Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Race Report: Firecracker 10K

In which I am forced to reconsider my goals...

The Firecracker Run has been a long-standing 4th of July tradition in the Quad Cities, but in recent years, the organization has left a bit to be desired. I was happy to hear that race directors extraordinaire Joe Moreno and Dale Manley were taking over - so much that I quickly allowed Dale to draft me into volunteering the day before.

Working packet pickup was a blast. I lucked into a shift populated by friends of mine from the Cornbelt Running Club, plus we were busy pretty much the entire time. That meant moving fast, tossing t-shirts to one another, and before I knew it, time to go home! As an added bonus, Dale had special volunteer shirts for us. They were just like the race t-shirts, only red instead of blue - and both shirts are technical fabric. SCORE.

I woke up bright and surly the next morning and managed to snag the same parking spot I've had every time I have run this race in the past. As the runners milled around, I could already feel the sweat beading on my forehead. It was going to be a hot day.

The 10K course at the Firecracker Run is hilly and challenging. And of course, since the race is held on the 4th of July, you can pretty much count on it being brutally hot and humid. This makes it a perfect tune-up race for the Bix 7. I was looking forward to seeing how it went. It was not a morning when I woke up confident I was going to rock things out, so I decided to largely ignore Paula Garmin and just run by feel, then see how it worked.

Sure enough, the race was tough. I have trained pretty well on hills, so I was always able to pass people going up and felt comfortable flying down. The heat took a toll on me, and I took water 3 or 4 times - more than I probably would under better circumstances.

The last mile is a downhill (hooray), followed by a straightaway, then a turn, then about a quarter mile to the finish line. I was feeling tired. As I turned the corner, I saw a guy I recognize from the track. I don't know his name, but I think of him as Hardcore Guy. Hardcore Guy will run track workouts wearing a weighted vest, run on the football field wearing a parachute for drag, then relax by running bleachers.

Hardcore Guy was looking tired. I ran up beside him and said, "Come on. Let's go." My intention was to get Hardcore Guy to finish a little stronger, but being hardcore and all, he picked up the pace, which got me to do the same, and we sprinted to the finish. Somehow we lost track of each other in the finishing corral, but I'd like to say thanks to Hardcore Guy for making me work a little harder.

Hardcore Guy helped me push the pace, but my time was nowhere near a PR: 58:14. I'm certainly not ashamed of this time, but it made me rethink my 1:03:00 goal for the Bix. This race was on a hot day and a hilly course, neither of which are excuses I could use to say my Bix pace could be better, since the conditions would likely be the same. 1:03:00 just might not be in the cards for me this year, and I need to be okay with that. I truly lost a lot of speed coming off of the stress fracture last fall, and it will take time and work to build it back up.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Other People's Running

For the past few weeks, much of my running efforts have been focused on what can only be described as Other People's Running. I've ramped up the volunteer efforts this year, most recently dedicating myself to helping out with Cornbelt Running Club's kids' track program and volunteering at the Quad City Senior Olympics.

When I saw the list of volunteer opportunities for Racing Team members, kids' track was a natural choice for me. Go out and have fun with kids, one of whom could be Jack? You bet! The program is totally free, lasts six weeks, and introduces kids, aged six (plus bonus 5-1/2 year old Jack) to ten to the fun that is track and field.

Some of my fellow volunteer coaches have been focusing on a single event, but I've been roving with the littlest kids, answering their questions and keeping them corralled. Every week starts with a 1/4 mile warm-up... and a lecture from me about what a warm-up is. Specifically, that we do not attempt to kill the warm-up by racing as fast as we can around the track; that it is not a race, and that in fact, it would be smarter to wait until we actually are racing before putting in such efforts, and that if you are first around the track during the warm-up, nobody will be impressed. Most of the kids listen to me, but there are a few who tear off as fast as they can, then inevitably find themselves walking on the back straightaway and dramatically collapse at the end, claiming to be too spent to stretch. I have no sympathy for that and remind them that they should have listened.

After stretching, it's time for the entertainment that is a bunch of little kids attempting to do the hurdles. The club has special kid hurdles, an ingenious invention of squared off swimming noodles with little pegs that attach to traffic cones. Almost to a person, the girls are much better at hurdles than the boys, far more capable of leaping gracefully over them and less likely to crash into them over and over again. Jack is a crasher. There's usually a lot of setting hurdles back up after he tries it. The good news is, he has fun with it and seems to be getting better.

Next, we do some running. One week, the focus was on sprints, and the coach spent a lot of time showing the kids how to get into proper starting position - a feat that intimidated me so much that, when I ran track, I was always grateful to not be a sprinter so I didn't have to worry about my starting stance. The next week, we had the kids try some distance running, with an 800. The woman in charge of running was not so sure the little kids would be able to make that distance. I offered to bring up the rear to make sure everybody was okay. One of the kids, who is, shall we say, not a good listener, decided after about 50 meters that he was "too tired" to continue. He did, however, have the energy to turn cartwheels. I told him to knock it off and run; luckily he did.

After running, it's time for either relays or long jump. The kids have been incredibly excited about relays. Something about the baton is just cool to them. They also love the long jump, and seem to be totally unaware that most of them suck at it. I have taken to giving them some gentle coaching, like, "That was good, and I think that next time, you can do even better if, instead of stopping when you get to the place where you jump, you ran up until that spot, then jumped."

The best part of working with these kids is their absolute enthusiasm. "Can we please run another lap around the track?" Well, okay, if you were good. Jumping into a pit of sand? Never tried it, but bring it on. I see a few kids who have some real talent - there is a girl who is only 4-1/2 but can rock out the hurdles like nobody's business, and my boy can churn out 800s all day long with a smile on his face. But even if I'm not coaching the next Usain Bolt or Kara Goucher, my hope is that I am working with a bunch of people who will sign up for several 5Ks a year, finish in the middle of the pack, and have fun with it. I just want them to love running.

I want them to be just like the people who competed in the Senior Olympics. The Senior Olympics is a very cool event, held all over the world, in which people who are 50 years and older (40 for track and field events) compete in a variety of athletic events. We are talking everything from a 5K road race to basketball free-throws to kicking a soccer ball for accuracy. I intended to volunteer for the 5K, but thanks to the charm of the race director, I wound up helping out with the triple jump, the softball throw, and the discus as well.

As a runner, despite having competed in track for six years, I spent almost no time watching field events. The men who did the triple jump had to explain the rules to me and were really nice about helping me measure the distances. I have never tried the triple jump, but let me tell you, it looks hard. I admire anyone who is willing to attempt it, no matter what their age, but the men who were over 70 and decided to give it a shot just for fun are incredibly cool in my book. And if you are over the age of 20 and own your own discus? That's badass.

The softball throw moved the athletes to different points on the field, at different angles and distances, where they attempted to toss the ball into a target. I learned that a couple of the women competing had played professional baseball in the All-American Girls League, as seen in the movie A League of Their Own. These women managed to be professional athletes during the time before Title 9. They are heroes to all women in sports - and they are still competing. Awesome.

Working on Other People's Running has given more focus to my own running and my goals. Yes, I would like to put some new PR's on the side of my blog. But more than that, I want to have fun with my running like the kids do, and I want to keep it up for my entire life, like the athletes in the Senior Olympics do. I want to love running forever.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Race Report: Race for the Cure

In which I log my first DNS...

My husband Steve and I have been running Race for the Cure together for years. The race always falls some time near or on our anniversary, so it's a great time to spend together. I love the camaraderie of the atmosphere and am happy to run for such a good cause. This race would mark our fourth Quad Cities Race for the Cure, a number I can easily tally by counting the t-shirts in my head (pink and blue, pink and green, pink and ugly puce color, pink circle).

It was raining before we even left the house, and did not let up even a little bit all morning. Race for the Cure always attracts new runners and first-timers, and I was afraid that people would see the weather and stay home. Happily, that was not the case. The streets were crowded with eager runners, many of them in pink.

But the rain was the least of our problems: there was also lightning. The start time was postponed, but finally, volunteers with bullhorns directed everyone into the iwireless center. There, the race director announced that the race would have to be cancelled. He explained that after every flash of lightning, they were required to wait 30 minutes. After the last one, even if there was no more, they would no longer have the police support required for everyone to run safely. It was disappointing, but clearly, the only choice.

Steve and I took about a half mile run to get a cup of coffee. There's always next year.

