Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Spring FAST Kickoff: She who laughs last, runs longest.

The Spring 2011 season of FAST kicked off last night and it was just another ho-hum night of easy jogging.

Okay, you don't really believe that, do you? It was actually a ridiculously crazy night of insane running. But would you ever expect anything less from FAST?

I arrived at our new Tuesday night location (Bradley Park) raring to go. It was great to see all my old FASTies, as well as lots of new faces. It was also great to be back outside, even though it was a bit on the chilly side. Things heated up soon enough, though; believe me.

After a brief start-of-season introduction by the coaches, we were instructed to do either a 1-mile or 2-mile warm-up. Coach Brad clarified this with "Those of you who should do the 2-mile warm-up already know you should do the 2-mile warm-up" while giving several of us very pointed looks. I guess that meant I was doing the 2-mile warm-up. And yes, I already knew that's what I should be doing.

After the warm-up, we were split into two groups. Since I was placed in the group containing all the really fast runners, I'm going to assume that that was considered the advanced group, although I hesitate to call myself advanced due to the fact that I'm not really fast. Maybe "Crazy Group" is a better name for us.

Coach Maggie led the Crazy Group in a series of dynamic warm-up moves and form drills. We all looked ridiculous, but at least we looked ridiculous together. I'm pretty sure the other group was pointing and laughing at us, but I'm not positive since I couldn't look any of them in the eye while I was doing "toy soldiers". Coach Brad then gave us our workout instructions in a conversation that went something like this:

Brad: "Okay, tonight you're going to be doing 800m repeats. This big loop here is 800m and we have it marked with spray paint. I got really happy with the spray paint; there are arrows everywhere. [SLAP comment: Just how happy did he get with the spray paint???] Between repeats you can walk or jog back to the start for recovery, taking about 2-3 minutes."
Group: *group nods in understanding*
Brad: "I want you to run them fast - about 5k pace. You have a choice between doing 4 or 6. And some of you may want to do 8 of them... Brian and Brett..." *Brad looks pointedly at Brian and Brett*
Me: "HAHAHAHAHA! Sucks to be you guys!" *I point and laugh at Brian and Brett because I am a supportive teammate*
Brad: "...and Emily" *Brad looks pointedly at me*
Me: "Wait... What?"
Brad: "Hey, you're the one running 43 mile weeks. You gotta keep up your mileage!"
Me: "Right... Damn."

And that's how I got suckered in to running 8 x 800m repeats, which, despite being only 4 miles total, is insanely difficult. Especially at 5k pace.

Moral of this story: She who laughs last has to run the long workout. (And then Coach Brad laughs last.)

The workout ended up being 7 miles total, including the warm-up and cooldown. And coming off a record 43-mile week, I felt every one of those 7 miles.

*~* begin sidebar *~*
Yes, I ran 43 miles last week, which was in fact a record mileage week for me. Why? Well, why not? No, I'm not training for anything in particular. I'm just... running. Because I can. And because I enjoy it. I have been gradually ramping up to this mileage over the last couple of months, and for the most part, I've been feeling very good. I'm planning to settle in here at about 40-45 miles per week for a while and see how my body responds. This is typically a weekly mileage associated with the hardest week of beginner marathon training programs. Indeed, the only times I have ever topped 40 miles per week in my running have been during the "tough week" of a marathon training plan. So I find myself in a wonderful position now, to be running 40+ miles per week and not feeling exhausted and drained like I typically would during marathon training. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Stay tuned!
*~* end sidebar *~*

Back to this crazy workout. Crazy 8x800's, I call it. After I ran the first 800, and was not quite able to achieve 5k pace, I knew I was in for a thorough butt-kicking. Indeed, I was not able to maintain 5k pace for all eight repeats. I came close, and was never more than about 25 seconds off, but my legs just weren't cooperating enough to hit that pace every time. It was a very difficult workout. The good news is that I didn't slow down each consecutive repeat. The better news is that my last repeat was my fastest. So, even though I didn't hit 5k pace exactly, I am still pretty happy with how I ran the workout.

The 800's are laps 4 through 11. (click to see it bigger!)

