Saturday, September 21, 2013

Racing the workout

All over the place, you see people blogging and tweeting about not over-running workouts. ...about how you should keep your eyes on the prize (goal race) and not finish your speedwork lying on the grass in exhaustion. Before any of my fitness blogger/professional friends jump all over me, I will say I agree to some extent.

If you are training for a specific race, and that specific race is coming up in the next 1-2 mos OR if you're in the midst of racing season and have aspirations of victory or qualifying for something or financial gain, you are probably right. You don't want to blow your proverbial (you know - the lesser known dirty proverbs) wad on a workout. But you already knew that.

I will also concede that you should probably reevaluate your training if you are over running your workouts EVERY WEEK. At some point that will bite you in the ass in the form of injury or overtraining. Moderation and training cycles are very important in maintaining a healthy running life (nod to fitness/health professional friends).

The point of this ranty post, though, is I won't concede that it's never okay to spontaneously run the bejeezus out of a workout because you feel good. Wait. What? I feel like there were too many negatives there.  Let me rephrase that. IT'S OKAY TO SPONTANEOUSLY RUN THE BEJEEZUS OUT OF A WORKOUT BECAUSE YOU FEEL GOOD. There. I have given you (and myself) permission.

thanks to for
this highly appropriate image
For those of us with no hope of Olympic qualifiers and whose careers are not really tied to our running prowess, running is supposed to bring us joy. And fitness. And health. And a host of other fantastic benefits. But you could get those benefits with any number of fitness programs. We choose running because we ENJOY it. We enjoy going outside and communing with nature. We enjoy the fact that in running, you get to go further and potentially see more than you would on a similarly timed walk/hike. We enjoy going fast. Given those things, why on Earth should we say to ourselves "hey - I know it's a beautiful day and you're feeling light and fast and amazing and the birds are chirping and the trees are singing to you, but the training calendar you downloaded says this is supposed to be at half marathon pace, so rein it in"? Actually, if the trees are singing to you, you should probably slow down - you're clearly suffering from some sort of hypoxia-induced hallucination. Up to that point, though, I firmly believe you should go ahead and FLY. Why would you deprive yourself of that feeling of being the fastest person on the planet and a part of some cosmic symphony of bliss? For the sake of a race 4 mos down the road that might take place in a blizzard when you have the flu and an entire squad of elite Kenyans in your age group shows up? I think perhaps not.

Now don't get me wrong - I'm all for a little discomfort for the sake of future rewards. ...and anyone who says winning's not fun is pretty much lying. That's why I haul myself out the door at at the crack of dawn all summer when the temperature is in the mid 70s with 99% humidity to train for a fall race (not that I'll win, but maybe an age group award or a PR or something...) I'll do the dreaded 20x400 workout because I know that as much I'd rather stab myself in the eyeball at the time, it will make me faster and stronger in the end. But all that crapitude is also why I think that I should get to extract as much pleasure as possible from that day when the stars align and the 12x(100m on, 100m off) workout feels awesome. When the 'on' segments are more like 5k pace (or faster) and the 'off' segments are still somewhere around marathon pace. When even the warmup and cooldown are probably faster than my current half marathon pace.

In case you hadn't guessed, that exact thing happened to me this week. ...and it was AWESOME. I rode that high ALL DAY. ...and you know what? No matter what happens at that race next month, I had an awesome run last week. ...and I'm not sorry.

Okay- full disclosure - this was from a race, but
the race involved an obstacle called the 'poo volcano',
so we'll count it as a training run.
...and it was also AWESOME
End endorphin-fuelled rant.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Musings on 100 miles

I started this post around a month ago, but I have to admit I wasn't sure what to say.  I have at the same time everything and nothing to say about this run.  How do you condense 100 miles of running (well "running") into a post that someone will want to read?  I wrote something up for my track club where I split it into laps, but it was still super boring.  I mean really - nothing interesting happened.  I started running at 6AM, and after 2 laps, I felt pretty good, so I launched into my 'sub 22:30' plan, which involved starting at 10:30/mile and slowing down 1 min/mile each lap.  Which I did.  Basically, everything went according to plan, and I surpassed even my stretch goal of 22:30 (I considered 'realistic' to be something around 24:00) by finishing in 22:08:37.  I'm definitely happy.  But here's where things get weird and philosophical.

I know I could have gone faster.  I was intentionally very conservative because goal #1 was to finish.  ...and goal #1 was VERY important.  I can't overstate that.  After Vermont last year, I needed to finish. So I'm happy I stuck with the plan and finished.  ...but I was also less than an hour out of 2nd place.  And while one of the people ahead of me was still kicking ass and taking names (cheers to you, 62-year-old Maria Shields - you are awesome!), the other two were definitely not.  One was a good friend of mine, and according to all reports, was definitely maxed out by the end.  The other had been in second up to about lap 6 and had started a precipitous backward slide in the standings after that.  So some little part of me wonders where I would have finished if I had been a wee bit more aggressive, as I was completely lucid and conversational the whole time, and could walk like a normal person by about Wednesday of that week.  This is not to say I regret anything, nor do I have any ill will toward those nice ladies ahead of me - just a bit wondery about the whole thing.  What's funny, though, is how resolute I still feel about NEVER DOING THAT AGAIN.

