Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Good Life

Many people will tell you they really just love to run and don’t care that much about racing. Some blogs even seem to make the claim that this is the purest form of running: just running for the act of running itself. But that is not me. Really, I love to race. I love the adrenaline, the excitement, the camaraderie, the competition, the idea of pushing yourself more than you even would alone. Oh, I love to just run, too, but honestly, I am a race junkie.

I have managed to get my habit a bit more under control in the last year, mostly because I have learned that I need the recovery to really be sharp when I race. But from time to time, I still fall off the wagon, which is really the only way to explain a road 100k, a high altitude 50k, and a ‘fast’ (in my terms) half marathon over the span of four weeks. So many races, so many goals, and a serious under supply of patience!

And so the family headed up to Victoria for The Good Life Marathon and Half Marathon on October 9th. It was the Good Life for Mac and I, as a pair of running parents, because the start of the half and the full (which Mac ran) were staggered by an hour and fifteen minutes, with the half starting first. The wife of Mac’s running partner agreed to watch our kiddos for the brief race overlap that we would have, which turned out to be the Good Life for my kids because Lisa treated them to ice cream for breakfast. So a win-win for everybody, except maybe Lisa, who had to watch my kids and is out ten bucks. (thanks again, Lisa!).
Lisa not only is a great babysitter, but a great photographer. I stole most of these pics from her.

I had only one goal for this race: break 1:26, which is the elite standard for the California International Marathon in December. There are usually several women who break 1:20 at Victoria each year, so I knew this was just me versus the clock.

At 7:30 the herd started to stampede. I started three or four rows back and my Garmin said 5:50 pace for the first quarter mile and I was practically being trampled! I guess I have forgotten how these big road races start. My goal pace was 6:30, so I got to the side and slowed up to be closer to pace and I couldn’t believe how many people were flying by me. I am not exaggerating to say at least 300 people passed me in the first mile, including so many women that I knew it was pointless to even try to guess what place I was in. Just me and the clock!

I hit 5k at right at 20 minutes, and 10k at 40:02. There was one “big” hill (meaning not big at all, but enough to complain about) that slowed mile 10 down to a 6:45, but otherwise, all my miles stayed under 6:30. It started to feel hard right around the 1 hour mark (which coincided with the big hill), but I also knew I only had 25-26 minutes to go.

Victoria has 100 meter count down signs for the last kilometer. I got to the 400 to go mark with 90 seconds to break 1:25 and mentally, I was like “Yeah, I can’t do that right now and I don’t really need to anyway.” So yeah, a failure for not even trying to go for it, but my finish of 1:25:06 was still a big PR and good enough to get in to the elite field. Or at least it should have been. Apparently the elite field at CIM is “impacted” (The elite coordinator’s word, not mine! As a physician, I really can’t use that word in everyday conversation!) and they can’t let me in. Bummer.
Running SO fast, everything else is a blur!

After the race Mac asked me if it was hard and I wasn’t sure how to answer. Mentally, it was easy. I have races where I hurt for 25 miles, so to hurt for 25 minutes was nothing. And the distance to the finish always felt really short. But at the same time, I really don’t feel like my legs could have gone any faster on that day and to maintain the exact pace when I got tired was a challenge.

What I do know is that I had a blast! What a fun distance to race! Though I have completed 30 ultras and 7 marathons, I had only raced two half marathons prior to this. But I see myself doing more in the future. It is long enough to still be an “everybody gets a medal” kind of race (and feel like you did a good day of running) but short enough that I felt really good after the race. In fact, I would say I felt better after the race than before it. Plus, Victoria is a great city. I hate to dis on Oregon, but I’d recommend Victoria over the Portland Marathon (same day) for all the PacNWer’s out there looking for a fall marathon.
After the race, Megan asked me what I won (my daughter seems to think life is all about prizes, despite our efforts to emphasize fun). Nothing, I told her, I was fourth in my age group. Well, why don't you just go ask, she tells me. Optimism pays off - top 5 got glass plaques! (pic by Megan; I got busted by groundskeeping for standing in the rose garden)

My hubby was a bit under trained going in to this one, due to a foot injury, but he finished with a solid 3:50... certainly not his best but not his worst either. His foot never bothered him during the run, but the lack of training caught up to him (maybe more after the race than during even; he was not walking too pretty afterwards!). But we both had a great weekend. Spotting orcas on the ferry ride home was icing on the cake.

The "Salty Brothas" after the marathon! (That would be brothas from anotha motha, of course!)

Prerace activities included a trip to the bug zoo

Beautiful Victoria (pics by Lisa)

Friday, October 14, 2011

Flagline 50k

Last year the Flagline 50k was created outside of Bend, OR to be the USATF 50k National Championship. I was fairly excited for this race, not so much because it was a national championship, but because I thought it'd be a fun course at the foot of Mt. Bachelor. But then I went into a funk after Western States last year and finally just decided I needed a month off to regroup. So no Flagline 50k for me.