Race Report: Mustang Madness 5K

In which I survived the heat... kind of

Yep, I am way behind on my posting, and I need to get into what's going on, but I'd hate to leave out a race report!

A few weeks ago, determined to feel better about my unfortunate experience in Madison, I signed up for the Mustang Madness 5K. It was on a Friday evening, which is novel, but the biggest appeal was that it was a cross country race! Cross country is always way more fun than running on a road or track, so I eagerly signed up.

The night of the race, it was brutally hot and humid. I knew a PR was not in the cards for me. That instinct was cemented when I took a warm-up on the course and saw how hilly and challenging it was going to be. I always say that if I'm not going to run a good time, I might as well have a good time, so I set out to do just that.

All of us lined up on a big white line painted on the grass. I can't tell you how many times I found myself in that very position during high school cross country meets, and it was a thrill to do it again.

The course wound through trails in the woods, around sports fields, and back through the woods again. Although it was well staffed with volunteers, there were no mile markers, so I had no idea how far I'd run or how I was doing - especially because my beloved Paula Garmin was lost.

The hot weather really took a toll on me - and on my fellow runners as well. I saw plenty of people, including some who I knew were strong runners, taking walk breaks. I did the same, because just slowing down didn't seem like it would be enough. I even took advantage of the water stop, something I never do in a 5K. The water was cold and tasted amazing.

After what felt like an eternity, I emerged from the woods, finish line in sight. Finally! I kicked to the line, sure that I'd finish in around 30 minutes. I was surprised to see the number 27 on the clock. When I wasn't walking, I must have been running a lot faster than I'd realized.

After the race, people hung out, ate bananas, and generally talked about how challenging and sweaty the race was. It was tough, but I'd absolutely do it again.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Chasing Awesome

Spring - and the first pikermi ("half marathon") season of the year is officially behind me. It was really a mixed bag for me. After injuring my leg and being unable to walk after last fall's Quad Cities Half Marathon, my main goal for the spring was to run smart and not re-injure myself. I managed that, but not much else. Brutal allergies made the Lincoln Memorial Half Marathon a brutal experience. We all know how things went for me in Madison. The only saving grace of the season (well, besides not breaking my leg) came with a solid 2 hour effort at the Quad Cities Distance Classic

In short, I survived. I didn't get hurt. But I didn't do anything truly amazing, either. I can't help but notice that all of the PRs there on the side are from 2009 or later. I need a new one. I need to come up with a big audacious goal and just go for it. So here it is:

I want to run the Bix in 63:00.

I considered making my goal one hour or less, but honestly, on a crowded and hilly 7 mile course, that might be awfully hard to pull off. 9:00 splits will also be hard to pull off, but I feel more confident I can do it.

Training officially starts today. I'm going to rock some hill training, a lot more speed work than I did this spring, and smart eating.

Can I do it? Maybe, maybe not. But I know that I need to try. It's time to chase down some Awesome.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Race Report: Madison Half Marathon

In which I am thoroughly humbled...

The Madison Half Marathon was a day of firsts for me.


  • First DNF

  • First ride on the SAG wagon

  • First trip to the medical tents

  • First field-style IV



What happened? I thought that since I race 13.1 every chance I get, that it wouldn't be a big deal for me to run one - even under bad circumstances. I was wrong.

I woke up that morning after a bad night's sleep, with my stomach cramping, feeling lousy. I felt so bad that I could only eat a few bites of my breakfast. Still, I got dressed and ready for the race, despite feeling sick and knowing that it was going to be an unseasonably hot and humid day.

Not smart.

Steve and my uncle dropped me off at the starting line and I was immediately sick. Steve came and talked to me, basically waiting to hear why in the blue hell I would still want to run the race. I convinced him that I was "probably okay," and that I actually felt better after having thrown up. This is sometimes the case - maybe I could have risked going to the office that day, but again, running 13.1 miles in really hot conditions? Not my best decision.

I tried to soak in the festive atmosphere. The marathoners started their race 20 minutes prior, and the course took them through the area where we 13.1'ers were gathered. That was very cool - watching them run was inspiring and exciting, and naturally we cheered for them like crazy. After they passed, it was time to line up.

I still didn't feel good and vowed to race carefully - run slowly, take walk breaks as needed, and get in plenty of fluids. I had already taken a walk break before the first mile and was running at the edge of the course in case I had to duck off to get sick. Not a good sign.

At mile 2, I wanted to switch from sipping on the Gatorade I had in my Fuel Belt to water. It was hot, I was feeling rough, and grabbing two cups of water felt like a good choice. The water made my stomach feel sloshy and even worse than it already did. A bad cramp seized me, and I found a semi-secluded parking lot where I tried unsuccessfully to get sick.

Running made my stomach feel worse, and I was starting to feel weak from the stomach cramps, lack of food, and the heat (already approaching 80 degrees before 9:00 AM). I made a tough decision: walk to the next aid station, then drop out of the race.

I have never, ever quit a race in the 25 years I have been a runner. It felt absolutely terrible to have to say, "No, I cannot do this. I am not strong enough, and I cannot fight through this. I cannot finish what I started, and no matter how hard I try, I cannot do this thing I have been looking forward to for months." It sucked, and I felt miserable... and still sick.

I saw a volunteer on a bike and flagged him down like I was hailing a cab. I told him that I was sick and couldn't finish the race. He calmly led me to a shady area, and as he was about to radio for support, a marathoner joined us. Her name was Tiffany, and she was dehydrated and needed to drop out as well. Volunteer Steve gave me cold water and Tiffany a bottle of Gatorade from his saddle bag and assured us that there was no shame in dropping out on a day like that.

A few minutes later, a medic on a bike joined us. He said he'd wait for the SAG wagon with us, so the bike volunteer moved on to see who he could help next. The medic checked our blood pressure, pulse, and temperature. He found my pulse to be a little weak and Tiffany's a little fast, so he kept checking us to make sure we weren't deteriorating.

While I wasn't trying unsuccessfully to be sick, I talked to Tiffany. As you can imagine, it was a bonding experience. She was running her first marathon and had been kicking ass before she started to feel so terrible, running at a 3:15 finishing pace and hoping for a BQ. As you can imagine, she was heartbroken at having to quit. I assured her that she could still do it, just not that day. It was the first hot day we've had, and not having trained in hot weather made the race much harder than it could have been. I suggested she look at a fall marathon for her BQ and hope for better weather. There will be other races.

The SAG wagon arrived after an hour. The driver apparently had been quite busy picking up fallen runners around the course and was having trouble navigating all of the roads closed for the race. She finally got us to the medical tent.

At this point, I was feeling really bad. I was hot, dizzy, weak, and my stomach was killing me. I was also depressed - the medical tent was right at the finish line, so I had to watch runners crossing the finish line looking happy and collecting their finishing medals. I would not get and did not deserve one of those medals and would not get to feel the amazing accomplishment that comes every time you cross the finish line.

In the tent, doctors and nurses quickly got me settled in. The gave me a bottle of water, put a bag of ice under my neck, checked my vital signs, and asked me questions about how I was feeling. Dr. Smith asked how long it had been since I was sick (hours at that point) and since I'd had anything to drink (also hours at that point). He said I needed to get some fluids in me and suggested that I either try drinking some water, or they'd just give me an IV. I said I'd try for the water and see how it went. He agreed that was a good decision.

Like so many things for me that day, that didn't work out for me. A few minutes later, I was dramatically sick. Dr. Smith calmly said, "Okay, an IV it is," and sent a nurse over to hook me up. Not surprisingly, she had trouble getting a vein because I was so dehydrated and admitted that there was more blood than she would have liked. My race team singlet now has blood stains to remind me of this day.

The IV had me starting to feel better. Other things that made me feel better were learning that the course conditions were so bad that the race director called the race 4 hours in. That lots of other runners had to quit as well. And the point that one of the doctors made, which was that although it was unfortunate that I couldn't finish this race, what was really important from a health standpoint wasn't the race, but all of the training I'd put in.

With the hydration of two IV bags came some clarity. I should never take my ability to run - at any distance - as a given. No matter how well conditioned I am, some days my body is just not going to cooperate, and I have to be able to accept that. And the reason I can accept that is that any single race is not the be all, end all of my running experience. As the doctor said, what's important from the point of view of my health is my training. I love the challenge and accomplishment of racing, but there will always be another race. Tiffany will finish her first marathon, and someday, she will qualify for Boston. I will race my next pikermi ("half marathon") in a few months, and when I do, I'll get to the line feeling healthy and knowing that I can finish the race strong.