After a kick-off workout like that, I am pretty nervous about what Thursday has in store for us. We will be in another new location on Thursdays: the East Peoria bike trail. This paved path is not up-and-down hilly, but has a steady gentle slope going from west to east, which will still make it a challenging place to run. And there are plenty of very large hills near the trail that I'm sure the coaches will take full advantage of. If they can find anything that competes with the Hill of Death, though, I will be pretty impressed.

Not that the coaches should interpret this as a challenge to find a new Hill of Death. Quite the contrary. The Hill of Death simply cannot be replaced, so the coaches should not even try to find a replacement. I, personally, would be quite okay with never running up a 12% grade ever again. But I know how Coaches Brad and Maggie roll. They probably have already found a new and improved hill, with something like a 236% grade. They are probably giddy with excitement about unleashing this new beast on us. Just you wait!

At least when they do, I'll know better than to laugh at the poor souls who get stuck with the longest hill workout.... because I already know I'll be one of those poor souls.

Peace. Love. Train.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Holy PR! Run With The Saints 5k race report

Those of you who have followed my blog for a while know that, ever since last May (when I stumbled upon a 5k by accident, registered with 2 minutes to spare, and ended up running a PR and winning my first ever age group award), I have become a fan of the "surprise race". That is, deciding to race an event either the night before or the morning of said event. For shorter distance events (mostly 5k's), it works really well for me. I don't have time to get nervous, or psych myself out, or worry about my current level of fitness. I just show up and run and whatever happens, happens. If I have a great race, it's a huge bonus. If not, then it's not such a big letdown.

And that was my plan of attack (or non-plan, as it were) for the Run With The Saints 5k in Pekin, which benefited St. Joseph School's athletic fund. I decided yesterday that I was going to race it. And I wanted to race it hard. I had been having a frustrating week between work and several very blah runs, and what I really wanted was to take out my frustrations on the pavement.

I also wanted to know how much speed I had lost over the winter. Or gained, should that be the very unlikely case. I was going to use this 5k as a test of my current level of running fitness. And then I was going to pig out on post-race bananas and cookies. Because, let's face it, the post-race food is what draws most of us to run 5k's. I mean, come on, ALL YOU CAN EAT BANANAS!

Why this particular race? Well, a coworker of mine has recently gotten into running and he and his brother had decided to run it as their first 5k. I thought it would be cool to be there to support them. And by "support them", of course I mean "run like hell so I can finish well ahead of them, catch my breath, and then cheer them on when they finish". Believe it or not, my coworker was okay with this.

My coworker, Mike, and his brother Marty wearing the race shirts to the race - such noobs! ;-)

So I showed up at Coal Miner's Park in Pekin bright and early at 7:15 this morning, not really knowing what to expect. I paid my $20, got one of the last few available t-shirts, and quickly realized it was a lot colder than I thought it would be. I knew I was going to need to warm up before I attempted to run at any sort of fast pace because I couldn't feel my fingers.

Pre-warm-up pic. Thank goodness for the sunshine, because it was COLD. That's lucky #109!

I set out for about a 1.5 mile jog around the park where the race would be held. I encountered a decent-sized hill that I sincerely hoped was not part of the race route. My hopes would later be dashed. Twice.

Once I regained feeling to my fingers and feet, and did some fancy-looking dynamic warm-up moves to scare my competition (I growled while I did them, which I really think added to my ferocity), I headed to the starting line. I positioned myself near the front of the pack. This race was not chip timed and I wanted every advantage I could get with regard to timing. There was a group of three or four other women who had lined up near me. They looked like they could be in my age group (in this race, that was 30 to 39). They also looked like they might be fast. My confidence faltered. Maybe I hadn't growled loud enough during my dynamic warm-up. I did a few high-knees right there and gave them a dirty look.

After some pre-race instructions by the race director (which seemed to last an eternity because I was starting to get cold again), the race got started. The group of fast-looking women took off like a rocket. I resisted the temptation to keep up with them. I repeated to myself "run your own race... run your own race".

Remember that hill from the warm-up? Yeah, it was part of the race route. The race director, Mr Funnypants I think his name was, told us before the start "There's only one hill in this course... But you have to run it twice." Awesome.