This year the race was only two weeks after the 100k World Championships, and so I figured I'd be sitting this one out, too. But I wanted to get out there and had put it on my schedule weeks in advance, planning to volunteer. But after Worlds, I found myself perusing the website and the course map...Maybe I was longing to get back to trails after a summer of road training for worlds, or maybe I panicked that my ultra-running was done for the year (I am concentrating on a sub-3 hour marathon at CIM for the next two months), or maybe I worried this would be the last good weekend before the beginning of the endless Oregon winter, but something in me really wanted to run it. When I signed up, I was still sore from Worlds and I hadn't run a step. I knew I wouldn't be at my best, but I didn't care, I was really just looking for a fun day on some great trails.

I headed out to Bend after work Friday and caught up with William Emerson at race check in, and I got to hear some of this guy's crazy adventures which include hiking all of the PCT, the AT and much of the Continental Divide trail. Then it was off to my very fine $42/night hotel. Nothing says class like wood paneling and pastel floral bedspreads!

Race morning was cool, but not cool enough to be optimistic about the afternoon looked like we were going to be in for a hot one in the high alpine air (low point on course: 5,800'). The first 8 miles had a gradual downhill and I was running so well. I felt quick and light and unbelievable given the circumstances. I was only a minute or two behind the two front runners at the first aid station. One of the women was Stephanie Howe, who was second at Flagline last year in her only other ultra. I knew she was fast (and a top notch nordic skier), but maybe inexperienced. And the second woman was running her first ultra. So for a brief bit I had stars in my eyes, thinking maybe these two would go out too fast, not fuel right, etc. and burn out in the end.

Right in the mix

But very quickly reality smacked me in the face...well, in the quads the trail then began one of the major ascents. Now who put 20 pound sandbags on my back?? My legs had NO power, there was just nothing there. Normally, I am better at uphill rather than downhill, especially the gradual runnable grade stuff, which was pretty much everything at Flagline. I tried to keep myself running even though my quads were burning, but it was such a slow jog, I got passed by four guys on that first big climb. I like to do the passing on the uphills!! It is usually the downhills where people pass me. By mile 10, it was really obvious that I would NOT be in it to win this one. But in some ways that made the race more fun as I can get into a bit of tunnel vision when I am racing, and on this day I was able to avoid that so that I could look around, enjoy the trails, even joke with most of the volunteers.

Hey, maybe if I eat more, I'll run faster!

My legs were worthless on the uphills, but they were turning over great on all the downhills and I even got four guys back (though, not all the same ones). I figured if I could keep the turnover on the downs, I could maintain third place. The second big climb was particularly ugly for me and I walked WAY too much of it, but that is what I had on that day. About a mile from the top I came upon two bow hunters completely decked out in camouflage, including full face paint! As I passed I commented,"I am glad I am wearing hot pink today." One of the bow hunters just leaned in close in front of my face and with big eyes said,"Boo-ga, Boo-ga, Boo-ga!" That put a little extra spring in my step to the top of the hill as I just kept thinking,"Don't shoot me in the not shoot me in the back."

The last seven miles rolled to the finish and it was a major roller coaster for me: "I am flying...I am dying...I am flying," just depending on the slant of the trail. The last little uphill grind on the road was a killer especially as you had a good view on the straight road of runners WAY up ahead and you felt the full heat of the 80 degree day.

I kept my third place and scored a $200 check. After race entry, hotel, gas and dinner, I figured I netted about $26. Who says you can't make money in ultra-running? ;) But truly, I got a lot more out of the day than that - a beautiful day on the trails, enjoying the scenery and the post race taco-salad in the sun, and hanging out with lots of great people. It was a nice reminder that not every day has to be your best race to be a great run.

Stephanie Howe pulled ahead of Natalie Bak in the final mile to take the women's win, while Max King once again had the Midas touch on the men's side, outpacing Natalie Bak's other half, Ryan Bak.
 Results here.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

100k World Championships

I am up in Canada getting ready to run my second race since worlds, so I guess it is about time I write something aboot Worlds, eh? (I am practicing my Canadian).

I have been completely unmotivated to blog about Worlds. A lot of it has to do with the pace of life: kids back to school, me back to work and training, and my garden in the season of full bounty. Two weeks in the Netherlands put me way behind in harvesting and canning so I have been spending a lot of my free time putting up tomatoes, soup, sauce, pears and juicing watermelons (for popsicles, and my personal favorite...margaritas). But some of my reluctance comes from difficulty in presenting the two sides of this event. This was an overwhelmingly positive experience and I can not put into words how amazing it was to be part of the US team competing in a race with support and spectators that made it feel more like the Boston marathon than an ultra.
On Your Mark...
Team USA women stride past a windmill
Spectators out for a party with yard decorations.
Awesome street decorations. The flag of every participating nation was on the right and race photos with "Welcome" in every language on the left.

Lots of kids handing out sponges. I must have taken a hundred of these in the last 50k.

