Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Sock Emergencies, Thunder, and Marathons, oh my!

I should've known, when I was changing into my running gear yesterday and realized I had forgotten to pack socks in my gym bag, that my run was not going to go according to plan.

The plan was to arrive at Bradley Park early so that I could do my FAST workout before the predicted thunderstorms rolled in to town. Coach Brad had emailed me the workout, so I knew what I had to do (4 x 1 mi @ 10k pace, with 2 mi warm-up and 2 mi cool-down). I figured if I started 45 minutes early, I would be able to finish my 8 miles with time to spare before the weather turned nasty.

I figured wrong.

When I realized I had forgotten my beloved toe socks, I had a minor panic attack. Fortunately, I do keep a spare pair of regular socks in my bag, but they are cheap and less-than-ideal. They would be okay for maybe 4 miles, but they just wouldn't cut it for my planned 8 miles - they were blisters waiting to happen. Fortunately, I was just a few blocks away from the local running store, so I made a quick side trip there. I knew they didn't carry my beloved toe socks, but anything would be better than the socks I had. I entered the store in a panic. "I have a sock emergency!!!" I cried to the salesman. Or salesboy, I should say. He looked to be about 14.

But this kid knew his socks! His expression immediately turned to one of deep concern as he took pity on his poor sockless customer, and he started asking me relevant questions about my sock preferences and foot size. He then showed me the Wall of Socks. He pointed to the Swiftwick socks, and explained that they were made of Olefin, a Nobel-prize-winning fiber. I have never run in Nobel-prize-winning anything before (at least not that I'm aware of). My inner engineer needed these socks. So I bought a couple pairs, thanked the helpful and knowledgeable salesboy profusely, and headed to the park to start my run in moisture-wicking Nobel-prize-winning comfort.

My run started out just fine. I ran my 2 easy warm-up miles and felt good. It was cold, cloudy and a bit windy, but not too uncomfortable. But when I started my first mile repeat, things started getting dicey. First I felt a few rain drops on my head. Big, fat ones. No big deal, though; I've run in rain before and it's not so bad. But then the sky broke open and within 30 seconds, I was drenched from head to toe. As a wearer of eyeglasses, this also meant that I couldn't see where I was going because my glasses were covered in water drops.

Desperately in need of tiny windshield wipers

Since I couldn't possibly get any wetter, I figured I may as well keep on running. At the start of my 2nd mile repeat, the wind started picking up, and I thought I heard a faint rumbling in the distance. As I got farther into it, I definitely heard rumbling. And when I finished that repeat, Coach Brad told me that FAST practice was officially canceled due to lightning. The sky was getting darker and scarier, and the rain was getting heavier, so I thought it best to heed his advice to get the heck out of dodge.

But I did not want to stop at just 4 miles. I sat in my car and pondered my options. I could drive home, put on dry clothes, and finish my run on my own poorly-calibrated treadmill. But the temptation to put on comfy sweats and lie on the couch might prove too irresistible. My other option was to drive to the gym and run on a treadmill there. There would be no excuses there. If I went to the gym, I'd have to run. So that's what I did.

When I arrived at the gym 20 minutes later, I realized that I was about to go run on a treadmill soaking wet and dressed for cold outdoor conditions. I was so wet, in fact, that my shoes were making squishy sounds as I walked. I felt ridiculous, to say the least. But I was determined. Squishy shoes or not, I was going to finish my run.

In keeping with my streak of good luck for the night, the more secluded treadmills in the very back corner of the gym were taken. I was going to have to run in plain view of everyone. Everyone was going to see me dripping water onto the treadmill, and they were going to point and laugh at my squishy-sounding shoes. I did not come here to get laughed at, I thought to myself. So I got on the treadmill, water dripping from my hair, and I cranked that bad boy up to 6.6 mph (which isn't exactly blazing, but that's probably about my 10k pace) and I ran.

*squish squish squish squish squish squish*

I noted that although my shoes were squishy, my feet felt remarkably comfortable. Must've been the Nobel-prize-winning Olefin fibers in my new socks. Apparently, Olefin is 10 times more hydrophobic than cotton. Those of you who know me personally know I am all about hydrophobic fibers. Or maybe it's cookies. That's right, I'm all about cookies. But hydrophobic fibers are right up there on my list too!

Before I knew it, my run was over, and my clothes had actually dried out pretty well in that short amount of time. They must be made of hydrophobic fibers as well.

