3 of us in with only a few runners between us and all finishing in the top 15 women we knew we must have scored pretty well out of the the women’s teams. We shuffled back along the finish to cheer in our final teammate and then jogged a stiff-legged cool down before enjoying the post-race spread of yogurt, crackers, and beer.

We ended up placing 2nd for the women’s teams (thus the title of this post) and basked in the post-race pain/glow for a bit with our shiny 2nd-place ribbons before all running off to kids/family/spouses and other weekend activities. With the low-key but competitive atmosphere, my almost sub-20 time, and the joy of racing with a strong team this was definitely one of the highlights of my racing season.

Hurrah for club cross-country and the awesomeness of racing with an amazing group of women!

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Enjoying the 5k pain cave 😛  #headsupwingsout

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.

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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.

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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!

Half marathon next weekend!!!

As I mentioned in a previous post I’m signed up for a half marathon in Moab this year and am hoping to set a new half PR of something-under-1:40. Well, I’ve reached the point where race day is now only 8 days away (ahhhhh!!!!) and I figured I’d talk a bit about my training, and then we’ll see in a week how effective it actually has been!

I realized about 6 weeks out that I should probably do some race-specific training rather than sticking to 5k training till the day-of and then going out like a wild woman for 3 miles before collapsing. Even if the fitness is there, some actual race-pace training is always a good idea! I searched around online for intermediate 13.1 training plans (i.e., wanting to race/hit a goal time in addition to finishing) and decided on this plan from Kara Goucher that was posted on the Oiselle site. I wouldn’t always trust an Olympian to write a good ‘normal person’ training plan, but this one appeared to  do a great job of balancing tough-but-doable workouts with a reasonable amount of mileage. The plan starts off with the expectation of some base having been put into place, with a fartlek workout in week 1, and then moves to ½ marathon pace work at week 5.

Since I only had 5 weeks before my race I hopped into the plan at week 6, figuring my trail season and cross-country work would serve as a fine substitute for the initial 5 weeks of workouts. Luckily I was correct and the transition to half marathon workouts went pretty smoothly. Honestly, I might recommend a little bit of speedier work leading into the ½ marathon workouts since the switch to a more relaxed pace balances the intimidation that comes with the introduction of the longer, more tedious workouts.

I steadily worked my way through each of the written workouts, plus weekend cross-country races on weeks 7 and 8. I’m trying to keep up some 5k speed so the races served as good short-but-hard efforts that balanced well with the more tempo-type half marathon workouts. With the lower mileage plan (peaking at 33-50 miles depending on which level one picks – I picked the lower mileage plan) 2 hard efforts didn’t wear me down too much. I just completed the final big workout with a 7-mile tempo run – my longest since college!!! – and am excited to test out my fitness next weekend.

The one other thing that I did to deviate from the written plan was to add a few miles onto the written long runs. The 10-week plan’s long runs start at 5 miles and peak at 11 miles. Since I was already doing 10 mile long runs when I would have started the 10 weeks I was able to gradually add miles without overdoing it and included four runs of 12-14 miles over the last few weeks. I’m dropping down to 8 miles this week, as suggested by the plan, and with a few longer runs in my legs and a nice taper I’m confident that I can make it the full 13.1 miles at the very least.

The last factor going into this race is hydration and fueling. I’ve been taking a gel for practice on some of my long runs since I won a full box of them at one of the trail races and my tongue and stomach handle them fine. I just did a race-pace fueling and drinking test during this week’s 7 mile tempo and everything went smoothly other than one inhaled mouthful of water. I’m thinking gels at 4 and 8 miles should be adequate since they’re 32g of carbs and those markers should give me about 30g per 30 minutes as recommended. I’ll bring one extra in case I start dreaming of bagels at mile 10 but don’t think I’ll need it. My main worry is water – I don’t often get a chance to practice drinking out of cups and am worried that a choking sip every 2 miles at the water stations won’t be enough to keep me hydrated. It’s also nice to be able to sip the water over a longer period rather than gulping it, and cups don’t seem conducive to carrying  water along for sipping over a half-mile or so.

