Sunday, June 27, 2010

Pride cometh before the fall

I was pretty darn proud of myself for winning my age group in the Lincoln-Douglas 3 Mile race yesterday.

So today, in order to restore balance to the universe, I fell.

Not intentionally, of course. I was just running a 10-miler with some friends, minding my own business, when out of nowhere, the sidewalk jumped up and grabbed my foot, causing me to do what looked like a slide into home base... except that instead of a nice sandy baseball field, I was on a gravely concrete sidewalk . And instead of simply getting my baseball uniform a little dirty around the knees (because I wasn't wearing a baseball uniform), I ended up with bloody knees and scraped-up palms. Yeah, it was a bright and shining moment for me.

As an added bonus, several people saw it happen. I was running with my new marathon training group this morning. If I had been running alone, it would have been no big deal. Anyone who might have saw me wouldn't have known me. I would have gotten up, dusted off my knees and acted like nothing happened. Instead, though, at least three people (who now know me and will run with me many times) witnessed my abundant grace and elegance. This proves the first and second corollaries of the Theory of The Pride Cometh After The Fall, and those are:
  • The fall that cometh after pride is much more effective if there are witnesses.
  • The fall that cometh after pride is most effective if the witnesses are familiars of the fallen.
Fortunately, my familiars did not tease or taunt me. They were very kind, in fact, stopping to make sure I was okay, and offering words of support and encouragement, such as one woman telling me about the time her husband tripped and fell during a run and ended up having to get stitches in his forehead. He must have had a LOT of pride before that fall!

My fall happened around the 3.5-mile mark of my run. Though my wounds were not deep, they really stung, and I was a bit worried about what chunks of dirt and junk might be lodged in my skin. Fortunately, at the halfway point of my run, I was at the Tower in Peoria Heights, where I could stop in the bathroom and quickly clean out my wounds. It was then that I realized I had blood running down my leg. Nice!

After I cleaned up, I turned around and headed back to the starting point of the run. I finished strong, not letting silly things like surface abrasions slow me down. If anything was going to slow me down this morning, it was the weather. It was a unbelievably muggy, making this "easy 10" anything but easy. To those members of the training group who showed up and ran this morning, whether they ran 10 miles or 6 miles, I give high fives and fist bumps. Well done, team. Well done.

And here's my run graph... I actually felt pretty strong today, even with the humidity and the whole falling-on-my-face incident.

I like this marathon training group a lot. They're really supportive of each other. There's a large mix of different abilities and paces, but everyone encourages everyone. It's a lot like FAST in that sense. Also, they put out water and Gatorade along the planned route, which means I don't have to wear that water bottle belt that I loathe with every fiber of my being. I am a much happier runner when I don't have to carry fluids with me.

So, despite my fall, I had a good run this morning. And shhhhhhh... don't tell anyone, but I'm still proud of placing first in my age group yesterday.

Peace. Love. Train.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Well that's a first... literally!

So, I ran a race this morning. That probably doesn't come as too much of a surprise - I seem to be running a lot of races these days. But my decision to run this race was fairly last-minute. After my not-triple-but-double-race-weekend last weekend, I thought I was done running races until September.

Apparently, I thought wrong.

I found out there was going to be a race right in the town I live in. It's an old race - it's been around longer than Steamboat, I think. But I've never run it before, because it is small and intimidating. Yes, I'm intimidated by small races, because I have always feared finishing last. And for the record, although I never have finished last in a race, I have finished second-to-last. So my fears are not completely unfounded. Of course, that was 4 years ago and there's a story behind it... but I'll save that tale for another time.

These days, with all my recent PR's and whatnot, I don't worry so much about embarrassing myself with my slowness. In fact, I now look at small races as sources of great opportunity. In small races, I have the chance to place fairly high in my age group. Do you all remember that time, a couple months ago, I stumbled across a 5k race (it was a complete coincidence), signed up for it at the very last minute, and then won 2nd place in my age group? Even in the Cherry Festival 5k, which had over 450 runners, I placed 6th in my age group (out of 39). They don't give out awards for 6th place, of course, but I was still pretty proud of that. Never mind the fact that I was less than 1/4 second behind 5th place... grrrrrrr...

Anyway, fast forward to today. I rolled out of the bed this morning and decided that since I needed to run 3 miles anyway (per my training plan), I may as well run 3 miles with a bunch of other people and get a t-shirt and some bananas and cookies out of it. And there was that teeny tiny voice in the back of my mind saying "You could place in your age group too, you know..." I told the teeny tiny voice to shush.

I arrived at the high school, registered for the race, and then jogged down to the starting line. The 3 mile route was a route I'd run many many times, so I knew where the hills were, and how the elevation changed. I knew that it would be mostly uphill for the 2nd half of the race. I knew I would need to start conservatively to save some energy for that uphill battle.

And then I proceeded to do the complete opposite of that.

I may have mentioned this once or twice before, but I'm not so great when it comes to pacing myself during shorter races. I tend to go out too fast and then die off in the middle. Today was no exception. I ran my first mile in 7:31, which, incidentally, is the fastest one mile time I've ever recorded. (Prior to that, it was 7:43, which I ran this past Tuesday at FAST in a one-mile time trial.) So theoretically, I should have finished that first mile and then promptly died. But I am strong-willed when it comes to avoiding death. I pushed on, albeit at a much slower pace. My mile splits, as you will see below, were 7:31, 8:08 and 8:36. So, uh, yeah... that whole starting-off-conservatively-to-save-energy-for-later plan went just swimmingly.