The course was an interesting combination of loops and out-and-back, so that it was neither fully a loop nor fully an out-and-back. It was entirely on a nicely-paved bike path through a large park and was really a lovely place to run. My only real complaint about the course was the very tight turns, and in one case there was a hairpin turn that was pretty tricky to maneuver at 5k pace. But overall, not a bad course. I think if this race continues to grow year after year, the path will become too small for the event.

As I watched the speedy-looking girls zip ahead of me, I felt like I was running very slowly despite the fact that I was breathing very hard. I would've put money on my pace being well over 8:15. I don't look at my Garmin when I race, so I had no idea what my pace actually was, but I just felt slow. So imagine my surprise when I passed the first mile and the stopwatch guy called out "7:22!".

Uh oh.

That was way too fast. And I still had to conquer the "one hill" for the second time. I slowed down, more out of exhaustion than from a conscious effort to rein in my pace. I passed two of the speedy-looking girls. I attempted to growl at them, but I think what came out was "Guh *gasp gasp* Puh!" The second hill came into view and it looked so ginormous. Nevermind that it was only, like, 30 feet tall. In my current cardiovascular state, it may as well have been Mt Everest.

I pushed up the hill. I passed a few more people. Then the course went onto an out-and-back section that was gradually uphill going out. It was so gradual that I couldn't see the incline, but I could definitely feel it. At this point, I wanted nothing more in life than to get to the turnaround so I could be running blissfully downhill. Shortly after the 2-mile mark, there it was: the hairpin turn of doom. I managed to make the turn without slipping and falling (which, as we all know, is something I'm prone to doing). And I instantly felt the sweet relief of an ever-so-slight downgrade. I passed my coworker going the other way and gave him a feeble thumbs-up because it was all I was capable of at the moment.

It was less than a mile to the finish. Sometimes I like to think of what's left in terms of distance. Sometimes it's easier to think of it in terms of time. Today, time was on my side. A mile seemed long. Eight minutes did not. If I could just hang on for eight more minutes, I would be done! I was breathing so hard I was pretty sure my lungs were going to catch fire, but I figured I could endure that for a few minutes before it became an emergency situation.

As I rounded the last turn, I could see the finish line through the trees. I love it when I can see the finish line. It means the end of my suffering is near. As I got nearer to the finish line, I could start to make out the clock. However, some dude was standing right in front of it and his head was blocking the second number. All I could make out was 2X:52. I panicked. Twenty-what? TWENTY-WHAT??? What if it was 24:52? I didn't think I could make it there in 8 seconds to snag my coveted sub-25 time. Or worse, what it if was 25:52? Had I gotten that much slower?

Finally, the dude moved his big head and I saw a 3. A glorious, glorious 3. I wasn't going to finish under 24, but I was going to finish way under 25 and that was my big 5k goal for 2011.

I crossed the line officially in 24:03. A PR by 1:08. I was ecstatic!

Goldilocks and the Three Miles: First mile too fast. Second mile too slow. Third mile just right.

I was able to catch my breath and cheer on Mike and Marty as they crossed the finish of their first 5k race. We all celebrated pretty awesome victories. I think they are already talking about what their next race will be and what their goals will be. It certainly is addictive, this running thing.

Mike and I, both feeling pretty victorious post-race. And a bit tired too.

We stuck around for the awards ceremony. I had no idea how I had placed, or if I even had a chance. I did know that the speedy-looking girls never passed me after I passed them. But I couldn't remember how many other women were ahead of me. I saw that the awards were actual trophies. I really wanted a trophy. Nothing says "Look how much I rule!" like a gold-tone plastic person attached to a marble slab.

I have won one other trophy before and I thought the plastic person on my existing trophy might be getting lonely, so I wanted to bring home a friend for her. And I did just that. Turns out I placed 2nd in my age group, which ain't too shabby at all for a 10-year age group.

Yay! I won a plastic person on a marble slab!

But you wanna know what's even more amazing? I was 3rd place female OVERALL. I don't think I have ever placed in the top 10 overall (I think I have been 11th or 12th a couple times), let alone the top 3. I almost would rather have a 3rd place overall trophy than a 2nd place age group trophy, but believe me, I ain't complaining. I'll take any trophy I can get!

Here's a close-up of my shiny new hardware. Ain't she a beauty? She and my other trophy will be able to sit around and talk about running injuries (stiff legs?) and complain about not having a proper trophy shelf on which to be displayed.

