Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Des Moines Marathon Part III (or how I qualified for Boston by refusing to admit I was trying to qualify for Boston...Part III)

I started to tire between miles 18 and 20. I was still pretty sure I was on track, but was no longer dropping the 8:15s and had begun to walk the aid stations. This aid station walking led to a shocking 9-ish-minute mile for 19, which caused a mild panic, which was assuaged only slightly by an absolute angel of a man handing out gummy bears.  I also glanced my race number around this time, which proudly greeted my with the 'Hi' Ronnie had entered into the space on my race number where you were supposed to put your name (so other people could cheer for you) or whatever nickname or word you chose to inspire you or those around you.  This brought a smile to my face and briefly moved me to forget that I had just run my first extremely subpar mile, which might be indicative of the ever present specter most runners call 'the wall.'  But only briefly.  Mile 20 was a solid reminder of my gradual slide into paralyzing exhaustion.  I still had a few minutes to play with, so I wasn't fully panicked yet, but I did pick up the pace between aid stations, which, in retrospect, probably made the problem worse. 

I saw Katie again at mile 20.5, which was fun, but then the wheels fully fell off.  I can't say exactly what was wrong (and believe me - I tried to figure it out - almost every step from mile 22-25).  Nothing really hurt, I didn't feel terrible - I just couldn't run anything faster than about 8:50.  I began composing an awesomely cynical newsletter article/blog post about yet another failed adventure and tried to console myself that I was still pretty much a shoe-in for a PR.  The consolation attempt failed miserably when the 3:40 group came trotting by just past mile 24, looking strong and happy.  My soul melted out into a puddle by the side of the bike path around that time.  My newsletter article stopped being fit for publication and became more of an adolescent diary rant.  I trudged miserably along, vaguely trying to keep the little yellow pacer sign from getting any farther away, but not really believing I was capable of doing so.

As I crested the last little hill on the course and the 25-mile marker came into sight, I began to analyze the situation a little more rationally.  The internal dialog went something like this:
"Well, we said this was going to be a practice so I could go into my next marathon a bit better informed about pacing and what kind of shape I was in..."
"I guess we'll have to sign up for Thunder Road when we get back to NC and use Shut-in as a good, hard long run in my marathon re-prep)"

As the aforementioned 25 crept by, I glanced at my watch and saw that I had ~10 minutes to cover 1.2 miles (didn't know the difference between my watch time and chip time/clock time).  

About this time, I also had the revelation that I was, in fact, NOT having fun and did NOT want to do this again in 2 mos in Charlotte (and yes, I am well aware of the irony of the fact that all this was so I CAN do this again in April in Boston).  The next conversation with myself went something like this:

"You are going to get under the 3:40:59 mark or die trying" (my inner football coach was awakened)

(a seeming eternity passes)

whiny me: "I'm really tired and this hurts... I want to take a break..."

football coach me: "Shut up, you pansy - we're not there yet!  Get there under 3:40:59 or die trying!"

(another eternity)

whiny me: "It's windy and this is hard!" (the wind had, in actuality picked up around this time - 6 mph sustained, 10-15 mph gusts)

football coach me: "KEEP PUSHING!!!  YOU ARE NOT THERE YET!!!"

logical me: "Okay - see that construction sign?  We get to turn there" (I had no idea where we got to turn, but I figured it would be at the sign at worst - that way if we got to turn before then, added bonus)

football coach me: "GO GO GO!!"

(we got to turn about a block before the construction sign)

logical me: "alright - that was probably about a mile - just 385 yards left"
whiny me: "okay FINE!  I'll shut up."

(approximately 200 yards later)

all three mes: "WHAT THE H&## DO YOU MEAN, MILE 26????" (apparently logical me was wrong 200 yards before)

football coach me: "You'll just have to suck it up then!"

(200 more yards)

logical me: "watch out - there are some railroad tracks - you know your track record with minor obstacles..."

(break stride to essentially tiptoe across railroad tracks)

observant me: "what the heck is that noise? Is there some annoying wheezy heavy breather nearby?"

logical me: "um... that's me.  I sure hope that goes away after we're done. How embarrassing."

hopeful me (seeing the clock): "OHMYFRICKINGGODTHECLOCKSAYS3:40:40ANDI'MONLY50YARDSAWAY!" (give or take)

all mes: Oh thank God.  whew.

(3:40:51 on the clock...I think...)

So yes.  I made it.  ...and yes, the wheezy breathing subsided almost immediately after I finished.