Per my mile splits on the Garmin, I finished in 24:13. Per the official race results, I finished in 24:43. I'm not sure why there was such a large discrepancy, but they were having difficulty with the clocks when they were trying to start the race, so perhaps there was a timing error. And it's possible my Garmin was wrong too, although everything looks to be in order from my map and charts. But I think the strongest theory is that I was running so fast that my time slowed down, while time continued as normal for the race clock because it was stationary (per the Theory of Special Relativity), causing my Garmin to register a lower time than the race clock. I bet elite runners experience that problem a lot. *nods wisely*

Feeling good about my finish time, I stuck around for the awards ceremony, thinking that maybe I had a shot at 3rd or 2nd place. When they got to calling out the awards for my age group, I was on the edge of my seat, tapping my foot and biting my nails nervously. I'm still so new to this whole winning-awards-for-running thing, that it's all very exciting for me. They called out 3rd place... with a time of 30:something. Ooooo, I definitely had finished faster than that! Then they called out 2nd place... with a time of 29:something. Really? I was definitely faster than that too! And then they called out first place from another age group by mistake, and nearly gave me a heart attack. The announcer quickly realized his folly and called out "Sorry about that... First place in Female 30-34 is Emily ***** with a time of 24:43."


I did mange to get up and get my trophy without tripping, fainting, or crying. It was close, though. On all three. I felt like I was winning the Miss America pageant. I wondered to myself, Should I fake-cry? Wave to the audience? Wear a tiara and carry roses? And would someone sing to me "Here she is... Miss Female 30 to 34...."?

Okay, so it wasn't the Miss America pageant. But I won a trophy! A trophy! Look at it, all shiny and pretty, with the runner girl on it (who, by the way, I think I could beat in a race, just judging by her stride). And it says right on it "1st Place". That's just plain cool. I feel shocked, awed and damn proud.

So we've looked at the pretty - now it's time to look at the ugly: my run graph. This run graph may have won an age group award, but it's still not a good graph. I went out entirely too fast, and you can see my pace just got slower and slower and slower, until the last half mile, where I started to pick up again. I even took water in the middle of the race, not because I was thirsty (although I was), but because I needed an excuse to slow down for a little bit.

So, if I ever want to become a short-distance specialist, I suppose I'll have to work on my pacing. I have no problem running negative splits in a half-marathon or marathon. I know I have plenty of time to ease into a comfortable pace and then gradually build. But in shorter races, there's not a lot of time for anything gradual, and that makes me nervous. The nerves cause me to take off like a rocket, and then I fizzle out.

Don't get me wrong, I'm still very pleased with the run, and most of all, with my trophy. Maybe I'm not as slow as I think I am...

*puts on tiara and waves to the crowd while fake-crying*

Peace. Love. Train.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Triple Race Weekend Report...

...aka, Why It's Good To Have Backup Races

So yeah, I'm finally getting around to writing up my race reports from this past weekend. Better late than never, right? So here we go, in chronological order:

Steamboat Classic 4-Mile

This was my 5th consecutive year running this particular race. It is a Peoria icon, having been around for over 35 years. The official tagline for Steamboat is "The World's Fastest 4 Mile Race" (and also "Illinois' Toughest 15k", because Steamboat is actually comprised of two races run simultaneously, one of which is short and flat, and one of which is long and hilly). The unofficial tagline, at least as far as I'm concerned, is "It's not Steamboat without the steam!" The weather is always hot and humid for Steamboat, so anyone wanting to run these races should expect nothing less than 70° and 90% humidity at the time of race start. This year, I believe it was 72° and 97% humidity. Awesome!

Given the *begin sarcasm* fabulous weather conditions *end sarcasm* and my difficulty in running my goal pace during FAST training runs, I was pretty sure my super-stretch goal of 36:00 was out of the picture. But I was confident I could break 40:00, and felt reasonably capable of breaking 38:00, so that's where I set my sights.

We arrived at the race start and I lined up a few yards behind the 9:00 pace sign. It felt strange to be there, as I've always placed myself at the 11:00 or 12:00 pace signs. But I am a faster runner now. Not fast... just fastER.

The national anthem was played and before I knew it, we were off. I made a deliberate effort to not go out too fast, as I have done in recent 5k races. I always run better when I ease into my pace. I started out at a conservative pace of about 10:00 and then gradually accelerated over the first half-mile to a comfortably fast pace of about 9:20. After the second mile, it wasn't quite so comfortable anymore, but I was still accelerating ever-so-slightly and was now running sub-9:00. In the final mile, I backed off my pace a little bit because I wanted to have the energy to fly down the hill and sprint to the finish line at the end. From checking my Garmin, I knew that my 36:00 goal was within reach. I just needed to hold on to my pace. I rounded the corner that began the downhill stretch toward the finish line. I let the downhill carry me without forcing a faster pace. I knew I would have just enough left in me for a final kick. I turned the last corner and the finish line was in sight, less than 100m ahead. I shifted gears and ran for my life. I saw the clock over the finish line read 35:57... 35:58... 35:59... I knew the clock was ahead of me because it had taken me at least 30 seconds to cross the starting line. 36:03... 36:04... 36:05... DONE! My chip time would definitely be under 36:00. I could hardly believe it!