But my race was tainted with disappointment. I went to Winschoten with three great 100k's under my belt this year: A second place at Bandera 50 minutes faster that 2010; a solid 7:53 at Mad City; and then a win at Miwok. My training after Western States was strong and I felt like 7:45 was well within my capacity. But at the end of the day, I only had a 8:16 to show for my efforts.

The days leading up to the race were very low key as there was little to do in the athletes village. I went on a couple of easy runs, including a preview of the course, and made sure I got plenty of rest. We had a couple of team meetings.

Friday, I got all of my bottles set up. Even at Mad City, I ran with a hand held and some food so I could make fueling decisions on the fly. Basically, I run with only very loose guidelines for fueling: aim for a bottle an hour and at least 200 calories, but I pretty much eat what and when I feel like it. Having to come up with a more concrete plan and then set it all up ahead of time was very new to me and something I should have put a bit more thought into.

Race day was overcast, and I asked the team manager Lin if she thought it'd be a good idea to start with sleeves. "Ugg, no," she replied, "it is so muggy, you'll sweat just walking to the starting line!" Humidity was over 70% for race day and when the clouds burned off after the first couple of laps the course was entirely sun exposed with temps in the high 70's.

One of the highlights of the race was running with Annette. I caught her in the second lap and ran about two laps with her. The running was so smooth an easy and we were chatting up a storm and talking a lot about our spouses like love struck teenagers. The course was also amazing. Well not the route, per se, but the elaborate decorations, the crowds, the windmills, and all the families with their own aid stations and sponge buckets. And I loved that we had our names on our bibs. Partly, it was cool too have the fans yelling our names (as Annette said to me, "you are lucky to have an easy name because everybody wants to cheer for you."). But also it was amazing to run by people and see such a mix of names: Yuko, Sabine, Oxana, Bjorn, Kostyantyn, Jose, really cemented the international vibe of this event for me.
Running with Annette
Running with the Polish team (me-back center). We weren't supposed to run with the men but I was with these guys for about 3/4 of a lap because I couldn't get around them. They finally sped up and dropped me.
The Aid Station row. Our booth said had signs for "AND" and "USA." My first lap I came through and though "And USA what??" Then I remembered we were sharing a table with Andorra!!

As for the race itself, well, run one 10k loop and then repeat ad nauseam. Unfortunately, for me the added nausea started just after 35k. Even during the race I remember thinking,"OMG, I haven't even run a marathon yet!" But general nausea morphed into stabbing, painful side cramps that had me barely shuffling for three laps. During those three laps, I chugged some water with two salt tabs and then didn't eat for 30k. My stomach eventually settled down, I switched to Coke and pretzels and had a decent finishing 30k where I passed nearly 20 women to finish up 16th overall. My splits pretty much tell the whole story:
45:25, 45:50, 45:50, 46:26, 55:27, 54:40, 55:11, 49:21, 50:33, 48:08

To me the biggest disappointment was not so much the bad race, but the sense I have that I was the cause of my own problems... basically, that I messed up. I think I am usually good at strategizing and fueling. I know my typical fueling seems "loosey goosey" but I am good at assessing what I need at a certain moment and taking care of it. In this race, I had everything laid out ahead of time and for some reason, I treated it like it was set in stone. I hadn't planned for that much heat and humidity and I didn't adjust soon enough. Additionally, I didn't think out the timing very well. Normally, I would aim to eat every 30(+) minutes, but I was coming through the aid stations 21-22 minutes apart, so I not only under-consumed salt and fluid but I over consumed calories.

Another thing that is hard to swallow is that I didn't score for the team. I had the third fastest qualifier on the team and it really feels like I didn't come through for them. Plus, being a non-scorer is like I didn't even count. It's kind of like being the back up goalie in World Cup soccer (only the back up goalie gets no playing time and I got MORE "playing time" than my scoring teammates - ha!). The write-ups are hard to read because they really make me feel like I didn't do anything worthy out there. My consolation is that my time could replace ANY of our three scorers and we still would have gotten the silver medal, a testament to the strength of our team. And I do feel like I helped Annette, not only by keeping her company, but also by pulling back on the pace several times to make sure we stayed at a sensible clip.

I am trying to keep this in perspective, as I know there is still a lot of positive here. When the going got tough, I definitely kept my wits and will together and rallied at the end. The women's field saw massive carnage as many others succumbed to the heat and humidity as well, with only 42% of the women finishing the race. One hundred and seventeen of the world's top women came together to run and at the end of the day, I was 16th. Sixteenth in the world and a team silver medal can't be so bad! Hey, Max King finished 16th at his first World Mountain Running Championships, so I am in good company!

As I stated in the beginning this was an overwhelmingly positive experience, something that I am so honored I got to be a part of and I don't want to get too caught up in the negative. But I made some mistakes and didn't have the race I wanted. But live and learn. I think I am much better prepared now that I know what to expect and I am hungry to prove what I can do in Italy next April.