So I did manage to complete my prescribed 8 mile workout, but with an unplanned 20-minute rest in the middle. I suppose this defeated the purpose of the workout, which was to do the mile repeats in fairly rapid succession. But I did the best I could with the conditions I was given. I even got in one final sprint. As I was walking out of the gym, the weather was particularly nasty and lightning was striking in the near vicinity and nonstop. I was on high alert - I know too many people who have been struck by lightning to mess around with it. So I think I was running about a 6:00 pace from the gym entrance to my car. I wish I had turned my Garmin on for that sprint.

The whole evening was a sort of comedy of errors, all starting with the sock emergency incident. So, let this be a lesson to you all, kids: Never forget socks. And if you do, I recommend heading straight home and hiding in the basement.

In other news (and to see how many of you actually read my blog posts all the way to the bitter end), I have officially registered for a fall marathon. My more alert readers may remember me declaring wholeheartedly that I would not run another marathon in 2011.

I lied.

Like a dog.

The truth is, I have a very serious and debilitating condition called Marathon Deficiency Syndrome (MDS). I didn't want to tell you all about it, because I didn't want you all to worry. But I can no longer hide the truth from you, my loyal readers. The only treatment for severe MDS is, of course, to run more marathons. And so this summer I will begin training for the October 2 Lakefront Marathon in none other than my lucky city of Milwaukee.

If you've followed my blog for any length of time, you know that I obsess about marathons like no other race. Yes, I may get nervous or excited just before a 5k or a half-marathon. But a marathon is another beast. A marathon is four or five solid months of obsession and passion and sweat and pain (this didn't sound so kinky until typed it out, I swear). And when I really think about it, that's the whole reason I started this blog in the first place: to document my journey to the marathon, whether it's Flying Pig, Chicago, Icebreaker, or Lakefront, or the many more I'm sure are to follow. So here we go, on another marathon journey. It should be a fun one. And I will try to remember to bring socks!

Peace. Love. Train.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Mastering the Art of Sleep-Running: The South Shore Half-Marathon

You wouldn't think it would be possible to race a half-marathon on only an hour of sleep the night before. You might not even think it would be possible to easy-jog a half-marathon on one hour of sleep. Well, my friends, you would be wrong.

I arrived in Milwaukee early Friday afternoon, intent on being able to settle into my hotel room, eat an early dinner, and enjoy a good night's sleep before running the South Shore Half-Marathon the next morning. I did all of those things except get a good night's sleep. Why? Because of the damn seagulls.

I don't typically sleep well the night before a race anyway, but throw noisy seagulls into the equation, and you've got a recipe for serious insomnia. At first, I didn't know what the ruckus was. I couldn't tell if it was rowdy people on the street below (even though I was 10 stories up), or some strange city noise I wasn't familiar with, or what. But when I finally got frustrated enough to get out of bed and look out the window, I was greeted by the sight of a dozen or so seagulls flying around outside my window, squawking merrily. I was tempted to open my window and hurl those little bottles of hotel shampoo and mouthwash at them.

And so I spent the whole night tossing and turning and wishing for sleep. I finally dozed off, and five minutes later (or so it seemed), my alarm went off. I stumbled out of bed, fumbled with the in-room coffee maker so I could get some Elixir of Life, and choked down a granola bar. I was beyond exhausted, could hardly eat, and felt like I had been hit by a bus. There was just no way I was going to run a good race.

I drove to the race start in a complete daze. I vaguely remember filling out the registration form, and paying my $15 entry (yes, this no-frills half-marathon costs only $15), and pinning on my race number.

The race organizers promise all entrants a "pair of really colorful running gloves". I don't know if I'd call the gloves we received "really colorful", but they weren't black like all my other gloves, and they were warm. Interestingly enough, warm gloves were not needed this day. The temperature was surprisingly comfortable for this time of year along Lake Michigan. The course for this race is an out-and-back stretch along the Oak Leaf Bike Trail, which runs right along the lake. It begins and ends at South Shore Park.

After milling around the park for a while, it was time to line up for the start. I barely heard the "gun" (which wasn't actually a gun), but everyone had started moving, so I guess that meant it was time to run. The air was cool, the sky was cloudy, and there was very little wind. It was the perfect day for a half-marathon. If only I had gotten a little more sleep!

