Sunday, March 28, 2010

Having A Blast

Saturday, I joined a small but intimate group for the inaugural running of the Shot Gun Trail Blast 50k in Marcola. I have lived in Oregon for a decade and I have never heard of Marcola. Neither had anybody else I talked to, but it wasn't even an hour from my house. The course was a 25k out and back with a small loop in the mid-section (think needle-shaped); 50k runners did it twice. The course has a total of twelve miles of paved roads. The ~three mile loop at the end was mostly a muddy climb; the rest of the course was dirt logging roads. It was supposed to be more trail, but apparently recent logging in the area required a re-route. I would have liked more trail, but this course, coupled with the perfect weather, made for a fast day -shockingly fast, with the top ten (of only 19) going under 4 hours! (albeit a short course, more on that below).

The pace was fast from the start and I was in tenth place almost immediately - not even the top half of the field I was thinking to myself - and the leaders were pulling away fast. My first mile was 7:30, which I thought was fast but felt in control. I decided to just settle in and not get caught up with the guys up front, but I still pulled through mile 2 in 7:09. That made me panic because that is way too fast! I like to run consistent races, especially on multi-loop courses like this and I was pretty sure I had just blown it and I was only two miles in.

The next couple of miles were very gradual uphill, which helped to slow me down a bit, but not much. My legs just seemed to be on auto-pilot and they weren't listening to my brain! About four and a half miles in, I caught up to Tom Atkins and we ran the next couple of miles together. I enjoyed the time with him, especially since he is training to do his first 100 at Western States this year. I would have loved his company for a bit longer, but when we hit the muddy uphill trail, he fell back.

There weren't any mile markers on the trail section, but I saw mile 9 pretty soon after getting back on the logging road. And then it seemed like I was at mile 12 way too soon, even for the down hill section. My lap button said 16:25, and I was trying to think if I hit the button accidentally and trying to think back to my total time at 9 miles. Things didn't seem quite right.

On the downhill back to the start I tried to stay easy, but I was still worried that I was going too fast. First lap: 1:50.

The second lap around wasn't much different except I walked a bit more on the trail section. My split for miles 9-12 was again 16 something, so then I knew for sure this segment was short.

I have read race reports before where people say things like,"The last five miles my legs felt awesome!" Up until now, I pretty much just assumed these people were either a) on drugs, b) so annoyingly optimistic that they didn't have a firm grasp on reality, or c) suffered from amnesia. Today, I realized maybe it is possible to have your legs feel awesome at the end of a race. In fact, I feel like my limitations today were all from the waist up: I had a few GI cramps along the way (not used to pounding downhills that fast!), my shoulders got tense, and of course, my brain was telling me I was running too fast all day. I had a lot of general fatigue, but it didn't seem to be leg fatigue. My legs felt awesome. (My drug test results are still pending; I can't remember if I have amnesia or not.)

With a mile and a half to go, I knew I couldn't break 3:40 (to negative split) and all other time goals were a sure thing. That's when my legs finally let me ease off a bit and I cruised in at 3:43:14.

I hadn't taken more than ten steps past the finish line, when the race director came over to apologize for the short course as he had forgotten to add a small jog off of the main road between mile 9 and 12. He maintains that we lost less than a mile per loop and still got a 29.4 mile run in. He felt so bad he gave us all "adjusted 50k times" based on average pace. Mine came out to be 3:55, which sounds really sweet, but my friend's Garmin said 28.5 miles. I think Mile 13 to the finish was a bit shorter than 2.5 miles (my splits are too fast), which may account for some of that discrepancy. If we ran 28.5 miles, that would put my "adjusted time" at 4:02. That still would be an awesome time for me, but it definitely doesn't sound as cool as being a sub 4-hour 50k runner. But I don't think one can claim an "adjusted time" as their PR and I accept that inaccuracies in distance are just part of this sport, so I am not distraught about this in any way.