At that point, I had to concentrate really hard on not throwing up. Finishing Steamboat always makes me feel nauseated. It's the combination of the final sprint and the heat and humidity. It just doesn't do good things for one's stomach. But I managed to keep my Gatorade down and soon joined my friends. Some had achieved their goals, and others had not... but everyone had run the best race they could on that day. For that, I give high fives all around.

A little while later, I found out my actual chip time. 35:15. That was almost 5 minutes better than my previous best of 40:13. You bet I'm pleased with that! And you bet that next year, I want to be under 35:00!

Skirt Chaser 5k

I would love to write a report on this race... Unfortunately, I never got to run it. Thanks to the wonderful phenomenon of Illinois summer road construction, we simply couldn't make it to the race on time. We left our house at noon, thinking it would be plenty of time (after all, the trip to Chicago usually only takes 3.5 hours), but when the clock struck 5:00pm and we were still sitting in the car, at a standstill on I-90/94, we knew there was no hope of making it.

Instead, we went to Cafe Ba Ba Reeba and enjoyed tapas and sangria in air-conditioned comfort. It was a pretty good consolation. Okay, it was a really good consolation. *burp*

So I guess it was a good thing this wasn't the only race I had planned for the weekend. Doing triple-race weekends definitely has its pluses!

Warrior Dash Midwest

This race cannot be described with mere words. Instead, I will describe it with pictures and video. I ran (climbed, slid, jumped, crawled, slipped, etc) this event with my husband, and our friends Niki and Jeff. You'll see a lot of them in the video.

Emily and Niki, pre-Dash

I would like to point out that the fur was not moisture-wicking Dri-Fit. No, it was very, very hot and heavy. And so about three obstacles into the race, we shed our furry accessories and left them in the woods. People will probably just think they're dead animals. Dead polyester animals... And as a side note, I made those legwarmers myself. Yes, I am that crafty and awesome. I'll be taking your orders now.

And now, for footage from my helmet cam. That's right - for you, my dear readers, I donned a bicycle helmet with a video camera mounted on it in order to capture the true spirit of the Warrior Dash. Now, the camera was aimed a tad low, because I didn't fully take into consideration the fact that I would be looking at the ground a lot to find my footing. So I apologize for the excessive leg and butt shots. I swear it was unintentional. No really, I swear!

After the race, we took full advantage of the "shower area", which consisted of several big water tanker trucks with fire hoses attached, spraying ice-cold water onto the muddy masses. I do wish I had had enough video time left on my camera to capture that scene, but alas, I ran out (my Flip Mino HD camera only holds 60 minutes of video). Rest assured, it was amusing.

Emily and Niki, post-shower

It was almost worth signing up for the Warrior Dash for the awesome furry horned helmet they give all participants. And the finisher's medal was pretty cool too. The post-dash entertainment and food was also excellent, with entertainment consisting of a band on a huge stage, and people mud-wrestling on the ground. It was kind of like Woodstock.... but without the drugs. Although there was probably enough beer flowing to make up for it.

After I got really cleaned up and had a moment to really examine myself, I realized I actually got pretty banged up from this experience. My knees are scraped up all to heck, and I have an enormous bruise on the side of my knee. The scraped knees came from crawling on the ground and in the mud (there were a lot of rocks!). I haven't the foggiest idea where the bruise came from, though. You'd think I'd remember hitting my leg that hard... But then again, true warriors feel no pain during battle. YARRRRRRRRRRR!!!!

Peace. Love. Train.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Confessions of a crazy runner...

It's time for true confessions here on Sweat Like A Pig. In a few minutes, we're all going to sit in a circle and pass the Olympic relay baton around. When you get the baton, you have to make a running-related confession. You'll feel so much better, trust me. And it will make me feel better about making my confession.

But first, I'm going to stall for a bit by talking about Tuesday's FAST workout. It was a simple enough workout, in concept. The execution was another matter entirely, though. After our typical ~1 mile warm-up into the cemetery, we were instructed to run 4 x 1 mile repeats at about Steamboat race pace. The first two repeats should be a little slower, and then the final two should be a bit faster - so a sort of progressive build. Also, the second half of each 1 mile repeat was supposed to be faster than the first half. Ha. Ha ha ha ha ha ha. I find that amusing because the second half of our 1 mile loop is mostly uphill (and, conversely, the first half is mostly downhill). So we're supposed to run faster UPhill than downhill. Uh huh. Suuuuure Coach Bekah... whatever you say....

First, let me say, in true Central Illinois fashion, the weather was miserable. It was hot, humid, sticky, and icky. I tried to run about my stretch goal pace for Steamboat (9:00 min/mile), and I was mostly successful (my mile repeats were 9:12, 9:06, 9:00, and 8:54). But it darn near killed me. And, might I add, we got 2-3 minutes of recovery between each mile repeat.

Now, I could be wrong, but I'm pretty sure that the Steamboat race officials are not going to stop the race clock after each mile I run so I can stop, grab my sides, bend over and wheeze for two minutes.


