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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Trails (and trail fears) on my mind

I’m coming off an awesome weekend of road-relay fun (more on that coming in another post) and am rapidly approaching another weekend race, this time on the trails.

Trails!


I previewed the course yesterday after work. Online, the course profile looked really similar to the Boneyard trail race (the first in the series a few weeks ago) and I was nervous about another straight-up-then-straight-down race. However, the course has a few improvements over the first course, including a much wider starting section (starts on road), a few sections of flat (*gasp!*), and a nicer mix of single-track and wide-open-dirt-road for the downhills. There are a few sketchier sections – a stream crossing, a couple bumpier downhills, and some rocky sections, but nothing crazy. I took the time to re-run short downhills or rocky sections that gave me pause, working to figure out the best approach to apply come race day.

In spite of the surprisingly pleasant course, had some nagging nervous thoughts that kept me awake last night, with my mind replaying the course and veering off onto side thoughts about rolled ankles, tumbles onto sharp rocks, or getting left in the dust due to heavy, uncooperative downhill legs after the still-grueling uphill. The resulting jolts of adrenaline made sleep difficult and, in my tired, anxiety-ridden state, I actually started to consider just not showing up for the start on Saturday. 

I’m a competitive person, and I think I’m letting this competitiveness contribute to my recent struggle with trail racing. With the depth of the race fields here, I feel pressure to learn to bomb the downhills and technical just to stay in sight of the chase pack. My desire to run well and improve is clashing with (somewhat overgrown) fears about potentially losing weeks of running, hiking, and outdoors fun to clumsiness-induced traumatic injury. Let’s be realistic – I know people who’ve broken ankles doing something as mundane as stepping off a sidewalk curb, so in perspective it’s irrational to limit myself from having fun and building new skills just to avoid a low probability of serious injury, or the more likely minor pain of scrapes and rolled sprained ankles. I keep reminding my brain of this when it starts freaking out, but it seems only mildly convinced by this logic.

I’ll certainly be running on Saturday in spite of my worries, and am confident that the race day mindset will help me to temporarily suppress my fears and push through the sections that made me hesitant on yesterday’s course preview. Hopefully Saturday will end up being a good opportunity for me to jump back into the trail scene after a couple hectic weeks away, and I’ll be able to cue off of the faster runners to push beyond my comfort zone while still staying within my developing technical capabilities.Trail running is supposed to be a fun escape from the monotony of the roads, and I want to balance my ability and efforts in order to find joy in facing the course challenges instead of just fear.

Good or bad, Saturday will definitely provide me with some information about how the more experienced runners get through the tougher sections and how I can apply these techniques to my weaknesses, and will serve as good motivation to get out on the beautiful summer trails and build some foot-eye-proprioceptor coordination!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

First Colorado race!

I just got home from my first race in Colorado – a not-quite-5k trail race at 10000 lung-busting feet of elevation. Also, it started with half a mile uphill. Followed shortly thereafter by another hill. And there was a near-deadly steep  climb in the middle. The finish was uphill too, of course. 

 

Pain. All the pain.

 
However, between periods of near hyperventilation, I was able to take in some spectacular scenery:

From the warmup/cooldown – my mid-race photography skills aren’t that good

 
   
 
I went out a tad too fast but managed to hang on (barely) for first woman. I got a bit lucky there, as the 10k run at the same time pulled most of the better women and my main competitors were thus jr high and high school girls. 

 

Big dip at 1.8 = trying not to barf/hyperventilate at the top of the steepest hill :-/

 
I won a hat and a gorgeous tech t-shirt from La Sportiva that claims to not ever get stinky. We’ll see about that 😉 

 

New hat!

 
Overall I’m really pleased with how my first Colorado race went – I was able to keep my mind in the race the entire time (tough for first races back) and am pleased to have won (prizes, woohoo!) even if my main competitors were a decade+ younger 😛

  

First XC race in 3 years!

Well, I finally got to step back out on the cross-country course and it was AMAZING! Honestly, I would have liked to run a bit faster (I set a new personal record for slowest 4k of my life, yay…) but I felt good mentally and physically during the race. Best of all I had the good fortune to race against my former team at my first race back!  All but 1 of the girls were returners that I ran with in college (they’re all seniors now). I may have only seen their backs during the race (they are a speedy crew!) but I got to chat with them a little before and after and it was awesome hearing what they are all up to with school and training. 