Steve arrived to take me home just as I was realizing my other important lesson: the doctors who volunteer at medical tents at major races are, across the board, really hot. I am grateful for the humility and perspective this lousy experience has given to me. I am grateful that my husband will be there for me to hold my hand when I'm feeling sick. I am grateful to the volunteers who helped me - the guy on the bike, the medic, the woman who drove the SAG wagon, the nurse who gave me my IV, Dr. Hot Asian Guy, Dr. Abercrombie and Fitch Model, and Dr. Seth Meyers Only Even Hotter. I will be back, and I will be smarter.

Volunteer Report: Wild 5

I debated whether or not to run the Wild 5 5K race on Saturday. Yes, it was just a 5K, and yes, it was sponsored by my favorite running store, and yes, race team members were encouraged to run. But at the same time, it was the day before the Madison Pikermi ("half marathon"), so racing seemed like a bad idea. Then it hit me: I'd volunteer instead! I emailed the race director and asked him to put me to work. He said, "Thanks. Please come at 6:30 AM to help with registration."

D'oh!

I fueled up on coffee and arrived just in time. I worked with a fellow race team member on passing out packets for pre-registered runners. It's a simple job - get their race number from the alphabetized stack and hand them a packet, t-shirt, and tell them to go outside to get their chip. There were about 400 pre-registered runners, so it went quickly. People were in high spirits, thanks to the beautiful weather. Almost suddenly, our shift was over. We looked out the window and saw the race begin. Sweet: no line for the bathroom!

One of the race organizers asked if we had time to stick around and clip chips - they did not have enough people show up to help. I've clipped chips before, and it's a fun job. You get a folding chair in the shade, a milk crate for runners to put their foot on, a pair of clippers, and a bucket to put the chips in. The fun part is that you get to watch every single runner cross the finish line. We saw the winner, who blazed through, then immediately got bottles of water for the guys who finished second and third. We saw fights to the finish, groups of friends running together, and a guy pushing a jogging stroller with two pretty big kids in it. And we saw the very last finisher, an overweight teenage girl who clearly worked her butt off out there, looked tired and hot, and still picked up the pace coming to the finish line. I congratulated her on her strong finish and she said that she had just run her first 5K. I am happy that I played a small part in that experience.

Three hours of volunteering flew by in no time. I was finished by 9:30, and I racked up some good running karma. Great way to start the day!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Race Report: Imagination Library 5K

In which I fail to kick ass or take names...

There were several reasons for me to run the Imagination Library 5K (a race that took place nearly two weeks ago, thus making me hugely late with this race report). I hadn't raced since the Distance Classic and I don't like to go too far between races, especially when there are so many to choose from in the spring. There was a kids' race, and it would be fun if Jack and I both raced. It was a pretty day. It's in my running club's race circuit and I really, really want to win an award again like I did last year. But the most important reason was this:

I really needed a run.

An incredibly busy week of work had me burning the midnight oil, then waking up early to burn the... morning oil? My candle burned at both ends, it would not last the night, but oh my foes and oh my friends, it made a lovely light. Poorly executed metaphors and literary references aside, I was working my ass off, and consequently had not been running in a week. I needed to get out there, open it up, and feel the burn.

Steve, Jack, and I arrived at Bass Street Landing, a lovely area in downtown Moline overlooking the Mississippi. Jack was thrilled at the contents of his goody bag, which included the usual t-shirt, plus an assortment of random stuff that will please a 5-year old - a ruler, pencils, a bookmark, and a sticker. He was even more happy to see that they were setting up a bounce house. I got warmed up and the boys found a good spot to watch the race.

I blazed through the first mile way too fast. At my next 5K (probably the June Bug Jog because - you guessed it, it's in the circuit), I swear to Yoda I am going to make myself run a negative split. Once again in this race, I completely killed the first mile, then faded. Not helping matters, I started having stomach cramps, motivating me to pick up the pace a bit just so I could be done. That's never a good sign.

I worked really hard in this race, and as I was approaching the finish line, really hoped that my efforts would be rewarded. A PR or an age group award would make my suffering justified. My finishing time? 25:10 - not nearly good enough for a PR (though my best time this spring, beating my time at Steve's Old Time Tap Spring Chaser by 34 seconds). Then I discovered that the age groups were in 10 year increments, not five, so I was in the 30-39 category. That put me sixth in my age group. I would have been second if it were 35-39, but that's not the way they gave awards at this race... and even if it had, they only gave out hardware to the first place winners in each age group. I consoled myself with a breakfast sandwich and a banana from the post-race spread.

Jack ran his 1/2 mile race in a state of utter delight. He grinned through the whole thing and triumphantly told me that he passed an 8-year old. Then he scored a finisher's medal and another goody bag, this one containing a great book. Post-race, Jack bubbled over with joy, talking about how much he loved running and wondering when his next race would be.

As always, I can learn from the little guy. If you look at the clock or at my place on the leader board, my race wasn't what I wanted. But was that what I wanted most? Nope. What I wanted most was to put on my shoes and run hard - and that's exactly what I did.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Race Report: Quad Cities Distance Classic

Mother's Day was the third time I have run the Quad Cities Distance Classic, and the race has always been good to me. In 2008, it was my first ever pikermi (race of 13.1 miles, for the uninitiated), and despite some of the worst running weather nature could invent, gave me a time of 2:05 that made me very proud. In 2009, I had a perfect running day. Everything came together for me, and I ran a PR of 1:56:51.

I had high hopes for this year's race. I have just come off running a hard-earned personal worst of 2:10 at the Lincoln Memorial Race and knew I could do better. If I got to the starting line healthy and rested, I should be able to blast that bad time away.

Then, work heated up in a way that's very good, but very busy at the same time. I spent the past week waking up, grabbing a cup of coffee, and immediately sitting down at my computer to get in an hour or so of work before time to leave for the office. I'd work steadily, eating food of sporadic nutritional value, then come home and work some more.

Still I thought I had it under control (ish) until Thursday. I was in a meeting and had more and more changes piled up on the project I was working on, making it more and more clear that I was going to have to stay up very late to get it all done before going in to work on Friday. "That's fine," I told my boss, "But have you all forgotten that I have a race to run on Sunday? This is going to cost me a PR." Sure enough, Thursday saw me working all day, taking a break to volunteer to stuff race packets, then coming home to work until 2:00 AM, grab 4 hours of sleep, then work over coffee at 6:00. Not the best way to get ready for a big race.

I slept well on Friday and Saturday, then Sunday brought fantastic weather for running - cool and sunny. I ran over the course several times in my head, thinking about how I would tackle each section of the familiar miles, and picturing my goals.

Gold: 2:00
Silver: 2:05
Bronze: Beat the Lincoln Memorial time of 2:10

With a tough week of work tempered with ambition and good running weather, I felt reasonably assure of a silver - but set Paula Garmin to lead me to a gold.

Just like last year, and despite my repeatedly reminding myself to relax, I zipped through the first mile too fast, coming in at 8:35. In miles 2 and 3 I got on pace, clocking in 9:06 and 9:04.

I sped up at mile 4, thanks to a sweet downhill - 8:54 - and apparently let it carry me for another mile of 8:54.

The middle miles of the course take you from a dicey neighborhood to a park and a path by the river. It's scenic, but challenging for me. You don't have the thrill of "I just started" and have not yet hit the great "almost finished" feeling. I ran those miles trying to relax and focus.

Mile 6: 9:07
Mile 7: 9:11
Mile 8: 9:19
Mile 9: 9:11

It was at mile 9 that I started to feel really tired. With only four miles to go, I started bargaining with myself. I should absolutely hold on until 10, and I didn't want to run after 12. I decided that at mile 11, it would be okay to take a short walk break. Until then, I bribed myself with music and jelly beans.

When I got to the 11 mile mark, I started to walk and, as Ron Burgundy says in Anchorman, "I immediately regret this decision!" As soon as I started to walk, I realized in a way I hadn't before just how dead tired my legs were. If I had just kept running, I don't think it would have been so apparent. I picked a curve in the road ahead and willed myself to run again when I hit it.

Then I looked at my watch and realized that if I kept a reasonable pace, I could still finish in 2 hours.

"Just hold on," I told myself. "Just hold on."