So it looks like my stretch goal is, well, too much of a stretch. It's okay. I still think I can make my main goal, which is, of course, to PR. My current Steamboat PR is 40:13. I'd like to go sub-40:00, which I think is within my reach. The stretch goal, finishing in 36:00... well... I think the weather fates will have to be on my side for that result to transpire. And as anyone who has ever run Steamboat can attest, it's just not Steamboat without the steam. It's always hot, humid, and miserable. Always.

Now that we've talked about the FAST workout and Steamboat goals, I guess it's time for the confession pow-wow. So everyone gather round and let us pass the Olympic Relay Baton of Truth.

You first. *quickly passes baton to the right*

*baton is quickly passed back to me like a hot potato*

Oh, alright! I'll go first. But your confession better be good.

Here goes: *deep breath* I'm running three races this weekend. Three. Races. In two days. Actually, all in less than 30 hours, if you want to get technical about it. But who's keeping track, really? Oh. You are. Right.

Now, to be fair, the only one I plan on actually racing is the Steamboat 4-Mile. That's the first race of the weekend, bright and early on Saturday morning.

Then I am heading up to Chicago with my hubby and some friends to run the Skirt Chaser 5k on Saturday evening. In this race, the women get a 3-minute head start over the men, and whoever crosses the finish line first is the winner... and many times it is a woman! I won't be out to win it though! It will just be a fun 3 miles in Lincoln Park. Plus, all the women get a running skirt! Too bad the men don't get skirts too. That would be quite entertaining.

Finally, on Sunday morning, we are participating in our first "adventure race", the Warrior Dash. It's not so much a running race as it is an obstacle course. Sure, there will be some running to get from obstacle to obstacle... but really, it's all about the obstacles. And the mud. There will be lots and lots of mud. I typically try to avoid mud when I run, so this will be quite a change of pace for me.

So that's my confession. I'm running three races in one weekend. Wow, it feels so good to get that off my chest!

*passes baton to the right* Now you go. What's your running-related confession?

Peace. Love. Train.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The blind leading the blind

Bright and early on Sunday morning, I had the privilege of running a new (to me) long run route with three fellow FASTies.

I set my alarm for "before the crack of dawn", so I could get up, eat my standard oatmeal and banana pre-run brekkie, and digest it in plenty of time before our run. I was supposed to meet my friends at 6am so we could run the Steamboat Classic 15k course together. For those not in the know, this course is known as "Illinois' Toughest 15k" by virtue of its many, steep hills. And not just any steep hills: this course includes the infamous Hill Of Death... TWICE. Now doesn't that sound like a party!?

I had never run the course in its entirety before. I've run bits and pieces of it during training runs (such as the Hill Of Death, and upper Glen Oak Park), and I knew it consisted of two loops through Glen Oak Park, but I wasn't really familiar with the entire route. Since my fellow FASTies had run this route many times and knew the way, I would be okay as long as I stayed with them.

Or so I thought.

I should have started to worry when Louisa almost made a wrong turn less than 1/2 mile into the run. But I didn't worry because Cathy and Marge quickly diverted her and reminded her that the turn was the next intersection. No problem. Cathy definitely knew the way, so I was going to be a-okay.

That was until Louisa and I started running ahead of Cathy and Marge. Before long, we were about a minute ahead of them. Then we arrived at the Glen Oak Zoo, which is part of the 15k course, but is kept gated when it's not open... such as on Sunday mornings. There were two sidewalks going off to the left in front of the gate. Apparently one of them would take us around the zoo and back to the regular 15k course. Louisa hemmed and hawed over which sidewalk to take.

"I know it's one of these!" she said, confidently. I did not feel as confident as she sounded.

Soon, Cathy and Marge caught up with us and pointed us in the right direction. Whew! Crisis averted.

For a while.

Louisa and I soon broke ahead of Marge and Cathy again, and she almost made two more wrong turns on the first loop. I didn't know any better - I just went along with her until I heard Cathy shouting at us from behind to turn back. At one point, Louisa said she was just following the arrows on the ground, but I swear I didn't see any arrows on the ground pointing in the directions Louisa was trying to run. I think if we had taken all the turns Louisa had tried to take, our 15k would've turned into a 10k. Perhaps she was trying to "accidentally" shorten our run. Very sneaky, Louisa!

But maybe Louisa and I were so caught up in conversation that she lost track of where we were. There's definitely something to be said for doing long runs with other people - it makes the time pass so much faster. Even when there's not conversation, just knowing that someone else is suffering through the same hills and heat that you are makes things seem a little bit better.

But Louisa, who recently entered the 60+ age division in races, has so many great stories to share. She told me about the transsexual (a woman who used to be a man) who also competes locally in her age division, and who (not surprisingly) always beats her. Louisa has won a lot of age group awards - and that's no shock when you consider that she doesn't look, act or run like a typical 60-year-old. She's petite, spunky and good-natured. She doesn't let the transsexual get her down. (And yes, I realize that is a really bizarre statement.)

She also told me about the time she was forced out of a race because the race officials thought she was too injured to finish. Then she told me about the doctors who were practically high-fiving her for trying to stick it out and telling her "You'll have such great stories to tell about this race!" (As an aside - every runner should have a doctor like this: a doctor who is also a runner and understands the mental instability... er... I mean, fortitude that comes with being a runner).

Before we knew it, we finished the first loop through Glen Oak Park and it was time to start the second loop. We charged up the Hill Of Death, knowing it would be the last time we'd have to run it. Now that I had run the loop once, I felt comfortable with the route. The conversation continued, interspersed with periods of silent focus. As we approached the last steep hill, Louisa looked at me and yelled "Let's do this!" and we charged up, powerful and energetic, knowing that it was quite literally all downhill from there.

