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.