I passed a volunteer who was clearly a fellow runner. Instead of just saying, "You look great! You're almost there!" he said, "Pick the person in front of you, pull on them, and pass them. Then get the next one." Hey, that's some advice I could use! I started to do just that when my iPod kicked on my favorite running song, "All These Things That I've Done" by The Killers. It was perfectly timed, with the lyrics, "If you can hold on. If you can, hold on."

I held on. Up a short hill, around a corner, and through a parking lot, heading to the track, I held on. Once I got to the track, I knew I'd be fine.

Sure enough, Steve and Jack were right there, cheering for me like crazy. I handed Steve my Fuel Belt Batgirl Running Utility Belt and he grabbed it as smoothly as if we'd been practicing. Jack yelled, "HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY" and I turned the corner. There, my mom and stepdad were waiting, a very nice surprise.

I chicked a guy ahead of me and sprinted to the finish. Dale, the race director, called out my name as I crossed the line.

The result? 2:00:54. Gold medal finish!

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Race Report: Cornbelt Running Club 24 Hour Run

First things first: I did not run the Cornbelt Running Club 24 Hour Run. In fact, the idea of the race is really unappealing to me: run around a high school track for 24 hours. Whoever goes the farthest wins.

I have run two marathons, and for me, that's more than enough challenge. I have no desire to do an ultra (and I recognize that this is the kind of statement that may bite me in the butt later). And if I did run an ultra, I could more imagine doing some kind of amazing trail race, where the scenery and the terrain change. Over and over around the track sounds like some kind of torture.

But you know, who am I to think any idea my fellow runners could come up with is nutty? There are plenty of runners and non-runners who think my choices are crazy, so I do not judge those who relish the challenge of a 24 hour run.

In fact, when my running club asked for volunteers, not only did I sign up, but I signed up for the 10 PM to 1 AM shift. I figured any crowd support there might have been earlier in the day would be gone and that the runners could use some extra encouragement - and that it might be challenging for the volunteer coordinators to fill those spots.

So, instead of going to bed at my usual time, I drove to the track, with a bag packed full of blankets and warm clothes, as I had been warned that it gets cold during the night shifts.

My job was pretty simple. Every time one of the three runners I was assigned passed, I would note the time (16 hours, 30 seconds) on my sheet next to the lap number. I'd also call out the lap number to my runner, as in, "that's 205, Catherine!"

I quickly memorized what my runners looked like and what they were wearing. There was Catherine, a grey haired woman in a blue jacket, Heather, a young woman in an olive green shirt and white hat, and Pat, whose neon green arm warmers made him easy to spot. If a runner changed his shirt or put on his jacket, he'd actually tell his lap counter so we'd be sure not to miss him. The runners also let us know if they were taking a break - to eat, to go to the bathroom, or even to go take a nap - so that we would know it'd be a while before they were back around again. And when they returned to the track, they'd let us know that, too.

When my shift began, the runners were sixteen hours into the event. Most of them were walking (save the leaders, who both walked and ran), but were looking really strong and averaged a pace of 5 minutes per lap. Impressive.

I had heard that ultra events do not favor young men as much as shorter distances, and that proved to be the case at this race. The overall leader while I was there was a woman, with a 10 lap lead over her next closest competitor. With my own runners, Catherine was probably at least 25 years older than Heather, but had 15 laps on her. In an event like this, speed is a factor, but it's probably less important than smart race strategy (keeping hydrated, fed, and pacing yourself), endurance, and an immense mental toughness. Who knows - maybe Heather caught Catherine later. A lot could have happened in the six hours of the race that remained after I went home and went to sleep. (In fact, I've been checking my club's website all day, looking for results.)

While running around a track for 24 hours might sound tedious, it might also sound tedious to sit for three hours and watch someone else do it, but in fact, it was really a lot of fun. I got to know the other runners, too - Cindy, who was always smiling, Angela, who came all the way from Tennesee to run the race, Carl, whose doctor told him he couldn't run anymore and could only walk (something tells me that advice backfired on him), and the honeymooners (yes, really) who high-fived after every lap.

All of the lapcounters cheered for the milestones all of the runners hit. We'd go crazy for someone passing, say, the 75 mile mark. Any runner who makes 246 laps gets a plaque, so that was a big cause for celebration, followed by another at 247, when the runner completed 100K. By the time I left, Pat and Catherine had already earned their plaques, and Heather was well on her way.

About halfway through my shift, Stockholm Syndrome kicked in. I started thinking about what a cool challenge the race really is. Would I have the determination to keep going for so long? What an amazing test of mental resiliance and fortitude. But don't worry - I talked myself out of it by remembering how after my first marathon, I could barely walk for a week, to say nothing of the training hours it takes. Nope, for me, for now, I'm going to continue to kick ass at distances of 13.1 miles or less. But for anyone who's thinking about taking on the challenge of next year's 24 Hour Run? I'll see you between 10 PM and 1 AM next year. Now that I've seen this event in action, I wouldn't miss being a part of it.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Race Report: Steve's Old Time Tap Chaser

This year, like last year, I ran the Steve's Old Time Tap Chaser knowing it would not be a good time to go for a PR. The race is held the Saturday before my running club has a training run for the Quad Cities Distance Classic Pikermi (half marathon) the very next morning. Making sure that run goes well is more important to me than a random 5K.

Said random 5K makes it extra easy for you to look upon it as a good time when, at packet pickup, they ask, "Do you want a wristband for free beer?" Friends, I did not go to college for four years and not know the correct answer to that one.

I arrived for the race and immediately found a friend/fellow racing team member to hang out with. She, too, was looking to just have an enjoyable run, as she is tapering for the Flying Pig Marathon. I also ran into a bunch of women who had run the Boston Marathon earlier in the week and weren't feeling their speediest... but like me, figured they might as well get in a 5K, especially since it counted as points towards the club's circuit (award which totals up race participation throughout the year). My sentiments exactly! So, we relaxed, talked about upcoming races, and compared outfits until it was time to start.

I cranked Lady Gaga and engaged in a mix between running, people watching, and trying to think of what kind of outfit Lady Gaga would wear to go running. I think it would be a ridiculous amount of spandex in an attempt to make herself as aerodynamic as possible and might cover her entire head.

Last year when I ran this race, the short but steep hill right after the first mile threw me, but this time I knew it was coming and zipped over it, passing a bunch of runners in the process and increasing my lead using the long downhill that followed it. I love knowing the course - and knowing that there was a straightaway for about half a mile leading up to the finish line where I could begin a nice, steady surge. Last year, I missed out on an age group award by literally one second. The other woman kicked past me to the finish line and I didn't fight her. I didn't know if I was in contention for an age group award this time around, but I did not want a repeat of that performance. I focused on every single woman in the field of vision in front of me and took them down in that last half mile. Looking at the results later, none of them were in my age group (the next woman was over a minute behind me), but hey - that kind of effort never hurts, right?

Finishing time: 25:44, two seconds faster than my 5K time from the previous week at Run for Renewal. Since Run for Renewal was hill-tastic and this one was pretty flat, I was definitely running more relaxed.

I met up with some friends after the race. Although I'd grabbed the wrist band the day before, I really didn't plan on having a beer at 9:30 in the morning. But then one of them said, "Come on, let's go get a beer." How could I stand up to such a persuasive argument as that? I am not made of stone, people.

Beer early in the morning after a run is good fun and leads to your listening to a couple of fellow runners discussing their upcoming plans to get boob jobs. Fascinating stuff, and a mystery to me as to why any female runner would want bigger boobs, which would just get in the way.

Better still, last year's race was redeemed when I found out that I came in third for my age group - and scored a pint glass for my efforts. What a good way to spend a Saturday!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Race Report: Run for Renewal

Saturday morning was race day at Stately Wasser Manor, with my running a 5K and Jack running the 1/2 mile kids' race for Run for Renewal, a fundraiser for a charity called Project Renewal that helps at-risk kids. The Cub and I fueled up with a carb-tastic breakfast of doughnuts, then crew leader Steve drove us to the race. It was a beautiful day - cool, with not a cloud in the sky.

Jack's race was first, and he could not have been more excited. Steve asked if they could please run together, since Jack got to run with me at his last race. I grabbed the video camera and found a spot along the course with fellow race crew members Grandma and Grandpa so we could cheer. Steve reported that Jack followed his surge/relent/surge pattern throughout the entire 1/2 mile. Apparently even splits are not a goal that a five year old aspires to. When the race was over, Jack scored a frisbee and a coloring book. He was absolutely thrilled with himself, and I was proud of him too, especially seeing the big smile on his face as he sprinted to the finish.