I think I owe my success this morning to many different things, like all the hard work I've put into my training lately, and the incredible support of my coaches, friends and family. But most of all, I think I owe my success to my intimidating pre-race growling. The ability to strike fear into the hearts of my competitors is an ability that will serve me well for years to come.

*looks fierce* GRRRRRRR!

Peace. Love. Train.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

How To Get Out Of Doing A FAST Workout

Listen up kids, because I'm only going to explain this once.

You probably think, based on my past blog entries of torturous FAST workouts and begging for mercy and being abused by my coaches that there is just no way to get out of doing a FAST workout; that the coaches hold guns to our heads and make us run til we pass out. But this is not true! There is a way to be exempt from the insanity. And it's oh-so-simple!

Get injured.

That's right. You see, our coaches take injury very seriously. If something hurts or doesn't feel right, they will actually tell you to not do the hard workout. I learned that first-hand this week. And you know what?

Not doing the hard workout is BORING. I want to do the hard workout!

Now, you all may be wondering how I managed to get myself injured enough to get out of a FAST workout. Suffice it to say, I'm a big klutz. During my long run last Sunday, I slipped on a patch of loose gravel less than a mile from the end of my run, and took a pretty nasty spill on hard pavement. I ended up with a bloodied knee (even with two layers of pants on), two twisted ankles, and a strained left quadricep. I didn't realize my quad was strained until a couple days later, when my ankle pain went away. But when I could hardly bend my leg and my thigh felt like it was made of stone, I knew I was in trouble.

I decided to test the waters on Tuesday with an easy 5 miles outside on the golf course. What should've been easy actually felt quite difficult. My legs had no get-up-and-go. It felt like my legs weren't even working together. I ran my 5 miles at a slow 11:16 average pace, but felt like I was working much harder than I should have to for that pace. I doubted I would be in any better shape for FAST the following night.

So when I arrived at FAST last night, I told Coach Brad about my little accident and my quad issue, and he immediately instructed me to not do the hard workout, but to just run easy instead. The workout I missed was a good one too. In fact, this is the second time I have missed out on this particular workout. The first time was while I was tapering for the Icebreaker Marathon.

The workout-I-didn't-do consisted of 3 x 10 minutes of alternating 1 lap hard, 1 lap easy. In between each 10 minute set, there was a 1-minute core exercise and a 1-minute recovery. According to the FASTies who have run this workout, it's tough. And I believe them, because I've seen them do it and they look like death by the time they're done. Cute death (because us FASTies are cute), but death all the same.

I love a good tough workout, and I'm bummed I've missed out on it twice. But you guys know me; I will make this workout up at the next possible opportunity.

Instead of alternating hard and easy laps for 10 minutes at a time, I ran 10 minutes at a steady, moderate pace. I ended up running a total of 6 miles for the night, at a 9:57 average pace (including warm-up and cool-down), and I felt better overall during this run than on my Tuesday slog. I stretched my quad extra-good afterward and it seemed to be a bit more mobile than before.

Fast-forward to today and my quad is feeling even better still. There's some residual stiffness, but it's much less than yesterday, and my range of motion is improved. I went for a run on nearly the same golf course route that I ran on Tuesday, and was able to run 0:55 per mile faster, for an average pace of 10:21. It appears that running is curing my injury! Now, I don't recommend this approach for every injury. The main point to remember is that my injury wasn't caused by running. It was caused by falling. So the best way to recover from a falling injury is to simply avoid falling again. I have managed to avoid falling since Sunday *knock on wood*, and I think this has been key to my success. My knee still looks like someone took a meat tenderizer to it, but otherwise, I'm mostly recovered.

Now the next three weeks will be a test, as I will be uncoached and unsupervised. I don't know what to do with myself! As someone who coaches other people in running, I find it odd how much trouble I have putting together a training schedule for myself when it's so easy for me to do it for other people. Maybe it's just more fun to tell other people what to do. I think all of my coaching clients will agree that I do seem to take sick pleasure in telling them what to do. It's just not the same to tell myself what to do.

So, who wants to boss me around for three weeks? Any takers? I would be willing to pay for quality coaching with homemade cookies. Please submit your qualifications and a sample training plan in the comments below. And also your favorite type of cookie.

Peace. Love. Train.