Despite my initial panic, I kept a remarkably even pace, with my two laps only differing by 3 minutes! Check out my splits (First lap time, second lap time; not all miles were marked):

Mile 1: 7:30, 7:52
Mile 2: 7:08, 6:58 (!)
Mile 3: 7:45, 7:44
Mile 4: 8:11, 7:54
Mile 5: 7:24, 7:20
Mile 6: 7:09, 7:17
7-9: 25:09, 27:26 (the hilly section)
9-"12": 16:25, 16:07
Mile 13: 7:02, 7:08
13-end: 16:14, 17:25
Loops: 1:50, 1:53

My brain is still in shock. But I guess it's time for my brain to start listening to my legs; they seem to know what they are doing! (Full Results)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Getting Brighter

Perhaps it is worth mentioning that I had to have a semi-urgent epinephrine injection Monday to keep my airway from constricting. The good news is that the attack wasn't caused by running. Epinephrine will make you feel like you are on crack for a couple of hours (not that I would know), and I was jittery, shaking and wound up so tight (like that is anything new!). I was told not to work out for at least three hours, but all I wanted to do was go move! Besides, I couldn't see how a specialty allergy and asthma doctor could know more than me, a lab doctor who rarely sees patients and who has never treated asthma, so I drove straight to the gym to lift and ride the bike (see what a good patient I am for not running).

They warned me that I would feel like crap when the Epi wore off. Turns out they might kind of know what they are talking about: I felt like crap when the Epi wore off! It was like the worst case of caffeine withdrawal ever: pounding headache, mild nausea, and overly tired. I think that really put me in a downer state of mind for Monday's post, but I had definitely been suffering from some fatigue before that. I guess it got to me a bit that this kind of training is hard. I thought if I made the time and the mental commitment, everything else would fall into place. But it is really physically demanding, too. (Duh!) Not just doing the runs, but as I said yesterday, how drained I feel after the runs are over.

Anyway, I don't think negativity has to be such a bad thing, if it can help you to make changes things for the better. So I am moving forward and especially working on my diet. My nutrition has not been good since bumping up the miles. The sugar cravings are mostly gone but the extra 4-5 pounds are not. I checked out a nutrition book for runners and am about half way through. I started tracking all my calories since Saturday and the results are already illuminating. I think I have been using my running to eat, as in "Oh, I am running so much, this humongous slice of cake won't hurt." whereas before I wouldn't have eaten so much junk food. And did you know that microwave popcorn is pure EVIL in a bag? I do now! I also scheduled a meeting with Mac's trainer to get my body fat measured and to make a nutrition plan. Since he and my husband are now BFF's and because the trainer thinks I am a freak for running so much, he agreed to do it for $25 instead of $55.

I am also cutting my speed work back for a couple of weeks, as I think those are what leave me the most drained. I would really like to prove to myself that I can do a few high mileage weeks before adding them back in. Besides, my goal at WS is to average 13 minute miles (22 hours) so how speedy do I need to be?? ;)

It is good for me to remember that not every day has to be perfect. Some days it is good enough to just breath clearly. And maybe get in a dance session with the kids.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Forget Finding The Time

As training progresses for Western States, the question I keep getting asked is, "How do you find the time?" I have tried to answer that here in both the literal and the abstract, but the bottom line is fairly straightforward: Make it a priority and stick to a schedule. At least that is what is working for me to the point that it doesn't seem that difficult to find the time.

The real question that I need answered is: Where can I find the energy?

For the first six weeks I got all my runs in, maybe a mile or two short on some days, but I accomplished the essence of every workout. That is not to say I ran every day; I had scheduled days off, but those were part of the plan, too.

The result is that I think I am in the best shape of my life. I hit all my paces as expected for workouts, and I am running strong, but the rest of my life seems exhausting. Like I can go for a 12 mile run without breathing hard, but then it seems so burdensome to take the stairs up to my office instead of the elevator. And washing my hair after a run is hard because my arms just feel so heavy. At work I catch myself staring off into space. And some days I am even wondering why my kids have so much energy, like can't they just go watch TV instead of wanting to play tag or dance another round to "I Gotta Feeling." And forget eight hours of sleep; I want ten!