I had never done Run for Renewal before, but saw the course described as "a couple of hills, but mostly flat." No problem, especially because I've been training on hills. I took off, with the goal of running comfortably hard and besting my most recent 5K time of 26:20 at the St. Patrick's Day 5K.

About half a mile into the race, we hit a wicked hill, just ridiculously steep. Spectators stood at the top, encouraging us, and saying that with this hill, the hardest part was over. Good, because that? Was not easy. Then I looked ahead and saw that those spectators had a different idea of what the hardest part might be than I did: another hill, not quite as vertically steep, but probably a quarter of a mile long. I powered through it.

The course wove through some more neighborhoods. Entertainment was provided by two women who lived on the course and yelled back and forth across the street together wondering what the hell all of these people were doing running down their road and that if it didn't stop soon, they would be calling the police.

I knew that the course formed a big loop, so I figured that the uphill would be followed at some point by a really sweet downhill. Sure enough, there was one, but then about half a mile from the finish line, inexplicably, there was another uphill. Gah!

Finally, I turned a corner. In my sights were not only the finish line, but also my race crew - and a guy I could potentially pass. We all know that no matter what, I would have done my best to chick that dude into the finish line, but with my family watching? That guy had no chance. I zipped past him for a strong finish of 25:45.

My splits were pretty good:

Mile 1: 8:25
Mile 2: 8:46 (apparently I was tired from those hills)
Mile 3: 8:07
Last little .1: 0:27 (5:44 pace, baby)

I will definitely run this race again. 5Ks are usually pancake flat, so I liked having the challenge of the hills. And I'm sure Jack would be happy to run for another frisbee.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Advice for the allergic runner

I've heard it on the news several times: this spring is one of the worst seasons for allergies in recent memory. But if you suffer from seasonal allergies like I do, you didn't need a news broadcast to tell you this. It has been horrible... and being a runner makes it all the more challenging. After fighting winter weather for so long, I'm not about to shut myself in the house with the air conditioning on.

So, what is the allergic runner to do?

First and foremost, I am a big believer in the power of drugs. The first day the snow starts thinking about melting, that's when you need to start hitting the allergy pills. Claritin helps me a lot, but it does seem to take time for it to work its magic. For really bad days, I have back-up drugs that I take in addition to the Claritin. The key is that it has to be non-drowsy. If it says, "may cause drowsiness," that basically means, "will knock Betsy out." That doesn't work for my normal life, much less if I'm trying to run.

I also make sure I wash my hair as soon as possible after being outside. On heavy pollen days, I feel like my hair is a big Swiffer picking up as much of that muck as possible. I need to get clean to survive.

Usually, this is enough to save me, but this season, it hasn't been enough. I drugged up, de-Swiffered my hair, and was still in agony. I went through box after box of tissues and blew my nose so many times that my skin chapped. I couldn't sleep, and I just felt crappy all the time. I know it affected my time in Springfield. How could it not have?

Desperation led me to try something new. I got a NeilMed Sinus Rinse Kit. What's that? Well, it's not for the faint of heart. It's basically a squirt bottle that you fill with a salt water solution. Then, you lean over the sink, shoot the water out one nostril and feel it flow through the other, then repeat. It's not pretty, but you know? Damned if it doesn't work. If it seems weird, that's because it is. But I can't argue with results.

What about you? How do you survive seasonal allergies?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Inspiration is everywhere

Running my personal worst time for a pikermi (also known as a half marathon) should have me feeling down. But the fact of the matter is, it felt great to get out there and race hard, no matter what the end result.

The experience has inspired me to train harder for my next pikermi, which is on May 9. I'm adding more speedwork, plus hills every other week. Predictably, this has been kicking my butt... though in a good way! Then on Sunday, I ran with my running club and totally rocked out a ten miler.

I'm being realistic - I know that a PR might not be in the cards for me this spring... but it could happen in the fall. I am just happy to be training hard.

In the meantime, I have a 5K to run on Saturday, one I haven't done before. There is a kids' race as well. I signed Jack up, since not only does my boy love to race, but it's free for kids. Can't say no to that. Jack's race is a half mile, which will be the longest he's raced before.

When I registered Jack, I had every confidence that he could run 1/2 a mile... but that it might not be pretty. Like any kid, Jack isn't exactly the best at pacing himself. He likes to go out running like a maniac, arms waving wildly, which is not your best long distance strategy.

So, last night, Jack and I went to the track together so that he could see what half a mile feels like. Sure enough, he raced out as fast as he could, then slowed down a lot after the first 100 meters. He'd slow down, then surge over and over again. At the end, I think he understood that for a distance that long, a bit of strategy is important.

We took a water break, then Jack begged me to let him run another half mile. I said okay, but only if he'd run my pace, then kick it in when I told him to, no sooner. Jack ran with me at a more comfortable speed, with a few reminders to run relaxed and strong. With 100 meters to go, Jack kicked it around the final curve, happily crossing the finish line.

Living with someone who takes such joy in running, how can I not feel excited about hitting the track myself? That's my plan for tonight, and I am going to love every minute of it.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Race Report: Lincoln Memorial Half Marathon

Let's get this out of the way first of all: I ran the Lincoln Memorial Half Marathon (Pikermi/Trisko/13.1) in 2:10:31, scoring a new official Personal Worst at the distance... and am very happy with how I ran.

From the beginning, I knew this race wasn't going to be a PR. My stress fracture last fall scared me, and I've been very cautious about easing my way back into training. Not only have I been devoted to the 10% rule, but I have also been careful about not upping the intensity too much. I want to run faster, but more than anything, I want to run. If it takes a while to get back into the shape that let me PR last spring, so be it.

The week prior to the race, I hit another stumbling block: the first beautiful days of spring. You'd think this would be good news, but not for me. Those first beautiful days of spring mean my allergies are at their absolute worst. Despite drugging myself within an inch of my life, I couldn't breathe, couldn't sleep, and felt dry headed and miserable for the four days before the race. It was to the point that I was blowing my nose so often, it started to chafe. (FYI: Body Glide helps with this, too.)

So, let's just say that when I toed the line, I wasn't feeling like a million bucks. I felt like about a buck fifty. Instead of having a time goal, I decided to have an effort goal. And that goal was based on my new hat. Check it out:



It's from Endorphin Warrior (not compensating me in any way for promoting them, not that I'd mind if they did!) and I love it. The message is RELENTLESS but because of the colors of the letters, it also tells you to RELENT LESS. I was determined in this race to give it everything I had and to relent less.

So, the race is in Springfield, Illinois, and pretty much everything is all about Abraham Lincoln. The race course goes past a number of Lincoln sites - the Lincoln home, the new library and museum, the old and new State Capitol buildings, and Lincoln's tomb. An actor portraying Lincoln started us off with an in-character speech, then a group dressed as Union soldiers fired their rifles to start. The course was very pretty and well marked. It got challenging at the end as the formerly flat course turned hilly. I started to get worn out, but I kept remembering my goal: RELENT LESS.

When I crossed the finish line, I knew I'd left everything I had on the course. 2:10:31 was my slowest ever time, but it was also the absolute best I could have done on that day, and that is an accomplishment I can be proud of.

To mark my accomplishment? A finisher's medal shaped like a giant penny. What better momento could you ask for?

Friday, April 02, 2010

Runner Girl - Yoga Girl Team-Up

It all started with a dare.

My friend Daina is a yoga instructor. She posted a Facebook status update enthusing about how she helped someone in one of her classes get into a downward facing dog. I loved her excitement about it, but said that no way could I do it – my body does not bend.

Daina confidently said that with her help and some hard work, I could do it… but that she could never run like I do. I responded that with my help and some hard work, she could run a 5K.

“All right,” Daina said. “You’re on.”

And with that, the Runner Girl – Yoga Girl Team-up was born.

Last night, Daina took the first step and went running with me. She lives about a mile away from me, so I ran over to her house to pick her up. Daina, dressed in shorts and a skull t-shirt, looked absolutely adorable… and nervous. The last time she’d done any running at all was in high school, when they forced us to run a mile for time – and she hated it. I said that she probably hated it because she tried to go too fast. Since we were just starting out, we didn’t need to go fast; we just needed to go. We’d run relaxed and easy, and if she needed to take a walk break, we would.

And with that, we were off! The two of us ran through her neighborhood, enjoying a beautiful night and talking about our kids. My Garmin chirped, and I gave her the good news: “Guess what, Daina? You just ran a mile.”

