Friday, November 28, 2014

Elk Grove Turkey Trot (Courage Run) 2014 - A Much Longer Race Report than Necessary!

I haven't run a Turkey Trot since 2008.  In fact, I haven't run a 10K since 2011.  And even more in fact, this was only my fifth 10K ever!  Since my only experience with 10Ks was back in the day when I used to be so very much faster than I am now, it is no exaggeration to say that I went into this race with zero expectations of doing well.

At my best 10K (in 2011 - you can read about it here) I ran with an average pace of 7:59, and at my worst (in 2008) I ran with an average pace of 8:16.  Currently, my training paces average somewhere in the mid- to low-10s.  So, yeah.  A PR was 100% out of the question, and the only thing I was really gunning for was how big of a Personal Worst this race might be.

For a competitive girl, I was surprisingly okay with that.  I've been feeling so much better lately, and my training paces are starting to come back down a little, so mostly I was just excited about opening up the throttle and seeing what I could do.  My main goal was to run hard and not fizzle out, and my A+ goal was to bring it in somewhere in the sub-9 pace range.  I felt like that was going to be challenging but not too far out of reality.

I had put this race on my calendar a few weeks ago, when I realized that I was feeling ready to race again.  UltraIronHubs decided that he wanted to tackle the 5K for a lot of the same reasons I did:  he had spent the summer in injury rehab and is feeling better enough to want to see what he had to give at a short race (more on that in a bit).  Big Boy and Little Boy just finished an incredibly awesome Cross Country season two weeks ago and pretty much haven't run at all since then, but thought they would give the 5K a try as well.  So, yay!  The whole family racing on Thanksgiving!

Note:  wouldn't this be the perfect spot to post a picture of the four of us at the race?  Yes, had I not completely forgotten to take one.  FAIL!

Parking lot selfie!
I woke up much earlier than I had hoped to and had plenty of time to hang out and start feeling a little nervous.  Oh, how I have missed that feeling these last long months of not racing!!  You guys, I haven't raced since July!  July!!  Have you ever not raced for four and a half months?  Me neither.

The race is super duper close to our house, so we decided to run down to the start as a warm-up.  But we also needed a place to put our jackets and other stuff, so I drove down to the start, ran home, finished getting ready, then ran back to the start (and drove home after the finish).  Lol!  Pretty extensive warm-up.

The whole way to the starting line, I had a huge knot in my stomach.  I couldn't decide if it was nerves or my breakfast, but I was not happy.  My legs felt like lead and I was struggling with a 10:40 pace.  This did not bode well for the day at all!  But as soon as we got to the venue, I found my girl TR (my client/running buddy) and the nerves started to subside.  I was here to have fun and run hard.  This is a thing that I love and I was here sharing it with people I love!

So many runners from my kids' CC team were there for the race (as well as their coach, who was second place female in the 10K)!!  The boy in yellow is a good friend/teammate of theirs who ended up taking first place overall!
I finished up my warm up stretching, took the photo of my kids on the starting line and then slipped into a sort of open-ish spot pretty far back off the line just in time for the national anthem.  No more time to be nervous, because we were off!

There was a pretty good bottleneck right off the line because people simply do not know how to line up for races.  I wasn't worried, I knew I didn't need to go out super speedy, but I also didn't love having to weave around the walkers - WALKERS! - less than a quarter mile in.  Oy!  Thankfully, this race closes down the streets on the course, so we had the whole width of the street to run on.  Less than a mile in, the course splits the 5K from the 10K to pick up a little mileage for the 10Kers, so the field really spread out and I was able to see who I was really competing against.  Oh, did I mention that as soon as I started running, I felt great and was all about "Which one of you girls is in my age group, because I will be running faster than you"?  Yeah.  It felt good to be back!

I had more in the tank than I had even dared to hope for.  My legs felt amazing and my breathing was perfect.  I had my eye on a couple of runners - Salomon shoes girl and Blue Pants girl - who were probably my age.  They had both passed me in the first half mile, but were staying pretty much directly in front of me, not getting further ahead.  The 5K and 10K courses reconvened briefly, which meant more weaving around people running slower than I was.  Thankfully, we split again by the 2-mile mark and were separate for all but the finisher's chute after that.

By two and a half miles in, I finally dared to look at my Garmin.  I had resolutely avoided it until then because I didn't want to be disappointed.  I was feeling really good.  I thought my effort was just about as close to puke-threshold as I should be with four miles to go, and I didn't want to look down and see that maybe I was only running 10 minute miles, you know?  Nope.  My average pace was 8:30!!  Holy crap!  Faster than I had dreamed I could do!