I carried a half-full soft flask bottle from my Salomon pack during the tempo this week and it worked great…but only holds 250 mL when half filled for comfortable carrying at race pace. Based on the fact that I drained the half-bottle during the tempo plus warmup/cooldown 250 mL seems like only enough for about 9 miles of comfortable sipping. I’m also a little concerned that my arm might get tired and then I’ll be annoyed to be lugging the dang thing. I’m planning to run with it again on my 8-miler today so that should give me more info. Maybe I’ll carry the bottle and then switch to cup sipping at the miles 8-10 water stations if needed?

 

Any good tips from the long-haul runners out there re: carrying bottles and/or drinking out of cups? Will I actually need that much water or is the constant mild dehydration induced by living at altitude making me paranoid?

Success – I embraced the nature over 5 kilometers of steep hills, shin-deep grass, and the occasional ice patch

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Saturday’s race morning started after a fitful night of being woken multiple times by a restless dog and a husband who was really excited about a bear on the patio at 2am. Knowing my alarm was going off at 4:20am, I was much less thrilled about the disruptive middle of the night visitor. Luckily no one was eaten and I managed a few solid hours of sleep before my alarm pulled my out of bed and into the dark morning.

I dressed, grabbed my gear, and drove the two hours to the course, wishing I had thought to make some coffee for the drive.Happily, the sun began to rise over the peaks just as I arrived, pulling me out of my drowsy state and into race prep mode. I registered and quickly started my warm up jog to wake my legs and get the chill out of my hands and feet. I spotted one other gal doing drills in an ankle-length down coat and runner’s cap and figured she might be my main competition in what was looking to be a rather sparse field.

The small group of us – mainly blue-lipped men in skimpy shorts and tank tops and more comfortable-looking women in tights, long sleeves, and gloves – gathered at the start for some pre-race instructions, an ‘on your mark’, and a very exciting send-off signaled by surprisingly-loud mini canon fire!

I took off conservatively, well aware of the steady hill that would take us from about the first quarter mile up to the 1 mile mark. A group of the tank-top men and I slogged up the double-track, gradually spreading out as the hill took its toll.

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The start, and the hill in the background.

The second mile started with a snow-covered switchback onto the only flat bit apart from the start, and then swiftly dove downhill on some frozen dirt single track that wound through gray and yellow aspens. This spat us out into some of the most challenging terrain of the course – deep, uneven grass.

I had somehow ended up in first but kept seeing the gal from the warmup whenever we went around a switchback. Now I was fighting the cold, fatigue from the long first mile climb, and the uneven, momentum-sapping grass to stay ahead of her. I tried to follow the men’s lead on the challenging terrain, sticking to the shortest grass and prancing around the many bumps, holes, and rocks. I rolled my ankle once but fortunately felt it spring right back with just a tiny twinge.

The course brought us tantalizingly close to the finish with about 800m to go, and then sent us around on one more final bit of single track, another section of knobby overgrown field, and then down a steep mowed-grass hill into the finishing flat. I was finally able to stride out and felt the effort, but was determined to stay ahead of the runner behind me who’s footsteps were growing alarmingly close. I pumped my arms through the finish and turned to see a guy finishing close behind and then the gal I’d been racing against.

We all spent a few moments congratulating each other and commiserating over the gnarly course, and then stampeded the concessions stand to get our well-earned muffins and free coffee. I settled on a sun-warmed boulder to sip my coffee and congratulated myself on keeping the ‘curse you mother nature!’ thoughts to a minimum during the race.

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COOOFFFFFEEEEEEE. With melted/dissolved whipped cream 😀

After the (glorious) caffeine kicked in I cooled down while cheering on the middle-school racers and then met up to cheer with a Volee teammate who was coaching a local high school team over the same brutal course. There’s nothing quite like spending the morning after a hard effort sprinting around a cross-country course in the Autumn sunshine cheering for a bunch of speedy young upstarts!

 

Here’s a question for you all! Favorite beverage post-race: hot (or iced!) coffee, cold beer, fizzy sports-drink? Or something more unique?

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A glorious day for racing and cheering