...and finally, yes, I managed to register for Boston...from my phone...during our layover in the flight attendant was telling us to turn off all electronic devices.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Des Moines Marathon Part II (or how I qualified for Boston by refusing to admit I was trying to qualify for Boston...Part II)

So there I was with a goal and a race, and as the summer and early autumn wore on (and it was still approximately 800 degrees here), I was dutifully doing my track workouts (with a little more intensity) and my long runs (with a lot more intensity thanks to my Saturday ladies - many MANY thanks to Laura, Crystal, and Amy for hauling me through the heat all summer!!), when it occurred to me that I had no idea how to pace a) on the road and b) at 8:25 pace. So I signed up for Salem Lake (see post here) for a good, long run with marked miles and aid stations to practice a (kind of) and b. However, to ensure that I did not accidentally end up properly prepared and thus prone to disaster, I tripped over Lord-knows-what and fell down to ensure that I remained totally unpracticed at the pacing thing (and had a neato scar to show off at Des Moines).

...So I finished out my taper weeks uneventfully and three weeks later, race day arrived and I found myself in Iowa surrounded by Smythes.  Note to all:  If you have the opportunity to hang with the Smythes, you should absolutely do so.  You absolutely will not find a nicer, friendlier, more welcoming, more fun family anywhere.  HUGE thanks to the Smythe family for allowing us to share in your family trip and your momentous occasion!

Kay - back to the story at hand.  So race day arrived and there I was standing on some street in the middle of downtown Des Moines (yes, there is one) with perfect weather predicted and an amazingly well-supported course ahead of me, wondering if I was going to be able to pull this puppy off.  The gun went off and we headed toward the capital building at some random pace.  I tried to stay somewhere between the 3:30 group and the 3:40 group.  I probably should have just stuck with the 3:40 group in retrospect, but that's just not my style - I have to do it all by myself even if it means I do a crap job at whatever 'it' is.  So mile 1 passed by....somewhere....I totally missed the sign.  Good start.  Luckily, I saw mile 2 and noted that I was running sub 8:00 miles.  OOPS.  I guessed the 3:30 group (which was a couple hundred yards up ahead) was clearly using the 'bank some time' strategy???  SO I slowed down and proceeded to clock in a series of ~8:15s for the next few miles, wondering how long I would be able to keep THAT up, but still feeling comfortable and chatting with the guy who had settled in next to me.  After determining that my new friend was considerably faster than I, we wished each other luck and parted ways and I laid down an 8:30, which simply would not do.  So I sped up and dropped in a 7:59 to regain balance, then actually ran the targeted 8:24.  Then another.

If you think this is going to be some great story about finding my pace and sticking to it, you clearly have not met me. I'll get to the point: I discovered after about 3 of these that 8:24s make my legs tighten up and feel grumpy.  I can run 8:00 or 8:15 or 8:30 or slower, but I can't run a series of 8:24s.  

If you think this is going to be a great story of me discovering I can run 8:00 or 8:15 for the whole marathon, you clearly haven't run with me - there's NO WAY I could pull that nonsense off in the shape I'm currently in.  I think it would be physiologically possible SOMEDAY, with the appropriate training, but that leads to the quandary of how to properly train without triggering some sort of bizarro disaster (see Part I)..but I digress. 

Knowing that I most likely could not pull off a 3:30 or better, I ran random miles ranging in pace from 8:00-8:30 through mile 18 or so, marveling at how good I still felt the whole way.  I felt great through the lovely (and amazingly hilly) neighborhood from miles 4-8, where I have to say I was highly impressed at how many mansion owners (no kidding - GIGANTIC and BEAUTIFUL houses...) were out to cheer. I felt great on the somewhat gratuitous trip out to and around Drake's famed track, where I got to wave at Ronnie and Smythe #1 (Brad) around mile 11, and then Katie (who used to be a Smythe, but now is a Wade) around mile 12 or so, and then Don and Matt (more Smythes) around mile 12.5 (ish). I even felt great when we came out of the neighborhoods and dropped down into the river floodplain around miles 17-18. Then things started to change... 

