Monday, July 27, 2009

Race Report: Bix 7

I had big plans for this year's Bix 7. I was going to smash my PR of 1:06:58 and run it in 1:03. I was pretty sure I could do it - I recently ran a 10 miler at 9:02 pace. Subtract three miles and add in crowds and hills, and it seemed challenging, but possible.

But plans change. What was going to be a tough race turned into a weekend of running with my guys.

Friday night was the Junior Bix. Jack was incredibly pumped for his race. I got him dressed in his Quad Cities Micro Marathon t-shirt, since Jack is certainly not going to run wearing the race t-shirt, a fact that the vast majority of the other kids were clearly unaware of. Amateurs! On the walk from the car to the starting line, Jack asked me at least three times if I would run the race with him. Every time, I answered, "Yes, if you want me to. Or if you want to run by yourself, that's fine too."

Jack insisted that we would run together - and we did, holding hands the whole way. Running with Jack is good for my spirit. All I need to do is see the joy on his face as he races to the finish line and the pride he feels upon finishing and I am reminded of my own love for the sport.

As for Steve, he was more nervous about the big race on Saturday. Last year, he ran the race despite not training well, and he suffered for it. Steve announced months ago that his goal was to run the Bix without feeling like he was going to die afterwards - and enlisted me as his coach. I put him through a series of long runs of gradually increasing distances, intermixed with the Gentleman's Three (a relaxed three-miler) and 5K's for fun. We also ran the Bix at Six training run a few weeks prior to the race, so I knew he could do it.

Steve was less confident and asked me if I would run the race with him. That was not my plan, and as visions of my 1:03 finish faded away, I said, "Um, do you want me to?" He nodded and said, "I'm asking you to." It was clear that he needed me, for moral support at least, so I agreed to run the Bix not as a racer, but instead as a coach.

Race morning! Steve woke up feeling more excited than nervous. He declared that his goal was to run the race at 12:00 pace - a more ambitious goal than "finish and not want to die," but one I was sure he could achieve. I made sure he had a good breakfast, both water and coffee,and a couple of Advil. Then we engaged in my favorite pre-race ritual of people watching - cute couples ready to run together, gaunt high school cross country boys, a shirtless guy in denim shorts, and spectators smoking cigarettes and squinting at us uncomprehendingly. The Bix is held at the end of July every year, and really, the end of July in the Midwest is a typically horrible time for running. But the weather was unseasonably cool, in the 70s, with delightful breezes. It was a great day to run, and I wondered if course records would be set.

The gun went off, and about ten minutes later, we crossed the starting line and began our assent of the Brady Street hill. The hill is about 1/4 mile long, with a challenging grade. We spent a lot of time weaving around people who apparently decided to walk it while standing shoulder to shoulder with five of their closest friends. We finished the first mile in just over 12:00, which is excellent given both the hill and the crowds.

Steve was relaxed and comfortable in the second mile. We saw Meb Keflezighi looking fantastic with a huge lead (he went on to win with a blazing time of 32:25). I later found out that Magdalena Lewy Boulet was also racing. It felt great to be running the very same race as such elite athletes! Equally cool, we ran mile two behind a phalanx of firefighters that included two who had been injured in the line of duty and were racing in wheelchairs. At the two mile mark, I heard another runner remark, "That was only two miles? You've got to be kidding me!" Steve still looked great.

People talk about the Brady Street hill when they talk about the Bix, probably because it's big and at the very start of the race. But to me, the hardest part of the course comes in the third and fourth miles, where there are steep rolling hills. Steve was a little quieter, but was still running strong.

At around mile five, Steve asked me to run a little slower. I was proud of him for opting to do that, rather than walking. I babbled away, hoping to distract him by making up a plot for "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" in which the gang runs a 5K. Steve told me later that it was obvious that I was trying to distract him, but that he appreciated it nevertheless. When I told him we had just a mile and a half to go, he was thrilled, not having realized we'd crossed the five mile mark.

Soon, we turned to run back down the big hill. I advised Steve to relax and let the hill do some of the work for him. Some of the runners around us were clearly suffering, but Steve was hanging in there pretty well. I reminded him that we were almost finished, just a mile, less than a mile to go. "You've got this," I told him.