Running through Glen Oak Park, despite being hilly and difficult, was actually nice because of all the shade offered by the many huge trees. As soon as we finished with the Glen Oak segment of the run, and headed back to the city streets toward the finish line, the shade of the trees disappeared and it felt 20 degrees hotter. No matter, though, because we were almost done. Louisa and I picked up our pace a bit and cruised into the finish area. A few minutes later, Cathy and Marge followed suit.

Success! Illinois' Toughest 15k course was no match for us. It could have been a difficult run for any one of us, had we been running individually. But there is strength in numbers. The run graph shows it. I ran at a pace not much slower than my best half-marathon pace, and yet it was an easy run. Yes, the hills were hard, but overall, my effort was low, my heart rate was low, and I felt strong the entire run.

So even though I was led slightly astray a few times, I still had a good run with some great people. They even had a sort of post-run potluck, where they were passing around recovery beverages and food. If I had known about the potluck, I would have made a lasagna or something! Well, hopefully I will get to do more long runs with these wonderful gals and have a chance to contribute to the post-run feast, whether it be with lasagna, or Gatorade... or both!

And to my running buddies on Sunday... thanks for inviting me along. :)

Peace. Love. Train.

Friday, June 11, 2010

FAST: The Movie!

For months, I have described FAST workouts in exquisite detail for my wonderful readers. But reading about it just doesn't compare to seeing it with your own eyes. So now I bring you FAST: The Movie! This short documentary (which I'm hoping will be nominated for an Oscar) showcases some of the torture we endure... er... I mean, fun we have... at our group training sessions. Enjoy!

And rest assured, there will be other videos. *insert evil laugh here*

Peace. Love. Train.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

FAST coaches answer life's burning questions...

...such as "Does a deer poop in the cemetery?"

The answer, as uncovered by our alert coaches, is a resounding YES.

Although, apparently, the deer do not want this to become public knowledge. Think about it... Have you ever seen a deer poop? I know I haven't. I mean, I've seen deer poop... on the ground. But I've never seen a deer actually pooping. Believe me, I don't feel deprived or anything. I'm just sayin', it's not a commonly-viewed sight.

Well, all that has changed. Coaches Brad and Bekah were jogging back from the cemetery and there before them was the rare spectacle of the pooping deer. At first, Bekah couldn't believe her eyes. Allow me to recreate the scene for you:

"Is that deer pooping?," Bekah inquires, astonished by what she is witnessing. A deer is squatting in the cemetery right in front of her.

Brad squints to get a better look*

"Why yes, Bekah, I believe it is!" Brad's jaw hangs open in amazement. "And look, it's using its tail as a sort of eject switch!"

"Wow, let me get out my cell phone so I can take a picture!" *
click click*

*Deer looks embarrassed*

Now, I wouldn't have known about this whole deer-pooping incident at all had the coaches not excitedly told us all about it in exquisite detail after our cool-down. I think that perhaps Bekah and Brad should submit their story to the Discovery Channel, because I'm sure that deer-pooping is a lot like shark-mating in that no human has ever before witnessed it.


That was truly the highlight of the evening at FAST last night.

Oh, yeah, and we did some running and stuff, too. It was more speedwork in the cemetery. The coaches had us doing short, fast intervals: 800-1000m, with longer recoveries in between. The weather was warm and sticky. Running any distance at a fast pace was tough. The intervals were as follows: 800m, 1000m, 800m, 1000m, 800m (all at 5k pace). And for each of the two 1000's, we were supposed to sprint the last 200m, as if we were giving our finishing kick in a race. Simple enough in theory. Very difficult to execute. I was not able to maintain 5k pace for any of the intervals (assuming my 5k pace is now 8:17, thanks to my recent 5k PR). The best I could manage was 8:36.

Following our intervals, we did four short strides and in each one, Coach Bekah allowed certain people a head start and the goal of everyone else was to try and catch those people. I didn't really manage to catch anyone, which is really no surprise since sprinting is not my thing. But the final stride was definitely the most entertaining one, when Bekah allowed everyone a 3-second head start... except for Coach Brad. Our goal was to keep Brad from passing us. Yeah, I totally failed. Actually, almost all of us failed, save for our two fastest runners who only barely finished ahead of Brad. And so I have come to the conclusion that Brad is not actually human. He will, of course, deny this assessment. Any non-human would.

Peace. Love. Train.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Cherry Festival 5k and a new PR!

I just can't get enough PR's these days, it seems. Yesterday I set my 3rd 5k PR in a month. How crazy is that? I don't know if it's that I'm actually getting faster, or that I'm just developing a higher threshold for discomfort... although I suspect it's really some combination of the two.

I ran another sorta-last-minute race yesterday. I had been planning to go to the Washington Cherry Festival 5k, but I had not been planning on running it until about noon on Friday. My husband and a friend from FAST were going to run, and I was going to cheer them on. But, as it turns out, they were both injured and unable to run. So I did what any supportive and slightly crazed runner would do... I ran the race myself instead.