It wasn't at all a bad experience.  I mean sure - there were parts that I enjoyed less than others.  ...and I was reminded a couple weeks ago that I told my lap 7 pacer that "this (was) stupid" and "not fun at all", and that there was "no reason for anyone to be doing this".  But really, nothing was ever terrible.  Also, training went really well.  I got all my loooong runs in, and still managed to keep my pace up on my speedwork.  Aside from a couple naggy parts of my body, training actually felt great, and I was in at least the second best shape of my life going in to the race.  So that was awesome.  But here's the thing - I missed NOT running on the weekend.  I had to skip a number of events I would have loved to attend because I 'had to run 35 (or whatever) miles that day'.  Training for a normal race, you can just get up early or shuffle your days around if you have something you want to do that day.  Not so much for a 40-mile run.  Even starting at 5AM, you're not off trail till at least 1, which seems like you could get to something, but let's be real: if you get up at 4 to start a run at 5AM, then rush home and shower by say 2 or 2:30, you are not going to be a whole lot of fun at a 3PM event.  ...and that's a best-case scenario.  Training through the winter for an April race is infinitely better than training through the early summer for a late July race, but it still wasn't what I'd call fun.  For me to want to do that again, I'd either have to become independently wealthy or work part time so I could get my longass runs in during the week, or there'd have to be some promise that I could drop many multiple hours off my time.  I don't think that even getting into the 20 hour ballpark would be enticing enough.  Also, while I'm totally convinced I could drop significant time, I'm not convinced I could drop 2 hours.  So that's that.  I wonder how much better I could do, but not enough to actually do it again.  Is that weird?

Anyway, sorry for the weirdness on this one - I felt like I should write something about this big ol' life milestone, but I didn't know what to say as it's at once momentous and a non-event, and I'm at the same time ecstatic and wondering what could have been. I don't want to leave you on a low note, though, so here's a fun picture from the race:

This was actually on lap 3 or 4,
but it's similar to how I looked at the finish

I also need to thank the amazing race directors and volunteers out there - the amount of time and energy spent to help a lucky few of us achieve our bucket list goals, is amazing, and I hope they (you) know how much we appreciate it <3

OOH! As an addendum, I also give you my favorite epiphany from the day: being a girl is AWESOME because when you pee, YOU GET TO SIT DOWN for a minute.  I have never been so excited to hydrate in my life.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Neusiok Trail Race

Only one week late! *High Five*

So sometime last fall Ronnie started talking about something called the Neusiok Trail Race. I mostly ignored it because really? Like I really wanted to spend ANOTHER weekend traveling over the holidays? But he persisted and eventually I figured that if it was so important to him, I would survive another weekend of travel. Also, I needed a long run that weekend anyway, so why not do one with aid stations?

SO with the stars thus aligned, I signed up for the 21.5-mile and Ronnie, in a fit of I-don't-know-what decided that the 43-miler would be fun. Let's recap that conversation:

Me: You know you're doing a 40 a month later, right?
Him: Yup! This will be a good warmup!
Me: Um. Exactly what training plan suggests that?
Him: The one in my head.
Me: Okey doke - suit yourself, crazy! (I know which battles to pick)

And so it went.

A quick look at the entry list suggested that Ronnie would be spending a lot of time alone out there (only 11 people in his race) and the trail would be super crowded for mine (~70 in mine). No big deal, though - it was a training run. In fact, I planned to run an extra 6+ at the end to a) pass the time while I waited for Ronnie, and b) get me a little closer to the 30 I was supposed to run that day. Take that race!

So the race began. Whoever said the ocean moderates temperature (so it isn't as cold on the coast) forgot about lovely ocean breezes. When it's below freezing, that lovely breeze is called a wind chill and it is brutal. The universal sentiment at the start was that racing was kind of out the window for a bit and we would all be running to warm up for the foreseeable future. This was facilitated by the handful of beach running segments in the first couple of miles. Kind of unexpected, but I don't know why. I was glad I had decided to wear my awesome gaiters here as the sand content of my shoes remained at 0 the whole time. Woohoo!

Also during this time, we heard periodic activity from the firing range at Cherry Point. The guys in front of me said something about it maybe being duck hunters, and I tried to be funny, saying "I think the ducks are returning fire." I thought it was funny, but nobody laughed. I'm hoping maybe some of you will find it amusing...