I passed by Blue Pants girl, who had obviously gone out too hard, and started to make headway on Salomon shoes girl.  I caught her by Mile 3 and set my sights on Red Socks girl.  Too easy, time to look further up.  I felt so damn good, you can't imagine.  A good ways up, I spotted Purple Socks girl and focused on getting closer to her.  I turned my music up louder and ran harder.  I felt more confident than I've felt in ages.  I caught and passed people one by one.  When we got to the hairpin turnaround at Mile 4, I got to see Purple Socks girl and thought she was definitely my age.

By four and a half miles in, I wondered if I was going to be able to push this hard all the way to the end.  I still felt like I was flying, but the effort was catching up.  My oatmeal was sitting right in the back of my throat.  I didn't want to throw up, I didn't want to slow down.  It was a real dilemma.  There was a girl right on my left hip pocket.  I could feel her and see her a little out of the corner of my eye.  I suspected she was my age.  I knew I was doing all the work and I should make her pull for both of us, but I didn't want to slow down and lose her, so I stayed in front.  I still had my eye on Purple Socks girl, but I could tell I wasn't going to get any closer than this.

I had told UIH and the kids where they could cheer for me, and oh my goodness was I happy to see them at just about mile five and a half!  I was super close to being done!  They whooped and hollered.  I wondered how their race had gone, but couldn't worry about it just then.  I had to focus on finishing strong.  I looked at my Garmin and couldn't make sense of the number.  I picked up the pace a little.  Vague Shadow girl was right at my elbow.  I knew she was going to make her move, and - yep, there it was at the Mile 6 sign.  I worked for it (hello 7:30 pace from Mile 6 to the finish!), but she got me.  As she passed, I smiled at her and told her Atta Girl.  She smiled back.  I assumed that was the difference between an AG award and not, so I was briefly disappointed, but there was the finishing arch!  And the clock.  Seriously, my time was that low?!?  I sprinted it in, thinking maybe, just maybe, it might not be a Personal Worst!

I collected my medal, looked at my Garmin and burst into tears.  Today was indeed a PW, by eight seconds.  They weren't sad tears, though!  I had run hard enough to get within striking distance of a speed I ran in my 30s!  It was a Thanksgiving miracle!!

So very, very happy with my race!
We hung out for a while, hugging and congratulating several of my clients and other friends who ran and walked the race.  What an exciting day!  I got to see my 70-year old client complete her first 5K!  I got to see my girl TR beat her previous best 10K by TWO MINUTES!  Another client, who tells me every day how much he hates to run, came flying through the finishing chute with a huge smile on his face!  My girl Nicole, who I met when she was over 200 pounds and who promised me that she would "never" run, completed her 13th race this year (and her kiddos ran the kid's race)!!  My heart was very full of thanks and gratitude.

According to my Garmin, the course was a little short.  My stats:  6.13 miles, 51:31 total time, 8:25 average pace.  Official stats:  6.2 miles, 51:25 total time (note:  this makes it a PW by only TWO.  SECONDS.  Gaaaaaah!!!), 8:18 average pace, 55/296 overall.

We hung out long enough to check out AG awards and - woo hoo!! - the prizes were pumpkin pies!  UIH (who had gone into the race just hoping to not get beaten too badly by both kiddos) ended up beating them both and getting THIRD PLACE OVERALL, with a time just eleven seconds off of his PR!!  So freaking amazing!  Big Boy managed a huge (road) 5K PR and took 3rd place in his age.  Little Boy also ran a super (road) PR, but got edged off the podium because the AG was pretty wide (13-18).  At the award tent, they had printouts of the AG winners and there I was, in third place for my age!!!  Cruising on the internet today, however, has different results.  So strange.  Yesterday's results were posted in 5-year age groups, but the online results are 10-year categories.  So, officially, I actually placed 6th.  Now I feel bad that I brought home somebody else's pie!

My handsome pie winners!

Happy Racing Thanksgiving!!  Did you trot with the turkeys this year??

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Reflections of a Long Distance Runner

When I set out for my long run this morning, I was feeling a little pensive.  Not sad or worried, mind you, just thoughtful.  Last weekend was a "milestone" birthday for me (45!) and yesterday was the last race of my kids' Cross Country season, so I was thinking a lot about endings and beginnings and the bittersweet nature of them both.

I never get tired of this view.  It was a lovely day to run on the American River Parkway.
Now that I'm feeling better, I'm starting to think a little bit about setting some new goals and looking ahead to racing again.  In the immediate future, I'm planning a 10K Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving and the California International Marathon on December 7th (which I signed up for months and months ago - long before anemia).  It's so weird to go into both of these races knowing that a Personal Worst time is probably all I have in me.  Well, maybe not the marathon, but that's only because I've run some pretty shitty marathons.  My worst ever 10K was run at an 8:32 pace.  Can you imagine?  The likelihood of me hitting anything sub-9 for six miles is...  I believe the term is "statistically insignificant."