I started out very conservatively, so I could gradually warm up and settle into my goal pace (about 9:45). I wasn't sure I would be able to hang on to my goal pace for very long, but I wanted to at least try. The first three miles were all over 10:00. They were also somewhat hilly miles. I wouldn't call the course hilly so much as I'd call it gently rolling, but I definitely felt the elevation changes. After the third mile, I started stepping up my pace, intent on sticking with goal pace for as long as possible.

By the 5th mile, I realized I actually felt really good. I was pleasantly surprised. I settled in behind a couple of guys who seemed to be running about the pace I wanted to run. I figured I'd draft off of them for a while and see how I felt in a couple miles. By the time I reached the turnaround point, I had passed the two guys and was gaining speed.

Near the halfway mark: feeling good at goal pace. Although I kinda look like I'm sleeping. Maybe I was. And what's the guy behind me wearing??? Let's look closer...

Manpris. He's wearing manpris. I actually own that same pair of capris. I bought them in the women's department.

I was pretty sure the out portion of the course was a net uphill. At least it sure felt like I climbed more than I descended. So I was optimistic that the back portion of the course would be a net downhill, and I'd be able to step up my pace even more.

I was correct. You can see from my Garmin data below that the second half of the race was indeed a net downhill. I really kicked into overdrive at this point, and all of my miles after the turnaround were faster than goal pace. My final three miles were sub-9:00, even.

I had no idea what my finish time would be. I wasn't really paying that much attention to my total time, and pretty much just pacing by feel, occasionally glancing at my mile splits when my Garmin auto-lapped. I knew I would be happy with any PR (which would be anything under 2:13:20). And I knew I would be ecstatic with a time under 2:10. But as I approached the finish line and what felt like breakneck speed (final 0.1 mile - 7:06 pace), and I saw the race clock hit 2:05:00, I was stunned. I crossed the finish a few seconds later and was pretty sure I was either going to pass out or throw up, or quite possibly both. It did not help that I had to come to a dead stop while they pulled the tags off of everyone's bibs. Fortunately for everyone in the vicinity, the nausea was fleeting, and shortly after that, I was enjoying the post-race beer. I later found out my official time was 2:04:45, which far exceeded my expectations. That's over 8 minutes off my previous PR. Ecstatic doesn't even begin to describe how I feel about that!

Garmin data - click to see it full-screen

So what about the race itself? It was a steal at $15. There's no fancy swag, no t-shirt, no shiny medals, no rock bands stationed at every mile. But that's not why we run races anyway. This pure-and-simple race was well-organized (by the Badgerland Striders), with a scenic and enjoyable course, plenty of aid stations (3 or 4, I think, which we got to hit twice, since it was an out-and-back course), chip timing, and plenty of post-race beer and snacks.

Negatives? Well, the narrow bike path does get crowded, especially once the faster runners have passed the halfway point and are heading back. Having runners going in both directions on a narrow path leads to quite a bit of congestion. There were several times when I found myself stuck behind a slower runner but it took me a while to find a good way to get around them. I don't know that it slowed me down too much overall - I am sure I made up time somewhere else. It was just a minor nuisance.

So the moral of this story is... Don't write off a race before you even start. I almost did. But I'm really glad I didn't this time. It's just a shame I don't have a shiny medal to commemorate the occasion. Y'all know how much I love shiny medals.

Peace. Love. Train.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Oooo look, another shiny penny!

Those of you who have been following my running tales for a while may remember the shiny penny I found about this time last year. Well, I wasn't planning to go looking for another shiny penny this year, until the night before the race when I was presented with a unique opportunity. I had been contemplating running the Lincoln Presidential Half-Marathon as just a training run, but I didn't know if I was up to waking up at 4am to make the drive down to Springfield for it. That's a very early morning and a very long drive for a training run. A training run I would have to pay $50 for, no less. (Don't get me wrong, this race is worth every penny - pun intended!)

But I found out a friend of mine, Jess, who had already registered for the race, was not going to be able to run it due to Achilles tendinitis. She offered me her race entry. I was uncertain at first. I've never run under an assumed identity before. And Jess is a much faster runner than I am - I would surely tarnish her speedy reputation. But she insisted that I run in her place. And so I decided to go for it. In order to not make her look bad, I opted not to wear the timing chip, so there would be no official record of "her" finish time. This was a good tactic for me, as well, because knowing there would be no official time made it a lot easier for me to run this race at an easy pace and not worry about trying to set a new PR.

So I pulled myself out of bed very, very, very early on Saturday morning and made the drive down to Springfield, mostly in the dark. It was a beautiful morning with clear skies. I could see a billion stars in the sky, until the eastern sky began to glow faintly orange. There were hardly any other cars on the interstate, making the drive very easy, and before I knew it, I was in downtown Springfield.