At the bottom of the hill, the finish line was in sight. Steve picked up his pace, knowing that the race was almost over. We crossed the finish line holding hands with a time of 1:19:48.

Steve's 2008 time was 1:33:51. Not only did he finish the race feeling strong, not only did he beat his 12:00 pace goal, but he shaved two minutes per mile off his previous pace! I could not be more proud of him.

My weekend may not have included the PR I was planning, but instead, I got to enjoy running with the two people I love most.

Monday, July 20, 2009

I'm Going on a Long Run

Lately, the song "Going on a Bear Hunt" has been running through my head... but with some slightly different words. Sing it with me!

I'm going on a long run.
I'm gonna run a big one!
I'm going on a long run.
I'm not afraid!
Ooh, looky!
What is that?
It's a swamp-uh!
Can't go over it.
Can't go under it.
Can't go around it.
We gotta go through it!

I did indeed encounter a swamp on a recent long run. I was out with my running club a few days after a rain that would best be described as "monsoon-like." The path was still covered with puddles, patches of mud, and so on. The miles flew by as I'd come across a new obstacle and decide if the mud/water/gunk was too deep to run through.

One of the times I decided that it was too deep, I veered to the right hand side of the path. The other runners had the opposite instinct and went left.

I chose wrong.

Within seconds, I was sloshing through swampy long grass, soaking my feet up to my ankles, and giving my three-day old running shoes (Brooks Adrenaline, btw) some character. Everyone had a good laugh.

I'm going on a long run.
I'm gonna run a big one!
I'm going on a long run.
I'm not afraid!
Ooh, looky!
What is that?
It's a hill-uh!
Can't go through it.
Can't go under it.
Can't go around it.
We gotta go up it!

For this week's long run, we started at a different park than usual. My fellow half marathon trisko runners and I did ten miles. I was feeling great (9:02 pace makes me want to use the f-word), and the setting was beautiful. I saw two baby deer as I crossed 9-1/2 miles. I even managed to finish mile 10 as a great song finished on my iPod.

Then I remembered that in order to get back to our picnic shelter, my car, and my Oxysox, I would have to go up a gigantic hill.

I'd given those 10 miles everything I had, and Internet, my calves were burning. Still, I thought about the popsicles and watermelon that were waiting for me, and I climbed that hill.

As runners, we learn to meet obstacles head-on. We learn how strong we are, and we learn that when something daunting is ahead of us, we can confidentlly say, "I'm not afraid!"

Friday, July 17, 2009

Babyproof No More

As soon as Jack was even thinking about being mobile, Steve and I babyproofed the utter hell out of our house. Every stairway had a gate on it. Every cabinet and drawer in the kitchen was locked. Plug-ins had covers on them, and I bought a cover to keep him from turning off the computer. We even had locks on the toilets to keep him from chucking stuff into them.

When we left our house in Virginia and moved into Stately Wasser Manor, he was two years old and a lot more steady on his feet. We got rid of the gates on the stairs, the locks on the drawers and cabinets, and the plug covers.

But we did keep all of our cleaning products way up high in the pantry. If I needed to run the dishwasher (which it seems like I do every day, rolling that rock up the hill), I have to walk to the pantry to get it, then put it back away again.

This morning, it occurred to me that was unnecessary. I moved all of the kitchen cleaning products to under the sink, where nature intended them to be. This time, my childproofing consisted of a single conversation.

Me: Hey, Jack! See this stuff here?
Jack: Yes.
Me: Leave it alone.
Jack: Of course.

I have felt this many times over the past four and a half years, but Jack really seems to be at an ideal age. He's little and cute and charming, but he can also be quite reasonable.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

The F-Word

Take It and Run Thursday challenges us this week to write about something controversial in the running world. To that I say fine, but just remember it was your idea, because today, I'm going to use The F-Word, a word that running bloggers everywhere are afraid to use. In a few minutes, this post is going to be riddled with F-bombs. You have been warned. Here it is:


That's right, I said it: Fast.

It's just a little word, right? So why are so many of my fellow runners afraid to use it to describe themselves?