Around that time, the girl behind me decided she didn't want to be behind me anymore and dodged around. She pulled a bit ahead and kept looking back, which I thought was a little odd 4 miles into a 21.5 mile race, but didn't worry too much about it. Also around that time, we started catching and passing the 43-milers, which was kind of fun. I tried to be encouraging without seeming like a jerk as I trotted by in my little weenie short race. Somewhere in here, we were supposed to see unmanned aid station #1, but I never saw it. It wasn't a big deal, though, as I had plenty of water in my handheld and it's not like the temperature was rising particularly rapidly. The final exciting event of the first 6 miles was the first of many MANY skinny boardwalk-style bridges. Which were covered in moss. And frost. Having spent some quality time sliding on bridges at Uwharrie, I took these pretty carefully and while I slid a bit, nothing too exciting happened. Let's call this foreshadowing.

No.  Not First Aid Station.
First. Aid Station.  Silly!

The theme of section two was bridges. MORE BRIDGES. Someone at the start said that one of these was 1/2 mile long. I'm not sure if that was true, but it was pretty fricking long. There were also a few of these that had been moved around by hurricanes and were thus a little less than level when they were put back where they had started. I hit one of these a little faster than I should have and SURPRISE! I slid off. And tweaked an adductor muscle in the process. Luckily, I apparently don't use those much on long runs, so it wasn't a big deal (until the following week). That was the first of four bridges I slid off. One of them I didn't have a prayer. I was actually walking at the time, but the combination of whatever my soles are made of and the angle of the tilt was just too much to be hindered by friction. Luckily, I was pretty good at falling off bridges by that point, so I took it in stride (almost literally).

It was kind of like this.  But the puddles were bigger.
And I was wearing running clothes
As I came out of the second aid station, I saw a flash of pink about 200 yards up ahead and had to contend with a bit of a mental battle: did I rally the troops (by "troops" I mean Sam the fast twitch muscle and any of my slower muscles that he could coerce into working too hard) and reel her in, hoping I could hang on, but likely eliminating the chances I would be able to add on at the end, or did I stick to the plan? Stick to the plan was the answer. Always stick to the plan. (I'm actually really bad at sticking to the plan most of the time). I tried to stick to the plan, but I think I sped up a little because by the time we got to the woods again ~2 miles later, I had cut the lead to maybe 125 yards. Even worse for the plan, this section involved about 3 miles of trail-consuming, 20- to 40-yard long puddles ranging in depth from ankle deep to well over my knees. They were awesome! I had so much fun plowing in and discovering that some spots were deeper than others and generally splashing around. About halfway through this, I caught up to the pink lady, who looked like a deer in headlights and took off when I came around the corner. Unfortunately for her, she did not share my love of puddles, and at the next puddle I passed her as she picked her way through the bushes on the side of the trail. I yelled something encouraging, but again, not wanting to seem like a patronizing asshole, I kind of just got out of the way as quickly as possible.

At this point, I knew I was in first, and I also knew the nice lady I just passed wasn't very happy about it, so I had to throw the plan out the window and push the pace if I wanted to hold my position (I'm all for being nice, but come on - who doesn't want to win?). I made a deal with my plan that if I did manage to win, I would be okay with dropping the add-on miles and pushed on ahead, metering my energy such that I was pushing hard, but not so hard that I couldn't make it the final 3.5 miles. Which was unfortunate because as we got closer to the finish, the scenery was absolutely beautiful. I considered still adding on as I went through just so I could actually enjoy the view, but pressed on to the finish.

When I did finish, I discovered that not only did I win, but I was 5th overall, only 4 min behind 2nd overall! Wow! That was unexpected! After I picked up my finishers award (a neato handmade wooden bluebird house) and consumed a cup of my favorite long race food (ramen), I started getting cold and got up with the aim of heading back out for a couple miles. Unfortunately, while I was sitting my knee/IT band tightened up and I decided to bail on the scenic out-and-back. Instead, I opted to put on approximately 14 layers of clothing and huddled around the fire with a nice group of gentlemen from Fort Bragg while we cheered for finishers and waited for the (warm) van ride back to the start.

Pretend this is a finisher's picture.  Also, I think our
houses were slightly wider, but you get the idea

When we had enough people to mostly fill the van huddled around the fire, Race Director Brandon held an informal award ceremony where the winners received what he described as "a very large wood duck house" and second place finishers received screech owl houses, also hand made by members of the Carteret County Wildlife club. I was a little unsure about fitting my new giant award in my Elantra, but my new friends from Bragg at least helped me get it into the van back to the start. In the end, it did fit in my trunk, and, as Ronnie also won the 43, HIS giant wood duck house fit in the back seat. As an added bonus, because this was the first year the race ran these distances, Ronnie and I also hold the course records! I fully expect that to end next year, but it'll be awesome for the next 51 weeks :)

Watch out - some of these guys are a little tilty
and covered in frost

Overall, I really enjoyed this race. Brandon and his army of volunteers were all great, the trail really is quite lovely, and my fellow runners were all very friendly and encouraging (except the guys who didn't think my duck joke was funny - they are not my friends). I would very much recommend the race to anyone looking for a relatively flat winter trail race. It probably isn't great training for Uwharrie, but it was definitely a nice change of pace from the usual weekend venues.

Until next time, happy trails all!