Around Mile 2 of yesterday's race, when I was hot, drenched and miserable, I came to the realization that I have had quite enough of the 5k scene for now, thankyouverymuch. I would have been so much more comfortable running a half-marathon in yesterday's weather (humid, rainy and warm). But I wasn't there to run a "leisurely" half-marathon pace. No, I was there to put the proverbial pedal to the proverbial metal. I wanted to break 26:00 in the 5k. How hard could it be?, I reasoned with myself. I was only 4 seconds away in my last 5k.

Well, it wasn't exactly a walk in the park. I have discovered, from racing several 5k's in recent weeks, that I am really not very good at pacing during the shorter distances. I always seem to go out too fast. This is so unlike me! I have always been an expert negative-splitter.... at the 10k distance and beyond. The 5k is different. It's over in the blink of an eye. Apparently my brain doesn't think I have time to be messing around with silly negative splits. When the gun goes off, my feet go crazy. I pay for it later, of course. As with my last 5k, I started off fast and got slower. This is something I really want to work on... but not this year. This year is my marathon year. The 5k training will have to wait.

Even though I slowed down over the course of the first 3 miles, I did at least have the decency to kick it up a notch for the final 0.1 miles. And then there she was. Some chick I didn't know. But she was running neck and neck with me. Well this simply won't do, I thought. So as we rounded the final turn and were heading to the finish line, I gave it everything I had and tried to outsprint her. And I had her! Until she outkicked me in the last 10 feet. DRAT! Turns out, she finished less than 1/4 second ahead of me. A QUARTER OF A SECOND! And to add insult to injury, she was in my age group. I don't know who she is, but I'm going to beat her next year. You can be sure of that.

So how'd I do? Not too shabby. I met my goal, so I am very happy about that. Officially, my finish time was 25:53 - 11 seconds faster than my previous PR. Considering the humidity yesterday, I think that's pretty cool. Also, I placed 6th in my age group, out of 39. I may not have gotten any kind of award for that, but believe me, I am proud. That puts me in the top 15% of women in my age group yesterday.

My poor injured husband had to stand around on the sidelines watching me run, when originally this was going to be his race. But he was able to get some video footage of the race, which I put together in a short movie:

You can see toward the end where I'm trying to beat that chick. I just ran out of steam too soon. I'll get her next year. GRRRRRRRRRR! You can also see some of my friends finishing too.

And here's my run data from the Garmin.

Given my history of running last-minute races recently, you may be wondering what I'm running next weekend... And the answer to that is "nothing but my normal training runs". You may scoff and say "We'll see about that..." But I assure you, next weekend I am taking it easy. I can't be running full-throttle every weekend.

Besides, the weekend after that (June19-20), I have three races in two days. *looks innocent*

Peace. Love. Train.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Return to the Hill Of Death

Oh great and mighty Hill Of Death! I have missed you! It brings me such joy to run (if you can call that "running") up your steep slopes. It brings me even greater joy to run back down your steep slopes, but that's beside the point...

As you may have guessed, after several weeks without going near the Hill Of Death, we finally returned to it last night. It was a bittersweet reunion. The hill does us good. It makes us better runners. But it hurts like crazy.

The workout in a nutshell: First, we did the standard 2 mile warmup into the cemetery and back to the bottom of the Hill Of Death. Then we went right into our hill suicides. The hill suicides consisted of three levels of torture, each one higher and more grueling than the last. After the third level of torture, we ran back down the other side of the hill to the bottom (the hill is a giant loop), and started the whole cycle over again. After two rounds of hill suicides, we did a steady-state sort of run to the cemetery entrance and back (about 1.5 miles) and then headed to the track for some form drills and strides. For the strides, we did 4 x 150m, and 2 x 200m. I would like you all to take note of my pace during those strides (laps 18, 20, 22, 24, 26 and 28), because most of them were sub-7:00 pace. Which goes a long way to explaining why they felt so freaking hard!

It should be fairly obvious from the elevation plot where the hill suicides are (the two sets of three increasingly-larger peaks in the middle). And it should be obvious where the track work was too, because the elevation plot is flat as a board (and the pace graph is all kinds of crazy!).

All in all, a very good workout. And my injured husband, who was sitting it out on the sidelines, to get a lot of it on video... so maybe I will put together a video this weekend for you all, my fabulous readers... I know you can hardly wait!

Peace. Love. Train.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Taking "sweat like a pig" to a whole new level...

That was the essence of FAST last night.

I am pretty sure we've had hotter workouts at FAST before, but I think last night it was a lot more humid. And that led to excessive sweating with no way for the sweat to evaporate. The end result was a bunch of runners who looked like they had just climbed out of a swimming pool, doubled over and panting. I honestly can't remember the last time I've been so completely drenched in sweat. It paints a lovely mental picture, doesn't it?

There was nothing exceptionally difficult about the workout last - it was a very typical FAST kind of run: a 1 mile warmup into the cemetery, 5 x 1000m repeats at a hard effort with 2 minutes recovery between, and a 1 mile cooldown out of the cemetery. The 1000m repeats were effort-based, not pace-based, due to the heat and high humidity. For this, I was thankful. I felt like I was running 5k pace or faster, but in reality, I was running a bit slower.

I ran the first two repeats by myself... or so I thought. But Coach Brad quickly noticed that fellow teammates Jess and Jose were starting and finishing very close to me (Jess slightly ahead and Jose slightly behind). So he advised us to run together on the remaining three repeats, which meant a slight pace increase for me, and a slightly greater pace increase for Jose. Coach Brad asked Jose, "Does it scare you that two women are leading you into the woods in the cemetery?" He said he wasn't worried, but I could see the fear in his eyes.