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Des Moines Marathon Part I (or how I qualified for Boston by refusing to admit I was trying to qualify for Boston...Part I)

Okay - you have to understand the history here.  Every time I get all amped up for a race, something horrible (and often really bizarre) happens to foil my hard training and best laid plans.  Let's look at the history:
The first time I was all psyched up for the Bolder Boulder, a computer tipped over at work and took all the skin off my left achilles tendon region.
The year I was all trained up for Uwharrie and feeling awesomely fast, I tripped over a speedbump (yes, seriously) and took all the skin off my knee (to the point where we were down to fascia) and was out of running for several weeks (apparently you need an intact knee to run and repeated bending/extending inhibits healing). The second time I was all fast and stuff for the Bolder Boulder, I caught a terrible tuberculosis-like cold and hacked my way to a 50+ minute finish.  I spent a night in the LaGuardia airport due to thunderstorms that prevented me from getting to a race in Vermont.  I developed a massive IT-band inflammation issue DURING THE RACE my first time trying to qualify for Boston (no warning - no hints that this might be an issue leading up to the race... just BLAM right there in the race).  The list goes on.

On the flip side, every time I enter a race totally unprepared and decide to just wing it, things turn out well. I got 2nd once at the Uwharrie 20.  I managed to get 3rd in the 40 the first year I ran it (just hoping to finish).  Got second in my age group at the Triple Lakes 40 after training 2 days/week with one back-to-back long run and maybe 2 runs over 20 miles.  My Bolder Boulder PR is from a year where I hashed twice in the days leading up to the event and had every intention of stopping at the beer break at mile 4.  I'm not saying I was totally unprepared for all these races - just that I didn't go through all the meticulous preparations I 'should' have.

So you can see why I've become very gun-shy about 'properly preparing' for races.  Which is great because it means I don't ever - actually, scratch that - I CAN'T ever get all amped up/stressed out for a race and just get to stick with my usual goofy training schedule.

SO fast-forward to sometime this summer when I discover that everyone I know (okay - maybe a bit of an overstatement, but not as dramatic as you might think) is running Boston this year.  Well crap.  I had always said I would give it another shot, half because it's one of those bucket list things you just have to do and half because I was tired of explaining to people that yes, I probably could qualify, but I haven't run a road marathon since 2006 because prefer to stick to the trails and ultras (I know - arrogant).  So I began casually looking for races that might fit with my teaching schedule that might be flat-ish and might not be 100 degrees and humid on race day.  I identified a couple of possibilities and then rejected them as I had waited too long to start kind-of sort-of training (bumping the long runs on Sat) and it was still $%#@#%% 95 degrees here and humid, which made training sucky all around.

Enter Brad Smythe.  Anyone who knows Brad knows that he a) will run anything and b) will make it sound fun enough to entice you to run it with him.  I am somewhat immune to the powers of the Smythes (no, I will not run 35 miles from Raleigh to Carrboro on a work day on the sidewalk with you), but only somewhat (yeah... Hinson lake DOES sound like fun after all... where do I sign up for next year?).  Ronnie, however, is completely susceptible.  I believe the conversation went something like this. Brad: "Yeah... my dad's doing his 50th state at Des Moines this year..."
Ronnie: "I went to school in Iowa.  Where do I sign up?"
Brad: "My whole family is going to try to come out and run with him"
Ronnie: "Perfect.  I fit in well with all families - people love me.  Now we just have to figure out how to make this sound like a good idea to Karen"
.....several hours later....
Ronnie: "Hey Karen - remember how I went to school in Iowa?"
Karen: "How could I forget?  Why?"
Ronnie: "It's very flat there."
Karen: "What has Brad convinced you to do now?"

I won't bore you with all the details of that conversation (because they are undoubtedly going to become even less accurate), but suffice to say he played upon my inkling that I should perhaps maybe try to kinda qualify this year and the fact that the Iowa race was the day before registration opened, and it was sure to close out fast this year. So we registered and started maybe kinda training (increase length of long run).

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Salem Lake

So this is late...surprise!

A couple of weeks ago, I ran the Salem Lake 30k for the third time.  I want to say upfront that there are some legitimate issues with this race (they unfailingly run out of food and gatorade and sometimes water at the finish line, and they make the winners wait over 2 hrs for the awards ceremony while they wait for the last person to finish), but it is generally a very well-coordinated race with great volunteers.   It's a mostly flat, 2/3 unpaved course with aid stations - seemingly perfect for a good long run before a fall marathon.  This is where I begin to vent (with apologies to the race director).  I detest this race. I detest it way more than is warranted by the relatively minor issues noted above. Why do I detest this race, you might ask?  Let me count the ways:

The first year I ran, it was fine.  No major complaints except for the part where you start being able to see the finish line about 5 miles before you get to the finish line.  Oh look!  I can see it!  I must be getting close!  No wait - I have to run around this crazy finger-shaped piece of lake...  Okay.  I see it again!  Oh wait - another little finger-shaped piece of lake.  There are approximately 1500 little finger-shaped pieces of lake that turn what appears to be a short run along the banks of the lake to the finish into a colossal mind f*&k.  Did I mention that the course takes you all the way around this crazy paramecium-shaped lake, to within approximately 400 yards of the finish line, where you then do a random out and back on a paved bike path, get within approximately 400 yards of the finish line AGAIN, only to run BACK around the god-forsaken lake?  That was fine, though - it was still a nice, flat course in preparation for my second ever marathon.  Good times.