The last two weeks, though, things have slipped even on the running front. First I missed a speed workout due to an unexpected evening call at work. I know perfectly well that running has to be flexible for life, and some days things like that happen. But the string of X's was broken. Of course, the world didn't come to an end, but that silly gimmick had been a powerful motivator nonetheless. That Saturday I had a great run, getting in a "double" Mary's Peak for 28 miles with A LOT of climbing. I was supposed to follow it up with a couple of easy hours the next day, but wasn't 1:30 good enough? The string was already broken and I wasn't going to hit my mileage goal for the week anyway.

This week I had an awesome tempo on Wednesday. Thursday should have been fairly easy but I was racing daylight and really started running FAST those last 2.5 miles. Friday, I was sleep deprived for both logical and stupid reasons (getting up at 4:30 to catch a plane and staying up late to watch old episodes of LOST), but got in 11 miles. But Saturday I had nothing mentally or physically. I aborted a hill workout for only 8.5 miles on my "long" day and decided that afternoon I wasn't running on Sunday. My 90 mile week became 60.

Time to regroup and get back on track this week. I did my workout today with no problems, but still it makes me a little scared to think of what is in store for the next couple of months. Finding the time won't be too much of a problem, but where am I going to find the energy??

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Lost In the Desert (Aka When Smart People Do Stupid Things)

Today is our last day in Palm Springs, before we have to head home and face things like parenting and being on call. So as a last hurrah, I decided I would run the entire legth of the Hop Along Cassidy Trail (12 miles) through the foothills skirting the edge of town. Mac is religiously following the Smart Coach program for the Eugene Marathon which called for 7 miles with 5 at tempo, so he agreed to drop me off at one end, do his run, and pick me up at the other end.

So I gathered my water bottle, a map, a cell phone, and an extra shirt to insure against the evening chill (the highs in Palm Springs have been a disappointing 68 degrees). I didn't have any food but I had an energy bar right before we left, so I wasn't worried. Mac dropped me off at 4:42 and I felt totally prepared for a two hour run.

Only one teensy little problem: Sunset was at 5:50. And when the sun goes down in the desert it gets dark fast! oops!

I am not sure what we were thinking; we have been here 4 days, so maybe we should have noticed that sunset is 25 minutes earlier than in Oregon. Also, I admit I was a bit clueless about planetary motion and daylight. I mean, I know Oregon has long summer daylight and short winter days, so I kind of assumed at the mid way point (ie. right now!) Oregon and California would be similar. And it didn't help that I was averaging 11 minute miles, not 10's.

An hour in, I was only at the 5 mile point, so I started leaving a series of messages on Mac's phone:

"Mac, I don't think I can make it to the end before sunset, so I am turning around."

"Mac, I am losing daylight fast. I may have to cut down to the city early."

"Mac, It is really dark. I am heading down. I can see the road, but I don't know how to get there."

The trail down was fairly easy to pick out, but then I had to run parallel to a wash for half mile before finding a bridge across in to the neighborhood. A nice couple pointed me to the main road, where Mac picked me up under a pitch black sky.

No harm, no foul, right?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Running Palm Springs Style

Mac and I have the good fortune of staying here this week:Don't get any ideas about robbing our house while we are down here basking in the sun of Palm Springs, because the house is not empty...we left the kids!! (My in-laws are there, too). This is a work trip, so all I have to do to earn my room and board is attend a mere eight hours of lecture each day.

But I managed to get some running in, too. Monday, Mac and I went to Indian Canyons for an awesome run. Such a contrast to the pines, ferns, and mud of Oregon -not that I mind those things - but sometimes it is nice to shake things up a bit.

The views were gorgeous and the day was perfect, but the best part was running with Mac. Mac has been working very hard over the last two years to Get Fit Slowly. He has totally transformed himself and is training hard for the Eugene Marathon and even says he's going to do an ultra this year, if he can make it through the new lottery for McKenzie River!

The run was two and a half hours of total awesomeness! (Mac might tell you it was only 2 hrs of total awesomeness; he was kind of hurting at the end, but he was a trooper). We ran through palm groves, crossed streams, ran on sandy river beds and even did some boulder hopping. Plus all the wild flowers were blooming. Mac very kindly watered this one right after I took its picture.