I have read many race reports about new PR's, the really great kind that smashed the previous best... without a single use of the F-Word. Descriptions of blistering track workouts, pounding out 400 meter repeats... without anyone so much as whispering F-A-S-T. I've even seen truly talented runners demur from using that word to describe races where they've placed or even won. The closest thing you'll hear is, "I finished with a really good time."

You didn't finish with a really good time, my friend. You were FAST! The fact of the matter is, there are a lot of runners out in the blogosphere who are extremely fast runners and just won't admit it. I read several race reports from the Boston Marathon in which the blogger noted that they'd never felt so middle of the pack as they did in Boston. Okay, so maybe you weren't in that lead pack in Boston, but if you were running the Boston Marathon at all? Let's face it: You. Are. Fast.

Is it modesty? It's true that runners are really nice and inclusive people. If I brag about how fast my 23:44 5K race was, I don't want to discount the accomplishment of a fellow runner who worked just as hard to finish in 30:00. Or, are we comparing ourselves to elite runners? Tirunesh Dibaba of Ethiopia is the fastest woman to run a 5K, and her time of 14:11:15 makes my 23:44 look like walking. Can I really call myself fast compared to her?

Yes. I am fast. And so is Tirunesh Dibaba, so are the Boston qualifiers, and so is my fellow runner who worked her butt of to score that 30:00 5K.

We all have our own Fast. Fast happens for all of us when everything clicks together just right, when we feel like we're flying, when our lungs are burning, and when we look at the time on the clock (or just the feeling in our hearts) and it is good.

I challenge you, my fellow runners, to own your Fast. To embrace the F-Word. And to shout from the rooftops when you have an amazing workout, run a strong race, or get a PR these words:

I am fast.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Race Report: Surprise Track Meet

Last night, I went to the track at Augustana College for my running club's weekly track workout. To my surprise, there was a track meet going on. People were setting up hurdles, pole vaulters were warming up, and the place was teeming with people of all ages in brightly colored running clothes. Just as I was starting to think that my plans to run on the track with the club had changed, an announcement came over the loudspeaker: Cornbelt Runners, go find Russ. He'll give you your bib number.

Well, allrighty, then.

I tracked down Russ, who is our coach, and several other runners trickled in with me. "Russ, what do you have cooked up for us?" I asked. Russ grinned and said that we were going to run in the 1500 meter race.

I have to admit, one of the first things I thought was, "If I'd known I was running a race, I'd have worn something different." My black running skirt and neon yellow marathon training group just isn't the fastest looking outfit I have. But so be it, because my second thought was, "Hey, all I have to run is a 1500? Nice!"

I warmed up and chatted with my fellow runners. Several of them had never run a race so short and had never run a track meet at all, so the excitement and nerves were high. Before I knew it, it was time for the 1500. All of the Cornbelt Running Club runners walked over to the starting line - and there were a lot of us! They had the women go first, followed by the men. And we women were joined by several kids.

Now, I have learned my lesson about kids at track meets. I ran against several of them at
an indoor meet in January, and they are freaking fast. I immediately decided to just discount the kids and focus on running against the grown-ups. We women rationalize that it was okay if the kids beat us because, um, they didn't have to work all day.

The gun was off, and so was I - probably way too fast. I glanced down at Paula The Garmin in the first 200 meters or so and saw that my pace was at a 5:something mile. I resolved to relax. Before long, there were a couple kids in front of me (ignored the little scamps), along with Kathy, who I know is one of the best runners in the area. I figured I'd have no chance of catching up to her, and sure enough, I think she ended up finishing about 150 meters ahead of me.

At around the second lap, a younger woman passed me as well. I focused on running strong, keeping my arms relaxed, and making a game of pretending to be the main character from Once A Runner, out running the mile of my life.

In the final straightaway, I picked up my pace and shaved quite a lot off of my time by chasing after one of those young whippersnappers. No, I didn't actually catch him, but again, kids are fast.

My final (unofficial, Paula Garmin) time was a speedy 6:11, putting me as the third grown-up to finish the race, and probably first in my age group if I'm right about the ages of the other two women.

I spent the rest of the night on an absolute runner's high. I hung out and watched the guys run, then headed home. As I was pulling up to Stately Wasser Manor, I saw Steve out for a run, so I parked the car and joined him for a Gentleman's Three, a great opportunity to cool down and tell him all about the race.