We took off for our first group repeat (our third repeat altogether) and my effort level suddenly skyrocketed. Jose and I really struggled to stay with Jess - it was most difficult during the uphill portions of the repeats. But ultimately, we kept up. After that, I wasn't sure I could stick with Jess for another two repeats. Coach Brad gave us some words of encouragement and we set off for the next one. This one felt even more difficult, but somehow I found a little extra energy at the end to give a final kick and pass Jess. Coach Brad said to me "I thought you said you couldn't run with Jess again!" To which I replied "Well, I didn't run with Jess. I ran ahead of her!" But I was pretty wiped from that so I subtlely asked Jess to go easy on us for the last repeat by saying "So, you look pretty tired... You planning to run the last one as hard as the others?" She insisted she wasn't going to run as hard, so I felt a little better about running with her for one more lap.

But then she went and ran the same pace as the other repeats anyway. DANG IT JESS! You tricked us! Somehow, Jose and I managed to stick with her one more time and finish without dying, or worse, puking. So I just want to say thanks to Jess for pulling us along, and way to go Jose for sticking with us.

You will notice the run graph is missing a repeat. That's because I was dumb and pushed the Stop/Start button instead of the lap button before we started the 3rd repeat. So the 3rd 1000m is not included in the data. I assure you, it looks very much like the final two 1000m repeats. Notice the first two repeats are quite a bit slower, because I wasn't running with Jess and Jose. So that just goes to show you the power of running with other people. The 1000m laps are 4, 6, 9 and 11.

After our FAST run, we had another fun get-together to honor one of our members who is moving away and getting married (we'll miss you Kelly!). Here's our group last night, enjoying beer and Irish food at Kelleher's.

Yes, most of us were sweaty and stinky. The good news is that we were seated outdoors so the smell could dissipate more easily.

In somewhat related news, you may have noticed my new piggy logo (designed it myself, thankyouverymuch!). It is with great pleasure that I announce the opening of the Sweat Like A Pig e-store, where you can purchase all sorts of Sweat Like A Pig goodies and gear (including a running singlet!). All proceeds from sales on my Sweat Like A Pig e-store between now and October 10 (the Chicago Marathon) will be donated to the Organization for Autism Research, so now's a great time to stock up on necessary things like aprons, postage stamps, and coffee mugs.

For those of you who don't know, I am running Chicago for OAR, in honor of my good friend and fellow FASTie, Niki, who's son was recently diagnosed with autism. There's a link for my fundraising website in the sidebar ---> if you would like to read more about Aiden. You can also donate directly to OAR through my fundraising website, if you are so inclined. Every little bit helps!

Now, don't you think a piggy tote bag would go great with those shoes you're wearing today???

Peace. Love. Train.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Inexplicable traffic, a crooked hotel, and a skinny race course

It often seems that half the adventure of destination races is getting to the race city. This one was no exception as my husband and I (and two of our friends) journeyed to Chicago to run the Soldier Field 10 Mile race. A trip that should have taken 2.5 hours ended up taking about 3.5 hours thanks to the inexplicable traffic jam going into the city of Chicago on a Friday afternoon.

I fully understand traffic leaving the city on a Friday afternoon - everyone is done with work and trying to get home to the nicely-manicured lawns and evenly-spaced trees of the suburbs. But for reasons unknown, we spent far too long sitting in traffic trying to get to the city. It was the bizarre traffic phenomenon (henceforth known as BTP) where at first, everyone is stopped. Then everyone starts to move slowly. Then everyone begins to pick up speed. Pretty soon, you begin to think "Hey, looks like the traffic has ended!" because everyone is almost going the speed limit. But then, everyone slows down and before you know it, all the cars are stopped again. Repeat about 20 times. And then when the traffic jam is finally truly over, there is no apparent reason for there having been any traffic jam in the first place. No accidents. No lane reductions. No airplanes landing in the middle of the freeway. Just BTP.

Traffic notwithstanding, we arrived at our first destination without too much difficulty: Fleet Feet Sports. This was the location of race packet pickup. It was also a very clever ruse by the Fleet Feet people to get a whole lot of people into their store to spend money on all manner of really cool running gear. Which I may or may not have done. *whistles nonchalantly*

After picking up our packets, we headed down LSD (Lakeshore Drive for those of you not familiar with Chicago) to get checked into our hotel. We chose a hotel conveniently located across the street from Grant Park, about 1/2 mile from the race start/finish. The hotel's location was pretty much the only thing it had going for it. After checking into our rooms, we met back up with our friends for dinner and there was an awful lot of discussion about what was wrong with our rooms. Things such as the hot and cold water being reversed (we had to turn the knob to hot in order to get cold water, and vice versa), and the pillows being flatter than pancakes, and half the light bulbs not working, and the noisy A/C (but don't all hotels have noisy air conditioners?). But probably the most alarming complaint was from our friends who said that the floor of their room was visibly and noticeably slanted. In other words, you could put a marble on the floor by the door and it would roll, without any assistance, to the window. And we got all this for almost $200 a night! What a bargain!