Finding parking for this race is a piece of cake - there is far more FREE parking than there are people running the race. I parked a block away from the Start/Finish and headed to the registration building to pick up my.... er, I mean, Jess'... packet. While I was in there, I ran in to fellow FASTies Tim, Brian and Brett. It was nice to see some familiar faces.

I pinned on my bib, threw the timing chip in my car and headed to the start area to mingle about and see if I could catch sight of Abe. Sure enough...

Abe and Mary Todd getting ready for this presidential race

By the time the race got started, the sun was shining brightly and the sky was clear blue. It was going to be a beautiful morning for a race. I set out at an easy pace, not really caring what my pace actually was, but just trying to run comfortably. A lot of people passed me in the first three miles. I didn't care.

Just like last year, there weren't a ton of spectators out on the course. But the ones who were there were very enthusiastic. The volunteers were wonderful as well. There were volunteers and/or police officers positioned at nearly every turn and road crossing, making sure the runners ran the right way and the traffic stayed out of our way. They did a wonderful job, and I sincerely thank them for being out there. There were six aid stations, all serving up water and Accelerade. One of the aid stations was also giving out Accelgels.

The first few miles of the race wind through downtown Springfield, past Lincoln's home site and the state capitol building. This building is quite a sight to behold... so much so, in fact, that I stopped to take a picture.

Runners head toward the state capitol building

After the downtown miles, the course heads west into some very beautiful park-like neighborhoods and the beautiful (but hilly) Washington Park. It was in Washington Park where I encountered the most enthusiastic aid station. All of the volunteers were cheering loudly for us, but one guy in particular could be heard above all, yelling "YEEEEEAH RUNNERS! WAY TO GO RUNNERS!!!!" I couldn't help myself. I yelled back "YEEEEEAH WATER STOP! AWESOME JOB WATER STOP!!!!" while dancing past the aid station and high-fiving all the volunteers.

From Washington Park, the course, which is much hillier from that point on, headed north through the neighborhoods, all the way up to Oak Ridge Cemetery, where Lincoln's tomb is located. Then it winds through Lincoln Park before turning back south and heading toward the finish line. The second half of the course is very hilly, and anyone not expecting this will be unpleasantly surprised by it. So a word of advice to anyone who may run this race in the future: Save your energy for the hills. You will need it.

Since I had run this race last year, I already knew about the hills, and had no trouble tackling them (it also helped that I was running at an easy pace to begin with). I was having a fantastic time regardless of the hills. I chatted with other runners, high-fived spectators, and hammed it up for the race photographers.

I picked up the pace in the last mile of the race, as I would normally do in a long training run. As I rounded one of the final turns of the race, I saw the super-enthusiastic guy from the Washington Park aid station again. He was yelling "YOU'RE ALMOST THERE! THERE'S A CAMERA WHEN YOU TURN THE CORNER, SO SMILE BIG!!!!" I couldn't help myself. I smiled big and high-fived the guy. I flew down the final stretch of road, feeling very light and strong. Off to the side of the road were Brian, Brett and Tim, cheering loudly for me. They had finished hours before, being the super-speedy runners that they are. Okay, maybe not hours but it had been a while.

As I approached the finish line, I could just make out the clock, and noticed it was at 2:13:something. I really hadn't been paying much attention to my time or pace, so I was very surprised to see that I was basically running my existing half-marathon PR time (2:13:20). I stopped my Garmin after I crossed the finish, and it showed 2:13:34. Coming within 15 seconds of my PR without even really trying (and with all those hills!) was something I was definitely not expecting.

Garmin data (click to see it full-screen)

A very nice volunteer placed my super-awesome shiny penny medal around my neck, and I made my way toward the food tent because I was starving. On my way there, I ran into Brian, Brett and Tim again. Turns out, Brian had set a new half-marathon PR. Very cool - congrats Brian! We stood in a long line to get a Team FAST picture taken with Abe and Mary Todd (which should be available early next week), and then I headed home.

Another shiny penny for my collection!

All in all, it was a blast, and I feel very fortunate to have been able to run this great race for free (thanks again, Jess!). Not only was it free, but I actually made money. I mean, I came home a whole penny richer! Now if only I could find a race dedicated to Benjamin Franklin, and start coming home with $100 bills instead.

Peace. Love. Train.