Mac's version of the day here.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Let 'er Buck!

In the chatting after Hagg Lake, a few people mentioned they would be doing Gary and Shandi's Buck Mountain Mudslinger the following weekend. "Yeah, I am planning to do it, too," I told Sean and the rest of the group, "but only just for fun, not as a race."

"Bullsh*t!" was Sean's very emphatic response. Wow - I don't like to think that my competitive nature is that transparent! But, yes, pinning on a race number seems to get me all fired up and ready to run. It is very hard for me to not take a race seriously. I am pretty sure it is a personality disorder.

Despite that, I don't like it when people call me competitive. To me, that implies you are trying to beat someone else and that you care more about winning than having a good race. Or perhaps that you are a sore loser. I am well aware that my position in a race depends largely on who shows up that day, so going into races I always try to have time goals rather than goals for how I am going to place. I would feel better about having a great personal performance and finishing at the back of the pack, as opposed to having a mediocre performance and winning the race. For example, my best marathon was the 2008 CIM - a PR for me by 3.5 minutes, but I was only 60th female. On the other hand, I have four second place marathon finishes, three of which were horrible races and I certainly don't look back on them as good days just because I was "on the podium." However, it just so happens trying to beat the person in front of you can help motivate you to reach your personal best. And so race day when I think, "I can totally take that girl," I am sure you understand that what I really mean is "staying focused on running hard and pushing it just a little to catch that woman in front of me will motivate me to run my best today." ;) Aaah, who am I kidding?!? Yeah, I am competitive. But I know it is all fun and games, and I like to think great rivals can also be great friends.

But for last Saturdays' race, I REALLY was just out there to have fun. I also just wanted to support Run Wild Adventures because I love the idea of trail races around Salem. And so, I decided to embrace the "dress like a cowboy" request from the RD's. I was going for "Western Cowgirl" but the outfit turned out more like Annie Oakley with Down syndrome! The spandex tights under the skirt really compliments the shirt from the boys' section of Goodwill, don't you think? If nothing else, there were quite a few guys on the course who did NOT like getting passed by a chick in a jean skirt! But I did have a good time on the course, and I can't tell you how many stupid jokes I made in reference to the guns.

And I completely let the competitive side melt away. My Hundred in the Hood pacer, Dan, and I started the day with a ten mile warm up as an insurance policy against racing. At the start, I didn't pay any attention to who was ahead of me, what place I was in, my pace. Seriously, I just ran. The sun was a big surprise and I was loving such mild February weather. Around four miles in I kept yelling at "Honolulu" (because of his shirt, I am sure he loved me calling him that) to keep up with me and to fly by me on the downhill. At the very end I caught up with another girl and encouraged her to pick it up and run in with me. Hey, not my fault she didn't keep up. ;) When I reached the finish, I really had no idea what place I was in, and I didn't care.
I've looked bad in a race before, but this is ridiculous!

We finished up with another 4 miles to make it an even 20 on the day.

Sunday was another awesome sunny day so I spent the whole day outside prepping the garden for spring. It was so nice we even had our first back yard fire of the season (sorry East coasters!). But after having a s'more (or maybe it was two. Who keeps track??) I still hadn't gotten my run in for the day. Funny that I was so psyched about running the day before but so not into it the next. My thinking is that if you are going to have two hobbies and one of them is ultra-running, the other should be something ultra-sedentary, like knitting or reading, not something that requires hoeing, digging, pulling, and weeding!

But after the kids were in bed, Mac gave me the athlete's sacred first bump and told me "Get it done!" So I slogged my 12 miles on the treadmill, watching Apollo get DQ'd (I was a few days behind in my Olympic viewing) and picking up my last 'X' on the first page of the wall calendar! Now on to page two!

(Note: page 2 is not starting off too well. I was on call this week with two late nights at work. I missed Wednesday's workout and don't think I can fit in a make-up, meaning no red X. Oh, the shame and horror!)