The next time I ran, a year or two later, I was in MUCH better shape - I was training for Chicago with the aim of qualifying for Boston.  I had scouted the finishing results for the past several years and, with the pace I had been training at, I was pretty sure an age group award would be mine.  SO I ran and had a great race.  Surpassed all my expectations pace-wise.  "Awesome," I thought "I'm in great shape AND I bet I age grouped."  SO I hung out for the approximately 2 hrs till the awards ceremony (growing increasingly hungry and thirsty because of the perennial lack of food and drink) only to discover that a local college XC team or alumni team or something had been out and had won all the awards for my age group.  In fact, despite the fact that I had taken approximately 20 min off my time, I actually finished one place WORSE in my age group than the previous year!  Not the race directors' fault, per se, but it would have been nice to post results so I didn't have to wait around 2 hrs to find this out.  ...and did I mention I completely fell apart at Chicago?  I can't say for sure whether this was a result of running too fast at Salem Lake, but I can't help but think it may have played a role...  Oh - and the course still made me want to stab myself in the eyeball over and over again.

So here we are, something like 5 years later and I'm training for the Des Moines marathon with some vague hope of perhaps semi-accidentally earning a spot in Boston (despite running exactly ZERO road marathons in the past 4 years and being completely and utterly inept at pacing - more to come on both of these things later).  I had been dutifully training on the track and doing all my long runs on the single track at Umstead, when a well-meaning owner of a local running store suggested that this may not be the ideal training program for a flat-ish road marathon.  What?  I showed him my grumpy face at the idea of doing some flat training miles on the ATT instead of my friendly group run at Umstead.  He seemed unconvinced of the brilliance of my plan.  I continued to to project grumpiness in response to his seemingly logical arguments.  I left the store seemingly resolute with the brilliance of my training program, but he had planted a seed.  Ronnie later nourished the seed when he noted that Salem Lake was a flat course and was exactly 3 weeks out from the marathon - great for pacing!  Stupid seed.  Stupid Ronnie.  SO we registered.  The night before the race, we stayed up late, me working, him installing a ceiling fan.  In fact, we were so busy with our respective tasks that we didn't eat dinner till 10PM.  What great pre-race dinner did we select?  Spaghetti with meatballs?  Macaroni and cheese? Pizza? Hamburgers? No?  A bowl of Lucky Charms.  One bowl of cereal. Hm.  We then got ourselves put together and headed off to bed... around midnight.  The cats got up at 3.  I moved to the other bedroom.  The alarm went off at 4:30.  Oh dear.

SO we arrived at the race, got our numbers, greeted the people we knew, and I yawned my way to the starting line, feeling like I had been not only awake for 86 consecutive hours, but also like I had been hit by a school bus.  Neat.

