Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Happy Pain

It's no secret that runners are kind of a strange breed.  Running is a sport that many people associate with pain, and while it doesn't always hurt, those of us who partake in running do derive some sick sense of satisfaction from an especially difficult or painful effort.  It's a happy sort of pain, though - the pain of hard work and accomplishment.

Since last week was my peak marathon training week, it was time to bring on the happy pain.  I wanted to sufficiently wear my legs out, without injuring them, before beginning my beloved/dreaded taper.  So I logged 30 miles of easy- and moderate-paced running during the weekdays.  And then I had a brilliantly crazy plan to put my pre-fatigued legs to the test over the weekend: 
  • A 5k race on Saturday.  Yes, a race race.  An all out, balls to the wall, give it all I've got kind of race. 
  • And a ridiculously hilly half-marathon on Sunday...  as part of my 22-mile long run.
I know what you're thinking.  Holy crap, woman, what are you smoking???  Okay, I didn't know you were thinking that. But if you must know, I am not smoking anything.  I am in complete control of my mental faculties.  True story.

So on Saturday morning, I headed down to Pekin to run the Marigold Festival 5k.  It was like déjà vu all over again, because the race was on the same course and had the same race director as the Running With The Saints 5k I ran earlier this year, and my coworker/friend Mike was running it too.  Even the trophies were the same.

Hey, did somebody say "trophies"???

That was all I needed to hear.  I put on my game face.  I was in it to win it.  I didn't know if I would be able to set another PR, since I had just set one two weeks earlier, but I was going to run the best I could and try to score some hardware in the process.

After a short warm-up jog, we lined up for the start.  I knew Mike was shooting for a PR, and I knew what his goal pace was.  I didn't think I could run quite as fast as his goal, so I was fully prepared to watch him run out ahead of me and leave me in his dust.  When the race started, and he didn't pass me, I grew concerned.  I glanced down at my Garmin and saw that I had started off at about a 6:45 pace for the first 1/4 mile.


Well that was way too fast.  Far faster than my goal pace, and even Mike's goal pace.  And Mike, who happened to be running just behind me, told me as much.
 Running like I'm being chased...
(photo by Stephanie M)

For most of the race, I was aware of Mike running just behind me.  This put a little pressure on me (okay, a lot of pressure).  I didn't want him to rely on me for pacing and then end up falling short of his goal if I died off (as I tend to do in short races).  I pushed on as best I could.  As the frontrunners started coming back the opposite direction from the hairpin turn, I was vaguely aware that there were three females ahead of me, and none of them looked to be in my age group (although you can never really be sure with runners).  If I could hang on, I stood a very good chance at earning some hardware.

With about 1/4 mile left to go and the finish line in sight, Mike dropped the hammer and finally passed me.  I experienced feelings of intense pride (since I am his running coach and I knew he was about to PR), mixed with feelings of intense nausea (since I was accelerating for a finishing kick myself).

I watched Mike cross the finish in 23:04 - his best time by nearly 2 minutes. And I stumbled across the finish shortly thereafter, in 23:13 - a PR by 23 seconds.  Considering my previous PR was set just two weeks earlier, this was pretty significant. I was ecstatic!  I checked my splits and was pleased to see 7:16, 7:42, and 7:18.  The middle mile was a killer (it was mostly uphill), but I somehow managed to speed back up for the final mile.  And for the last 0.1 mile I managed to kick it up to a 6:50 pace.  I was very pleased with how I ran.

But wait; there's more!  I also won the Female 30-39 age group.  And that meant a shiny trophy for me.  Score!!!

First place, biznitches!!!  Is it just me, or does the trophy figure look like she's bowling instead of running?

You would think that running a 5k PR would be enough happy pain for one weekend.  And normally you would be right.  But I needed to get in 20+ miles on Sunday, and I sure didn't want to run it alone.  I knew a lot of fellow FASTies and Stashies were running the IVS Half Marathon in the beautiful Springdale Cemetery, and I thought it would be fun to incorporate this race into my long run. (I use the word "fun" loosely here.)  My plan was to run 6-7 miles before the half-marathon, run the half, and then run 1-2 miles afterward, giving me a total of 20-22 miles.