She could not believe it. “I did? That didn’t feel like a mile!” I assured her that it was, and that she was doing great. With a big smile on her face, she ran with me another ½ mile, back to her house. I showed her how far we’d run (1.58 miles) and how fast (19:11). She was absolutely thrilled and gave me a big hug before I took off back to my house. We made plans to get together again soon for another run.

I don’t think my feet touched the ground the whole way home. I was incredibly happy for my friend and loved seeing how proud she was – and rightly so – of her accomplishment. It was the best 1.58 miles I’ve run in a long time.

Very few people have the guts to go outside of their comfort zone and attempt something that’s really challenging. Last night, Daina did just that. Her strength and confidence inspired me and will be in my head the next time I’m struggling with a workout or race.

I’m looking forward to our next run together – and to her pushing me out of my comfort zone to do some yoga.

Monday, March 22, 2010

13.1 Miles and Semantics

Run 13.1 miles and you'll find yourself searching for the right words to describe the experience. "Half marathon" seems really inadequate; running a 13.1 mile race is an accomplishment, not half of an accomplishment. Plenty of runners have been batting around alternative names for a race of 13.1 miles. I have favored "trisko," a play on the fear of the number 13.

Last week, I was standing at the starting line of the St. Patrick's Day 5K, and I noticed the t-shirt a woman in front of me was wearing. It declared that she was a member of Team Pikermi and had this picture on it:



I was intrigued enough to hit my computer pretty much as soon as I got home to learn more. Sure enough, Team Pikermi is a group of runners who are enthusiastic about the 13.1 mile distance, but think it needs a better name. And I am not afraid to admit, the name Pikermi is much cooler than trisko.

Why?

Because Pikermi, Greece is midway between Athens and Marathon. Pikermi, as a name, has the same historic significance as Marathon does for the 26.2 mile distance. I like to think that when Phedippides hit Pikermi, he was still feeling pretty good. Maybe he had some Gu, checked his Garmin, and thought he'd be in great shape after 13.1 more miles - we've all had that feeling. I can also say with confidence that if old Phedipp had finished his run in Pikermi, not only would he not have collapsed and died at the finish line, but he would have felt just fine after a shower and a good lunch.

I challenge my fellow lovers of 13.1 miles to join Team Pikermi and help give this distance the respect it deserves.

I ran into a different semantic debate about running 13.1 miles last week, with my husband. We were getting ready for bed, and he asked, as he often does on Saturday nights, "How long are you running tomorrow?" I told him 13.1 miles.

"But... that's a half marathon!"

"Well," I explained, "My training program has me at 13, so I like to throw in that extra .1 for fun."

Steve was astonished. "You're running a half marathon tomorrow."

"No, I'm running a half marathon distance tomorrow. It's not a half marathon," I said.

"What's the difference? That there are no guys in yellow vests telling you which way to turn?"

"I guess that's part of it," I said. "I also didn't pay any money for this, don't have a bib number, no official timer, no race director, no t-shirt, no one else runnign it with me, the course hasn't been certified..."

"Whatever," Steve responded. "You're running a half marathon tomorrow."

As I turned out the light, I muttered, "Half marathon distance."

Monday, March 15, 2010

Race Report: St. Patrick's Day 5K

I ran the St. Patrick's Day 5K for the first time last year. I didn't really love the race, but I did love the fact that I got a sweet, sweet PR (23:44).

That time loomed large as I warmed up for the race. The fact of the matter is, I am not as fast as I was last year. The injury to my left shin last fall forced me to take quite a lot of time off, and I have been returning to running - and to speed work - very carefully and gradually. Last spring, I went into half marathon/trisko season chasing a PR and nailed it. My first trisko/half marathon of the 2010 season is The Abe Lincoln Memorial Half Marathon on April 4, and as much as I'd like to PR, I just don't know if I can do it. This race, I figured, would be a good way to set expectations.

The temperature was in the 40s, rainy, and a bit windy. That kind of weather yields a wide variety of clothing choices from other runners. I wore tights, a long sleeved shirt with my racing team singlet over it, and my racing team jacket. Teammate Missy wore the same thing, without the jacket, and Penny sported shorts. As always, the guys wore less - Frank just did the singlet and shorts, and I was cold just looking at him. Of course, the people who ran the race dressed as leprechauns probably would have done so regardless. In retrospect, I think Missy's outfit was perfect. By the time I finished the race, I was a bit hot, but not so hot that I would have wanted bare arms or legs.

We took off, and as I approached the first mile, I felt totally worn out. When I heard my split time, I knew why: 7:45. Way too fast! I made an effort to relax and slow down in the second mile, which I did, big time, at 8:48. By the third mile, I felt like I was crawling, though apparently I wasn't - 8:35. I sped up a bit for that last .1 and finished in 26:20. That's a totally respectable race time... if you don't know how much faster I ran it the year before.

I am really trying to keep things in perspective. When I finish my half marathon/trisko in a few weeks, the most important thing is for me to cross the finish line knowing I have done the best I possibly could on that day. Last spring, that was 1:56:51. This year, I am hoping for 2:05. It won't be my best ever, but it can be my best of the day.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Victory Pose

In my last post, I shared a picture of myself crossing the finish line at the Chili Chase. In it, I am all business, which is exactly what my mental state was at that moment. I had just raced up a pretty steep hill to pass several other runners and was feeling the effects of the effort. I'm sure there was a smile on my face a second after that picture was taken, but in that moment, all I wanted was to get my foot on that mat.

My friend Tim, a recent convert to running, said that he always thinks about striking a pose as he crosses the finish line. He's partial to the Rocky:

and wonders, as a newbie runner, if it's appropriate. I told him that it's not only appropriate, but encouraged, but the more I think about it, there are some etiquette standards for victory poses when crossing the finish line. When Tim finished his first half marathon, then hell yes, he should rock the Rocky, but when I put in a solid effort at that four mile race, it would have been a tad much.

When can runners pull a victory pose like the Rocky, or its two armed variant? It's time to write the unwritten rules:

DO: Any time you finish a race of 13.1 miles or greater. You just accomplished something that most people will never do. I don't care how long it took you to finish that marathon; if you can get your arms over your head, do. Feel the triumph!

DON'T: When finishing an easy 3 mile training run around your neighborhood.

DO: After you set a hard-won PR. If you've been working your butt off to break 30 minutes (or 21 or 15 or 45 or whatever) in a 5K, and you just did it? Celebrate!

DON'T: If you took a walk break 20 meters ago and then just broke into a sprint to cross the finish line? People noticed it and we're not impressed.

DO: Just finished your first ever race? Welcome to the fraternity, my friend. Hoist your arms!

DON'T: If you just barely squeaked past another runner, then good job kicking it in, but throwing a Rocky seems like rubbing it in.

What about you? When do you think you can throw a victory pose?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Race Report: Chili Chase

Chili Chase 2010One sure way to kick those winter running doldrums is to sign up for a race. I ran the Chili Chase two years ago and had a great time, so I decided to run it again. And as an added bonus, this was my first race as a member of the Cornbelt Running Club Racing Team! I felt very proud to put on my uniform and was determined to do my team proud.

I arrived early to help out with registration. I helped give out the technical socks that the race director offered in lieu of t-shirts. It's always great to have another pair of good running socks, plus these had a very cool bright green band on them with a little chili pepper. As an extra, we also had running gloves to give out. People loved the gloves, a simple lightweight cotton that are perfect on a day when it's cold, but not too cold. Volunteering was a lot of fun. I got to hang out with a cool group of people, plus I was able to say hello to lots of my fellow runners.

Fifteen minutes before race time, I said goodbye to the other volunteers working the table and went outside to warm up. The temperature was cold, in the 20s, but I was careful not to over dress for it, wearing tights, wind pants, a long-sleeved technical t with my team singlet over it, and my team jacket. For the first time, I pinned my race number to my leg, rather than to my shirt, in case I needed to unzip my jacket. It snowed later in the day, but luckily there were no weather obstacles on the course, save for one tiny patch of packed snow - with a volunteer whose job it was to tell everyone to be careful.

All the runners gathered at the starting line, which went down a long medium-steep hill. The race director warned us that what goes down must go up - in other words, enjoy this downhill, because you'll be running up it to the finish line.

