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."


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!