We carb-loaded at, you guessed it, Noodles & Co, and then headed back to the crooked hotel for some good restful sleep on the pancake pillows. (As a side note: I tried to call the front desk to get more pillows, but the front desk button on the phone didn't work (intentionally?). So I dialed a line out and called the hotel phone number, but it rang 20 times and nobody answered. Top notch customer service, I tell ya!)

The morning of the race, we got up, got dressed, and ate some breakfast. I had brought my standard oatmeal and banana, but I forgot to bring a bowl and spoon... so I ended up "drinking" the oatmeal from a styrofoam cup. Hey, it worked!

We all walked over to the race start area (just outside of Soldier Field), made a last-minute port-a-potty stop, and then lined up for the race. We were all planning to run at different paces, so the four of us decided to compromise and start in the 9:45 pace area - it was faster than I was planning to run, and slower than they were planning to run. But not by a lot, either way. So hopefully I didn't get in too many people's way by starting with a slightly faster group of people. If I did, I apologize - I know it always irks me when slow people line up with the fast pace groups and then basically force everyone to pass them early in the race. And I did get passed by a lot of people early on, but that's pretty typical for me, as I always start a distance race at a pace slower than my target and then gradually accelerate over the first few miles.

The race started in two waves. The first wave was for "fast people". The elites, and people who had documented proof that they could run a sub-9:00 pace were allowed to run in the first wave. The second wave was for "everyone else", and it began 10 minutes after the first wave. I'm sure it will come as a shock to you all that I was not in the first wave. It was really no big deal starting later, and if it reduced the crowding along the course, it was definitely a good thing, as we will soon see.

The gun went off (or the air horn, in this case) and before we knew it, we were running. My husband and friends were ahead of me, but in sight for the first couple of miles. But pretty soon it was just me. I was glad to have my iPod to listen to, because as far as crowd support, this race was lacking. I could probably count on one hand the number of groups of cheering spectators. And while that doesn't make or break a race, it is a bit of a boost to hear words of encouragement along the way.

The course itself was pretty nice as far as scenery goes. The route headed south from Soldier Field along Lakeshore Drive (and at one point, we ran through a tunnel, which totally messed up the distance and pace on my Garmin in the first mile). Then at about Mile 4.5, the course was diverted onto the bike path that meanders along the lakeside. The views were wonderful, and there were some shady tree-lined areas that were a very nice break from the endless concrete of Lakeshore Drive. However, the bike path was skinny. And there were a lot of people running this race. The temperature was heating up and people were slowing down... but I was not. Which meant that I was passing a lot of people in the 2nd half of the race. And there wasn't a lot of room on the path for passing, so I spent a considerable amount of time running in the dirt/grass. It was really only a minor inconvenience in the grand scheme of things, but an inconvenience nonetheless. The nice thing about running the bike path was that there was a wonderful and refreshing breeze the entire way.

Before I knew it, I was coming up on Soldier Field. Now there were tons of cheering spectators - they need to bus these people down LSD and sprinkle them along the entire course! I was starting to feel my energy fading, because it really was getting hot. Just one more little push was all I needed, but I wanted to save it for that final 50 yard dash on the football field. The runners took a hard left turn into another tunnel (the stadium), and once again, my Garmin got all funky. Then there was one more hard left turn and we were running out onto the field.

The finish line was in sight so I mustered up the energy for a final sprint... but then this group of about 5 or 6 girls in front me decided they were going to cross the finish line side-by-side with their hands linked, taking up nearly the entire width of the finish line.

Are you kidding me?!?!?

I was sorely tempted to run through them like a game of Red Rover (you know the game I'm talking about... from elementary school... "Red Rover, Red Rover, send Emily on over!"). But I thought that might be a show of poor sportsmanship or some such crap. So I took the high road and darted around them as best I could. At least I had the distinct pleasure of beating them.

I crossed the finish, grabbed a much-needed bottle of water and tried to take in the sight of the stadium before I was quickly ushered through another tunnel to collect my post-race goodies. I got my medal and some food and met up with my husband and friends, who had finished about 5-10 minutes before I did.

Victorious with our medals!

The official results were soon posted and as it turned out, I beat my goal of 1:45. Official finish time was 1:42:03 (10:13 pace). Not bad, especially considering it was a bit warm.

In fact, it was so warm that apparently the race course was closed shortly after I finished (I'm not exactly sure when this happened, but I do know that as we were getting ready to head back to the hotel, the black Extreme Alert flags were out, meaning that the race was closed down). I didn't really think it was that hot - I've certainly run races in hotter and more humid conditions than that. I'm just glad I was able to finish before it did close.

And now here's the run graph. The elevation plot looks worse than it was - it was actually mostly flat. You can see the two places where I went through a tunnel, because the elevation plot breaks in those places. Somehow, running through the first tunnel added 1/4 mile to my distance, which threw off my pace - so ignore the average pace, and the pace of the first two miles. Everything after that is okay, though.

Overall, it was a pretty neat race. It's worth doing just for the experience of finishing on Soldier Field (whether you're a Bears fan or not), and the scenic run along LSD is especially nice. The race was well-run, with plenty of water stops along the way, lots of port-o-potties, and nice post-race swag. And since 10 mile races aren't too common, it can be an instant PR for anyone who's never raced that distance before. I would definitely recommend this race.

I would not, however, recommend the crooked hotel.

Peace. Love. Train.