I wasn't sure how the race was going to go. I have struggled to get in quality speed work this winter. The tracks aren't clear, and it's hard to do speed consistently on the road because the combination of ice, packed snow, loose snow, and slushy mess makes footing unpredictable. I am training for a half marathon in April, and I know I'll have the stamina, but I don't know how fast I'll go. So, I decided to relax, work hard on the hills, and see what happened. I put Paula Garmin on under my jacket so I could look if I wanted to, but not be distracted by my pace.

We took off, and it was a great time. There was an out and back portion of the course, so my fellow runners, friends, and team members and I cheered for each other as we went by.

In the last mile, things started to get interesting. I could see several runners ahead of me who were struggling with the hills. I have been training on hills all winter, but even without that advantage, I always try to pass people on hills whenever possible. It's a psychological thing; I can see other people are having trouble, and I tell myself (whether it's true or not) that I am strong on hills and can beat people.

I picked off three runners who were slowing down, then set my sights on more and more of them. I probably passed five or six runners in the last mile. In the end, I crossed the line with a time I was very happy with: 35:32.

The post-race party for the Chili Chase is always fun. There's great food - bbq sandwiches, chili, and beer. I had a bite to eat and hung out with friends. Out of curiosity, I checked the results to see where I placed. To my surprise, my effort was good for 34th place... super cool because the race director doesn't do age group awards for this race, but rather gives out awards for the overall top 35! I just made it. Better still, instead of a trophy, I got a bright green travel coffee mug with a chili pepper on it.

It was a great way to spend a Sunday and has me feeling good about the year of racing ahead.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Doldrums

I held out for as long as I could, but winter doldrums have offically set in.

There is much to love about running in the winter. Snow becomes more than just a cold wet inconvenience that I have to shovel; it's also beautiful, sparkly, and makes an appealing crunching noise when I run through it. Running makes me appreciate snow. And the cold doesn't bother me. Put on the right gear and give yourself ten minutes and you're fine. Best of all is the Badass Factor. No matter how short or slow your run is, the mere fact that you're out there while everybody else is inside makes you look totally hardcore.

Still, it's just seemed like so much effort lately. It's pitch dark when I leave the office and not getting any lighter by the time I've had dinner and put Jack to bed. By then the idea of layering up, going outside, and having what will be a slow run because of the snow is really unappealing.

I've got a half marathon trisko scheduled for April, so I'm still getting the miles in, but it's not much fun. I am waiting for the freedom of wearing just one pair of pants to go out, of trading my winter hat for a running cap, and of seeing just a little light in the evenings.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Magnificent Seven

Sunday's long run was scheduled to be seven miles. It was easy to choose a route - I drove to Davenport and ran on the Bix course. Hey, if I lived in Boston and needed to run a 26.2 training run (admittedly unlikely), I know where I'd run then, too.

The weather had warmed up to the low 30s, which felt lovely and warm, and it was raining, which during the winter just feels like a refreshing change of pace. The course, as always, was hilly and challenging, but I was really in the mood to tackle something like that. I even saw a pair of fellow runners who seemed to be doing the very same thing. We waved enthusiastically at each other from across the street.

When the run was over, I felt great... except for one thing. I did a road test of a new sports bra and tried it with no Body Glide. Big mistake. A spot on my chest was completely chafed. The feeling when I stepped into the shower and the water hit me was absolute agony. Running seven miles in the rain over steep hills? No big deal. Tiny spot on my chest with no Body Glide? Totally laid me out.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Five to Survive

On Saturday, Steve and I accomplished a feat that many of my peers described as brave: we hosted a birthday party for Jack at our house.

Honestly, it didn't seem that big of a deal to me. We planned exactly the kind of party that I remember from when I was a kid. Birthday parties were not outings to Chuck E. Cheese or the Family Museum. They were games, presents, and birthday cake at someone's house.

Steve and I planned the party carefully. We created a schedule, in ten minute increments, of all of the games and activities. Jack helped us clear all of his toys out of the family room and into the basement. Experience has shown me that otherwise, the other kids will descend upon our house and start dumping bins of action figures onto the floor, making both Jack - and me - cranky. And creating automatic fun, Jack decided it would be a costume party.

And the party was only scheduled for two hours; in running terms, that's just a half marathon. Not so much to endure!

The kids arrived and proceeded to run around the house like maniacs, which was exactly what was on the schedule. Then, we played games. First up was hot potato, in which we passed around a stuffed Spider-Man, with an emphasis on silliness - act like bunnies while passing Spidey, for example. Then, we had the kids toss balls into a laundry basket. After that, I switched to a quiet activity and the kids decorated masks with stick-on jewels. The kids loved the masks and worked on them for quite a while.

When all of them were finished, Jack led everyone in a costume parade. I gave away prizes for all of the costumes - also known as treat bags. Jack decided way back in November that his party would be a costume one, so we were able to pack the treat bags accordingly, with two different kinds of masks that I bought for a song in a post-Halloween clearance sale at Michaels, along with the standard noise maker, candy, and dinosaur pencil. They went over huge.

Then, it was time for birthday cake and presents. Hooray, party successful... except that we still had an entire hour to kill.

Steve and I brainstormed quickly for more games to keep the kids occupied. Luckily, the two of us had plenty of silliness left. We played Simon Says, then Musical Pillows. Musical Pillows was a huge hit last year; pillows instead of chairs because they're easier to manipulate. And again, the focus wasn't so much on being out or not as it was on having the kids circle the pillows pretending to be cats, or ducks, or ballerinas. And finally, did you know that kids still love to play Duck, Duck, Goose? Well, thank goodness, they do.

Once the kids took off, all three of us crashed. Jack was thrilled with how everything went.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Badass 800s

Bart Yasso, step aside: I have invented a new speed workout.

Bart invented the Yasso 800, in which a runner does a series of 800 meter track repeats which miraculously predict their marathon finishing time. Nice.

But the workout I've invented is much tougher: Badass 800s.

Yesterday (the day which running history will note as the dawn of this new test of mettle), I drove to a nearby park and did a short warmup. Then, I went to the top of a long hill, set Paula Garmin, and had at it.

A Badass 800 consists of running down that steep hill, around a pond (the icy patches are optional to the workout), then finishing by running up that same steep hill, a total of 800 meters.

Badass 800s help a runner build fast twitch muscles, practice running downhill without killing your quads or falling flat on your face, navigate an undulating path that's far from track-flat, then handle a steep uphill when you're fatigued.

In short, they make you totally badass.

Yesterday, I did 4 Badass 800 repeats and went home feeling pretty much invincible. As I look ahead to the 2010 racing season, I am going to conquer every hill that I see.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Making the team

One of my goals for 2009 was to get more involved in my local running community. Recently, I got some news that proves that I accomplished that mission.

In 2008, I applied for the Cornbelt Running Club Racing Team. I knew it was a long shot; I was new to the club and didn't really know anybody yet. But I loved the idea so I figured it was worth a try and sent in my application, along with an impassioned essay.

No such luck. In fact, I found out I didn't make the team on the very same day that I lost my job. Bummer, right?

This year, I applied again. I was hoping that the time I'd spend attending club events, getting to know my fellow runners, training with the club, and volunteering at a couple of races would make the difference. And, if not, I'd try again for the 2011 team - eventually, they'd have to cave and let me in.

It looks like they caved: I made the team!

We had our first meeting yesterday, and I am not exaggerating when I say that I was honored to be part of such a fantastic group of runners. The Cornbelt Running Club Racing Team is made up of runners of all age groups and abilities. They are people who I've watched get trophies at races, but also people who I've seen volunteering time and time again, supporting our fellow runners any way we can. Our team's goals are goals that are important to me as well - to promote the sport of running.

As a member of the team, I am going to enjoy some amazing benefits. I was issued a uniform, which I will wear every time I race: a singlet, shorts (which I may replace with a skirt), a sports bra, warm-up pants, a windbreaker, and a technical t-shirt to wear either when volunteering or when it's too chilly for the singlet. Best of all, it's my favorite color, red! I will also get a 20% discount at Running Wild, our fabulous local running store, and free or reduced entry to several local races. One of those local races is the Bix 7, and not only that, but our team gets elite entry. As in, "Hey, there, Meb and Joanie! Good morning, and I hope you enjoy kicking my ass in this race."

Our team does, of course, have to earn our keep. We are required to volunteer at at least six events a year. In particular, if we are running in a race for a free or reduced entry, the race director asks that we volunteer either before or after the race. I am more than happy to pitch in. Last year, I volunteered for two races, and I've been planning to do more. This sport has given a lot to me, and I want to make sure I give back as well.