My most significant take-aways from this race were:

1) I need to focus more on pushing, rather than just avoiding fear by not thinking about the next part of the race. Whenever I started to feel anxious about the pace I just told myself to let my body run – my legs have run enough races that they can pace themselves. However, sitting back and letting my mind drift made me less competitive over the latter stages of the race.  I just need to find the balance between relaxing early on and pushing when it’s time to really race.

2) Re-hydrate more effectively. I should have known the heat was worse than it felt when I saw the trainers draping a few gals in ice-water soaked towels post-race. Even though it was only in the mid-80’s it was also sunny, windy, and at altitude – perfect conditions for drying runners up into little runner-raisins. I felt fine until about 4 hours after the race and then “enjoyed” a couple hours of a pounding headache combined with some pretty impressive nausea. Not so pleasant 😛

Celebrated a good race with a new long-run location this morning:

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The Cecret Lake trail up near Alta ski resort. The climb up goes from 9000 to 10000 feet of lung-burning altitude over about 2 and a half miles – it hurts like heck but the views are totally worth it!

Trail 1/2 Marathon: Post-race

I survived!

Race-day dawned chilly and damp – perfect conditions for me and my lackluster ability to perform well in the heat.  I drove out to the course and got to enjoy the sight of the early morning fog settled around the hills along the highway.  I arrived in plenty of time to do a little shake-out walk (skipped the usual running/drills warm-up routine since 13.1 miles was already long enough to push my luck on my still-healing foot and low fitness level) and do the whole pee-a-billion-times thing.

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Pre-race view of the course (those hill up yonder ha ha).

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Pre-race walk (can you spot the bluebird?)

At start-time I stripped down to my capri-tights, singlet, and arm sleeves and met one of the other racers (a speedy girl I know from the series last year – and the to-be race winner) to line up at the start.  The horn sounded, and we were off!

The race director had warned about the mud, and man was she right!  In the first 200m my shoes collected enough mud that my legs were struggling to swing my feet back in front of me each time I took a step.  The course gradually turned to gravel and the clods of mud gradually got flung off (a girl I was running next to called these mud clumps “dingleberries.”  Not exactly the reference I would have gone with, but it made me laugh).  We headed up into the hills and got ready to hang in for the long haul.

I felt pretty good the first 3 miles, and then hit a rough patch from 4-7.  I’ve been struggling with some stress/anxiety stuff lately, and apparently my problems followed me on to the course.  I can usually block out “real life” stuff while on the run, but kept thinking about all the work I need to get done and all the stressful things that I’ve been struggling with.  This led to some near-hyperventilation and was extremely distracting from my actual goal of racing.  Luckily, I fell in with a nice little pack around mile 6 and the steady rhythm and break from having to focus on my own pace/ankle-breaking-rock-avoidance let me calm down and get focused back in on the race.  Around mile 8, the girl ahead of me and I took advantage of the aid-station slowdown and to break away from our little pack and pick up the pace.

I had a great time running with my new-found pace buddy for the next few miles.  However, my lack of training hit with a vengeance at mile 11, and I hit the wall hard.  I fell back from the lady I’d been running with and even took a couple walk-breaks on the hills.  Even though I knew I had less than 3 miles left and was trying to motivate myself to finish strong, every 50 meters had begun to seem like an eternity, and my hips were cramping up enough that I started to worry about pulling a hip flexor.  A younger guy in front of me was coming back (and also taking some walk breaks) and I managed to hold it together long enough to catch up with him, allowing us to work together and hold a decent pace for the last 800m.

I have never been so relieved to see a finish line in my life.

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Looking back, I wish I hadn’t walked, but I just didn’t have the willpower today.  Lack of sleep, and a stressful and emotionally draining week left me lacking that extra competitive flame this morning.  However, I managed to finish as the 4th female overall, and did enjoy the muddy, XC-style course for all but a few miles.  For my fitness, I held on pretty long and pushed the pace more than I had expected to be able to.  Last year I experienced similar problems (drastic drop in energy the last 2 miles) and took 1 pause-and-collect-myself break, going on to win the women’s race and place top 10 overall.  This year, I ran slower, walked a few times more, and finished further back, but probably did as well, or better, considering my low mileage (20 MPW, 12 miles for longest run).

Best parts of the race?

1)  The mud,

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2)  the post-race weather- sunny but gorgeous clouds (and yummy Nuun to go along with the warm sun)  🙂

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3) and the swag – got a pint glass, a medal, and won a hat for my age-group placing!

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