I stumbled out of bed at 4am and had a light breakfast and some much-needed coffee.  Then, at 5:20, despite the fact that I really wanted to crawl into bed and go back to sleep, I headed out the door and enjoyed one of the most peaceful runs I've had in a very long time.  I donned my headlamp and reflective vest, and ran all over the still-sleeping town under a starry night sky, with the full moon slowly sinking toward the western horizon.  I saw Orion to the south, and the big dipper to the north.  All was quiet, except for chirping crickets, my own easy breathing, and my gentle footfalls on the road.  The air was crisp and cool.  I felt like I could run forever.  I really hoped that feeling would continue, because I had a lot more miles to cover yet that morning.

After logging just over 7 miles on my own, I headed to the half-marathon start as the sun was starting to come up.  I had never run the IVS Half-Marathon before, but I have run in Springdale Cemetery enough to know that there were going to be a lot of hills.

Hills?  More happy pain, right?  Bring it.

As runners lined up at the start, we had a brief moment of silence in remembrance of 9-11.  Then it was time for the national anthem, but for whatever reason, the sound system wasn't cooperating and the music wouldn't play.  In a beautiful display of unity and patriotism, all the runners, volunteers and spectators began singing The Star-Spangled Banner, sans accompaniment, perfectly on-key.  It was better than any pre-recorded version of the song ever could have been. 

Then we were off.

The half-marathon course consists of two identical 6.55-mile loops through the cemetery.  The first loop is hilly but beautiful.  The second loop is brutally mountainous and never-ending.  Yes, the loops are identical on paper.  But they are not the same when you're actually running them. 

 After the first loop, I still felt pretty good.  This feeling would not last.
(Photo by Becky T)

My goal was to at least run even splits.  I didn't really care much what my pace was since it was just part of a training run for me, as long as my pace didn't slip in the 2nd loop.  This made the 2nd loop a right pain in the ass.  And the quads.  And the calves.  And the hamstrings. 


As I climbed all those hills a second time, I cursed myself for thinking this was a good idea.  Who, in their right mind, runs an uber-hilly half-marathon as part of a 20+-mile training run? 

Clearly, I'm not in my right mind. 

It was nice the way the course wound through the cemetery in  way that allowed you to pass by runners both ahead of and behind you, going the opposite direction.  So every time I ran past a fellow FASTie or Stashie, I got a little mental boost.  I tried not to think about the fact that when I was at Mile 9 of the race, I was actually at Mile 16 of my long run. I also tried not to think about the fact that the sun was getting hot.  My calves screamed with every steep uphill climb, and my quads protested with every steep downhill descent.  "Happy" pain, my foot!!!  All I wanted was to be done with the hills.  Fortunately, the final mile and a half are mostly a gentle downhill, and I was able to cruise into the finish with renewed vigor. 

 Did I say the course was hilly?  I meant freakin' mountainous.  Over 1,000 ft of climb (and descent).  My quads still haven't forgiven me.

With a finish time of 2:05:51, my third fastest half-marathon ever, I was very pleased.  I expected to be closer to 2:10 or 2:15, given the hilliness of the course.  Even better, I exceeded my goal of running even splits, running the first half in 1:03:20 and the second half in 1:02:31.  No wonder my legs were weeping!

I had run just over 20 miles so far.  But I really wanted to get to 22.  I reset my Garmin and headed back down the path toward the cemetery for another couple miles.  It was very tough at that point.  I didn't get anywhere near the steep hills, but my legs shook with fear.  Or fatigue.  Probably a bit of both.  I ran past other runners who were on the home stretch, and I gave them all a "Good job; you're almost there!"  Then I turned around and started heading back, and people started telling me "Good job; you're almost there!"  They thought I was just finishing the half-marathon, but I was actually just finishing an epic (for me) day, weekend, and week of running. 

A hilly half-marathon, a 5k PR, and a 56-mile training week - good job, indeed.  I had accomplished everything I set out to accomplish in my peak week of marathon training, and much more.  Yes, it was definitely all happy pain.

You all know what this means, though.  Now that my peak training week is over, it's time for... 


You have been warned.

Peace. Love. Train.

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