I left the meeting feeling inspired, both to run my best and to promote my sport to everyone. I am proud of this accomplishment and everything that it represents.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Race Report: Frostbite Footrace 8K

Where we last left off, I was taking an unplanned rest day thanks to an achy knee, but still determined to run the 8K Frostbite Footrace to see how it felt.

I took some Advil and headed for the race, hoping for the best. The place was buzzing with runner friends of mine, including Sara and Jen, who I hadn't seen in months. I think everyone was excited about the first local race of the year - and the fact that the weather was so nice. Several people enthused about how warm it was, and that the weather should not be a factor at all in anyone's performance.

For those of you who don't live in the midwest, the temperature was about 20 degrees. Only a cold weather runner could look at a day like that and be happy to be running outside.

I lined up with Sara and Jen. "Are you ready for this?" they asked. I said that honestly, I probably wasn't. Because of my knee problems, I planned to run a relaxed race and see how I felt. I figured chances were pretty good that I'd end up having to take off another several days. I put my Garmin in my pocket so that I wouldn't be distracted by my pace, which I figured wout be slow.

And, bang! We were off! Jen, Sara, and I leapfrogged back and forth for the first 2 and a half miles - the two of them running together and me by myself (they're sisters and tend to stick together). The two of them stopped for water, and as I passed them, Jen said, "See, Sara? That's what you get for stopping. Now she's ahead of us."

Not for long, though, and the two of them passed me again.

I'll be honest: a huge part of me wanted to beat them. No matter what, it's hard to shut down that competitive spirit. But an even bigger part of me wanted my knee to not be hurt. The months I took off for my injured shin really bummed me out. So, I relaxed and tried my best to run my own race.

At about the halfway point, Jen pulled ahead of Sara and I caught up to her. Sara said she was okay and told me to go after Jen. I did my best, but it wasn't meant to be this time around. Sara was close behind me for quite a while, so I warned her about some of the big hills.

After a while, she was too far behind me... and Jen was too far in front of me. I was on my own. The race ends with a climb up a long, not too steep hill. I pushed it hard to the top, remembering how windy that same climb was last year.

Finally, I kicked it past another runner and into the chute. My finishing time astonished me - just shy of 45 minutes! That was far faster than I'd thought I was going; I guess keeping my Garmin in my pocket paid off, because otherwise, I might have slowed down.

Best of all? My knee is totally fine. On to the next run!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Slip sliding away

Bad news: my knee hurts.

I have been devoted to the 10% rule, so I don't think it's overuse. In fact, it seems pretty clear that running on the uneven and slippery terrain we have outside was the cause. Somehow, I must have slid too much and put too much strain on my knee.

Regardless, I'm taking an unplanned day off today. I have an 8K to run on Saturday, and we'll see how it goes.

Think positive for me!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Frozen

Ellen: Clark, Audrey's frozen from the waist down.
Clark: That's all part of the experience, honey.


Last night, the temperature was in the 20s, and compared to where it's been for the past few weeks, that felt positively balmy. So, when I went out for my 4 mile tempo run, I put on fewer layers than usual - a long sleeved shirt, sweatshirt, and windbreaker, with a pair of tights rather than my fleece pants.

The terrain outside is still pretty uneven. Moving from nicely shoveled sidewalks to loose snow to packed snow to ice patches is a challenge (and tweaked my right knee a little bit). I made an effort not to look at my pace on Paula Garmin, but just to go for that all-important "comfortably hard" feeling. It felt good to open up, and between the increased effort and the music of Lady Gaga on my iPod, my run was over before I knew it.

It was pretty easy to ignore the tingling feeling in my legs.

I got inside, and without those distractions, that tingling feeling demanded a lot more attention. I got undressed to get in the shower and discovered that my legs, from my waist to my knees was bright red (I guess my Recovery Socks kept my calves warmer). Uh-oh.

I quickly got in the shower, careful not to keep the temperature too warm for fear it'd warm me up too fast. Then I put on warm jammies and a robe, covered my lower half with a blanket, and drank a lovely glass of lukewarm water. One bowl of hot soup later, and I seemed to be okay.

The moral of the story is, just because it feels warmer than usual, if that "usual" is 20 below, doesn't mean it's suddenly warm outside.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Recovery

Running conditions update: still ridiculously cold. Trying to navigate between patches of ice, packed snow, and powder snow is no picnic. This winter, I've had just a handful of runs that made me feel exhilarated and amazing when I finished. More of them have been a slog. I'm proud to have gone out in the cold and done something challenging, but the running itself was not the fun part.

In cases like that, the best part of my cold weather run is being done. My recovery routine can actually create a runner's high in a way that the run itself can't always do.

The very first thing I do when I get home is take off my sweaty clothes. I have a nice warm sweatshirt right at the back door, ready to go. Time is of the essence - if I wait too long, my body temperature drops too rapidly and I spend the next couple of hours shivering.

Then, while I do some gentle stretching, I heat up a mug of hot chocolate. If chocolate milk is an ideal recovery drink, surely it has the same properties when you heat it up, right? Let's just call the marshmallows extra carbs.

The hot chocolate tastes better than any hot chocolate I've ever had, and the warm, dry shirt becomes the most comfortable thing that I own. It probably goes without saying that the hot shower I enjoy afterward is pure bliss.

But the best thing of all is the way I feel for the rest of the day. I walk around knowing that I did something challenging, something that most people would never consider doing. Even if it wasn't fun and easy, I did it.

What about you? How do you recover?

Monday, January 11, 2010

10 for 2010

Yes, everybody's doing it, so let's all join hands, jump off this bridge together, and ponder our goals for 2010.

1. Run at least two half marathons in the spring and two in the fall. Last year, I did three in the spring and one in the fall. 13.1 is my favorite distance to race, and I'm going to continue to devote myself to it in 2010.

2. Set a PR in the half marathon. I don't care if it's one second; I want a new PR.

3. Set a PR in the 5K. I'm going to keep running this distance and want to keep shedding seconds as I go.

4. Run at least three new races. Yes, I said this last year and ran considerably more than three new races, but I'm keeping the number at 3 figuring that eventually I'll run out of new local races to tackle!

5. Strength training and core training at least twice a week. I am such a slacker about this, and for no good reason. It really doesn't take long, and I have everything I need at home to keep up a minimal routine.

6. Drink more water. Not so much while I'm running as during my day to day life. I really need to work on this one, just to be healthier overall.

7. Eat like an athlete. That doesn't mean that every single thing I eat will be healthy, but most of what I eat will be, and I want to think about the effects food has on my body and determine what makes the best fuel. And if I do that, I can eat the occasional homemade cookie with no guilt.

8. Incorporate more hills into training. When I go out for a run, I tend to keep it flat. No more. I'm going to come up with some standard 3 and 4 mile loops that include hills at different points in the route. I know that this will make me stronger.

9. Remember to actually wear my Road ID when I go out. In 2009, I was probably at about 75%, and that's not good enough.

10. Keep a training log. I'm devising my own training routine this spring based on FIRST and my race goals, very carefully following the 10% rule. The log will add even more structure and accountability to what I'm doing.

It's going to be a great year. What about you, Internet? What are you doing in 2010?

Monday, January 04, 2010

Seven

Seven. It's not the number of miles I ran yesterday, or even the number of dwarfs in the movie I watched with Jack. Instead, it was the high temperature for the day, a day when I needed to go for a run.

Under those circumstances, many runners would do something foolish, namely run on a treadmill.

Pfft.

Instead, I layered up: red knee-high Oxysox, fleece pants, long-sleeved t-shirt with thumb holes, red fleece vest (which I forgot that I had on and surprised me when I got changed later), red windbreaker, black vest (see, forgot I had the red one on), hat, buff, thin running gloves, Steve's wooly glove/mitten hybrid "glittens."

And you know, after maybe 3/4 of a mile, I didn't feel cold any more. The main evidence of the cold was the frost that formed on my hat... and the fact that my watery eyes produced an ice clump in my eyelashes.

On a beautiful spring day, the streets are crowded with runners. Yesterday, I didn't see a single fellow runner out. I can only hope a few of my brethern spotted me and decided to go out later.

When the weather is as cold as it is here on the ice planet Hoth, you hear a lot of people griping about it. I believe those people should go outside. If you only experience winter through your window or your car, yes, it sucks. But if you're outside, you get an invigorating experience that gets your blood pumping. And the post-run hot chocolate is the most delicious thing there is.