It's tough to set goals when you're not exactly operating at 100%.  And, frankly, it's tough to even know where my 100% is anymore.  I feel better.  A lot better, in fact.  But am I back to where I was before?  It doesn't feel like it.  Will I ever be there again?  I don't know.

I've generally set goals based on time or distance.  Many years ago, when I was "fast," I was always chasing a PR.  Then I wanted to go farther, so I slowed down and just kept going.  Either way, I set and (mostly) reached goals that stroked my ego.  To be brutally and embarrassingly honest, since I started running eight years ago, I've seen myself as something of a badass.  Not in comparison to other people who are doing way more badass stuff than me, but definitely compared to the chubby, lazy girl I used to be.

When I'm looking ahead to 2015 and thinking about my running and racing goals, I have some apprehension.  I truly feel that the reason I haven't been physically injured for the past two years is because I've slowed way down.  And I also feel that the reason I ended up with anemia is because I was pushing myself to go a little too far.  This is not to say that I don't have any more fast miles in me or that I'm all done running ultras, but rather that I need to be sort of cautious for awhile.  But where does that leave me right now?  Fun runs?  Ugh!

A perfect fall day.
I was ruminating on these thoughts somewhere around Mile 6 and feeling a little low.  This whole anemia thing has been a months-long crisis of confidence for me.  Who am I anymore if I'm not a badass?  I don't run fast anymore.  I don't run far anymore. More often than not these last few months, it took everything I had to even make it out the door for a run.  And then it hit me.  The sparkly diamond I'd been looking for in that deep, dark coal mine:  even when I felt like crap, I never lost my motivation to run.  There were days when I'd get out of bed so bone tired that I wanted to cry, but I still went for a run.  Even though I knew that a measly three-miler was going to require a two hour nap, I would clear my schedule for that nap rather than skip the run.  I didn't quit, and, according to the internet, either the legendary Babe Ruth, Michael Jordan, or possibly Ben Franklin said, "It's hard to beat a person who never gives up."  That's pretty badass.

I don't think I actually got faster after my lovely little epiphany, but I sure felt better.  I finished 14 miles, the longest I've run since July, with a smile on my face.  I love to run.  I want to run for as many years as I can.  It's long been my goal to run a marathon when I'm 80 years old (since I ran my first one at 40.  It's like an OCD thing), and I know there will be plenty of mental readjustments along the way.  Thank goodness I have so many miles to figure these things out.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Those Three Little Words

Lately, there's been a thought floating around in my head.  At first, it was sort of like a whisper - here and then gone again quickly.  It would build up a little steam, then disappear for days at a time, only to come back a little stronger.  I've been pushing it away, not wanting to let myself think it too loud.  In fact, I've been writing this blog post for over a week in my head to give voice to this thought, but kept procrastinating.  Just in case.  Just in case I shouldn't really be saying this thought out loud yet.

Shameless plug for Instagram.

If you follow me on Instagram or Strava (and, side note, will you please?  This poor ol' blog barely gets any love anymore.  I mean to write more often.  I still read your blogs, but rarely comment.  On the other hand, I'm on Strava every day, handing out kudos like crack.  I post on IG frequently - but not too frequently - and I'm very generous with the followbacks and likes), you might already know what I'm about to say.  Three little words:

I.  Feel.  Better.

Let me quickly follow that up with a few qualifications, because I just know that the running gods are rubbing their hands and cackling in mirthless glee right now, ready to smite me down for my hubris.  Wow, that was a sentence full of SAT words, wasn't it?

Anemia has been a cruel mistress and recovery has been S L O O O O O O O W.  There are still days when I sit down on the couch for a quick second that turns into three hours.  Sometimes when I'm running it feels like maybe somebody replaced the atmosphere with molasses.


Lately, maybe even more often than not, I wake up in the morning feeling like I am ready to tackle the day.  I'm starting to wake up before my alarm again.  I drive to work with a smile on my face.  I'm excited about new things.  The other day I was actually bored.  I ran double digits this past weekend and it didn't require me to spend the rest of the day in a prone position.  I'm running a little faster sometimes.  And I'm thinking about signing up for a race.

*gulp!*  That's the one that scares me the most.  It seems improbably optimistic of me to plunk down money and stand at a starting line as though I can run well or fast right now.  But here's what this year has taught me so far:  I don't have to run well to enjoy running or racing.  I don't have to set goals or chase a PR to have a good day, I just have to run happy.  And I feel like running happy!

So, there's a Turkey Trot in my near future.  Possibly followed by a nap.