After a few minutes of the race director thanking people and whatnot, we set off and I have to admit the first mile went great.  Despite some jostling for position and some slower folks up front as we made our way onto the trail, I was on pace.  Ditto for the second mile.  Same for the third, though I was still yawning uncontrollably and not really enjoying myself.  I tried to play that off as my having a bad attitude, though.  By the fourth mile, I knew that whatever the reason, I was not going to be able to run all 18.6 at pace and began to bargain with myself about how far I had to make it before I could just turn this mess into a long run.  I also began to be very irritated at getting talked into doing this stupid race.  Regardless, 10 miles was the goal.  So I did it.  At pace. But it hurt.  A lot.  ...and I apparently got a bit dehydrated in the process.  ...and it was unseasonably hot and humid that day (which was normal for this year, but my physiology still staged a protest).  So then I walked a mile and drained my water bottle.  After that, I felt much better and began jogging back toward the start/finish, thinking about various things like "is this a bad sign for Des Moines?  Why did I bonk?  Is this the result of bad pre-race preparation or is it indicative of a distinct lack of training/ability? Can I rebound in three weeks?  How might I do that?  How far should I run next weekend?  Did I forget to grade something at work?  What should I add to next Wednesday's lecture?  What's for dinner? Why am I now lying on the ground?  Why does my elbow really hurt?"  Yes, somewhere around mile 12, my thoughts were interrupted by a visit between my toe and a root, followed almost immediately by a visit between some rocks and various other parts of my body.  This was one of those falls that you thought you could save, which probably only made the situation worse.  In the end, I think it looked like I was sliding into third, but the basepath was paved with pointy rocks. A brief survey of my situation revealed a nice gash on my elbow that was bleeding not profusely, but had unleashed a pretty healthy trickle of blood down my arm, a pretty solid raspberry on my calf, a good bruise on my hip and a hole in the heel of my left hand (not as bad as the elbow, though).  "Well hell," I thought, "nobody's going to come get me, so I guess I have to truck myself the remaining 6.5 miles back."  This triggered a minor and short-lived internal temper tantrum and a sense of righteous indignation (I KNEW we shouldn't have done this stupid race!  This PROVES it!).  As I jogged back, I came across the official race emergency gator broken down across the path and thought "At least I'm not the only one having a bad day...."  From there, the story ends about like you'd figure - I shuffled in at 50k pace and got some help rinsing my elbow, which, as it turns out, had suffered what appeared to be severe tire damage in the fall (two rather deep parallel gashes).  I knew I was going to catch some serious ridicule from my usual Monday buddies, so I hammed it up a bit for the camera before running into my friend Tom, who had managed to not only also fall, but to hit his chin in the process.  In fact, there was a rather sizeable amount of trail carnage walking around when I looked at it.  Despite this, I knew I would be catching some serious ridicule from my usual Monday running buddies for falling at what can barely be called a trail race (though, as I reminded them, I have also tripped over a speed bump, so the rigor of the trail is no predictor of my potential for injury.  I figure it's really only a matter of time before I trip over the bump in lane 1 of the UNC track). So, in the end, I did NOT age group (though this go-round, preliminary results were actually posted before the ceremony), but I did finish within a minute of my first Salem Lake time, so that was amusing.

When I got home, I dug the remaining rocks out of my elbow (amused because all I could think was 'my descending pain modulation system is active right now'), updated my facebook status, and vowed never to do this stupid race again....again.

As an afterword, I would like to note that not everyone hates this race - plenty of people really like it.  Shannon and Anthony had great runs out there and seemed to enjoy themselves, and there are plenty of people who do the race every year.  My hatred of this race is totally undeserved and I will freely admit it.  But that doesn't mean I have to run it again.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Mountains-to-Sea 12 Mile

First, I want to send much love to Kim and Jason for their super awesome inaugural race. You should all run it next year. That being said, I have a couple of tips for those who want to run this race (i.e., don't be dumb like me):

1) The race starts with a little loop around a parking lot before diving into the woods. Really. It's a little loop. If you want to put yourself in a decent position for hitting the woods, you should *not* spend the final pre-race minutes standing at the back of the pack gabbing. This won't kill you, but you will spend a lot of time passing people and running through fallen leaves and brush.

2) Follow trail, not trail shoes. My streak of going off course is intact. This was was especially special as the group I was with saw a couple of people floundering down by the lake and called to them that we were on the 'real' trail... until our trail petered out, too. So what did we do, you ask? We went back to their WRONG trail before noticing that there was a steady stream of runners about 100 ft above us making a fairly well-marked left turn. Sigh. I then re-passed the folks I had already passed due to #1 above.

3) Brooks Cascadia shoe laces are the devil. They don't stay tied. I've had this problem before, but usually in races of the ultra variety (where a 30 second shoe-tying break a) doesn't really matter, and b) is sometimes a nice break). Today, the malicious laces came undone at mile 11 of 12. I briefly considered running with an untied shoe for the last mile, but with my history of falling down, I figured I should stop. This allowed a very nice lady running her first trail run to pass me. I didn't figure this would be a big deal, but it turns out we were racing for 3rd place overall (and the commensurate pair of free Montrails). Yarg. Now to be fair, said nice lady was coming on pretty strong, so she may have gotten me in the end, anyway, but once I got on trail after the shoe break, she didn't put any more distance on me. ...but then again, I did get a short break while tying my shoe.... Since I have no real way of knowing what would have happened, I am going to blame my shoelace for losing me some free shoes (while, of course, still congratulating Nice Lady for running a great race... really! This was a pretty technical run and she did awesome for a first-timer! ...but free shoes would have been nice, too :-P )

So yes - definitely a successful race, but there are still some lessons to be learned... which is great because now I don't have to look around for that 'something new' we reportedly learn every day.