Monday, November 5, 2012

Oh hi! Remember me?

I'm still alive! And I'm still running!

I just have one wicked case of writer's block.

It started in August, when I wanted to blog about my experience at the Madison Mini-Marathon, but the words just wouldn't flow.  And then it snowballed with each subsequent event I participated in, because it became increasingly challenging write about multiple events in a single post without it turning into a thesis-length report that would bore everyone to tears.

I really don't want to bore anyone to tears!

But I feel like I have let you down.  And by "you", I mean all of my three loyal readers. You know who you are.  You are the few and the proud who enjoy reading about my varied and occasionally exciting running adventures, and I am sure you've felt bereft by my lack of posts recently.  Utterly bereft!

So, how I can sum up four months of running in a concise, enjoyable blog entry? Well, that's still the challenge I'm facing. But I'll give it my best shot.


*staring blankly at computer monitor*


Yeah, see what I mean?  This ain't easy.

To be brief: I ran some races, ranging from 5k to full marathon, in the last four months.

To be slightly less brief: I PR'd in the 10k distance with a time of 49:59.9.  And then the very next day, I ran a 1:59 half marathon at Fox Valley. I nearly PR'd in the 5k, running just 2 teeny tiny seconds slower than I needed for a new PR.  I also nearly PW'd (that's "personal worst", for those unfamiliar with my made-up terminology) in the marathon, when I ran-walked the uber-hilly, pitch-dark Screaming Pumpkin Marathon in costume, finishing after 1 o'clock in the morning. I am pretty sure I sleep-walked the final loop of that marathon.  Oh and did I mention that I only trained for FIVE WEEKS for that marathon?  Personal worst aside, getting to the marathon distance—without injury—in only 5 weeks of training is a major accomplishment.  I also ran a couple of fun, no-pressure events with friends.  And I am pleased with every one of those accomplishments, fast, slow and in between.

Running a 26.2 miles...  at night... in costume...  with swords.
(Photo by Steven Blanchard)

All of this brings me to the here and now, where I start to look forward to 2013 and plan my next great adventures.  So what do I want to accomplish next year? Well, I feel like I have pretty much returned to my fitness levels of 2011, with the exception of being able to run a fast marathon.  I want to run a fast marathon again. Another sub-4:00 would be really nice. And I think I'm at a point in my life where I can realistically put in the time and effort to make that a reality.

I am officially registered for the 2013 Illinois Marathon, on April 27.  That means I have a full six months to train my ass off (maybe not literally...), and do a lot of panicking and race-day planning.  When it's -20° with 25 mph winds in January and I'm whining because I don't want to do my long run in an arctic tundra, you all need to remind me that this is what I wanted. I signed up for this insanity. Voluntarily!!!

So, here goes nothing. Wish me luck!  And hopefully, I will shake this case of writer's block so I can keep you all well-updated on my progress toward my goal. Also, I can keep you well-updated on my level of panicking.

I'm going to institute a color-coded system, much like the Department of Homeland Security's threat warning system. Take this helpful government-generated graphic and replace all instances of "terrorist" with "panic". (Side note to the US Government, who is probably flagging this blog entry as we speak: Don't get your knickers in a bunch over my use of "Homeland Security" and "terrorist" in the same paragraph. I'm just a little ol' law-abiding marathon runner. The biggest threat I pose to this country is depleting the national banana supply.) Anyway, just refer to this chart as I report my current marathon-related panic attack threat level.

Current panic level: Greenish Blue.

Peace. Love. Train.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Lucky Sevens

There's something special about Milwaukee.  Maybe it's the fact that I've set several race PR's there (including two marathon PR's in 2011).  Maybe it's the fact that it's just a great city with great running.  Maybe it's the fact that they have really awesome beer.  I suspect it's a combination of all these things (but mostly the beer) that keeps me going back there to race.

When I found out that my favorite indoor race director, Chris Ponteri, was going to start a new mid-summer indoor event called Heatbreaker as a spin-off of the wildly popular Icebreaker wintertime events, I jumped at the chance to be part of the inaugural race.  What better way to ensure optimal race conditions than by racing somewhere where it's always 55º, even when the temperatures outside soar over 100°!  And unless you've been living in a cave for the last two months, you know that temperatures in these parts have indeed been soaring over 100º.

The Heatbreaker  (not HEARTbreaker) event consists of four half marathons spread out over the course of a single day.  Participants can run the half marathon of their choice (until capacity is reached), or they can opt to run two, three or all four half marathons if they dare, by registering for the Two Alarm, Three Alarm, or Inferno Challenges respectively.

Take a moment to do the math with me, won't you?  The Inferno Challenge is four half marathons.  That's 13.1 miles x 4.  52.4 miles.  In one day.  On an indoor track. That's, like, a lot of freakin' laps.

Only two brave souls opted to run the Inferno Challenge.

*dramatic pause*

I was not one of them. (Sorry!)

My running buddy, Kristi and I were originally signed up for the Two Alarm Challenge, but life got in the way and our training just never quite got to where it should be in order to pull off a double half marathon.  We both decided to switch to a single half marathon, in order to prevent injury and/or death.  We were just going to run for fun, and enjoy a day or two in Milwaukee...

...but as the event drew closer, my goal slowly shifted.

You see, I haven't set a single new PR, in any distance, in 2012. It has been discouraging.  I know I should cut myself some slack with all I've been through in the last 6 months.  But I thrive on setting and meeting goals and realizing improvement, and I had not seen any improvement since last fall.  My training had been going pretty well in the several weeks leading up to Heatbreaker, so I decided I was going to "go for it".  I was going to race Heatbreaker and see what I was capable of.

You may be laughing to yourself, thinking "Well, how hard could it be to PR on a perfectly flat, climate-controlled, indoor course?"

Ha! If you are thinking that, then you clearly have not run an race like this.  I would actually be so bold as to call the Pettit Center a "tough course".  Flatness is not necessarily a virtue, in my opinion, and flatness on hard concrete is even worse.  Yes, there's a thin layer of rubber over the concrete, but still, this track really beats up your body if you're not used to it.  When there are hills in a race, the muscles used to run are constantly changing, because different muscles are engaged for running uphill versus downhill.  On a perfectly flat course, the muscles never get a break.  The muscular monotony is incredibly demanding.  And let's not forget about the mental monotony of running around in circles (well, ovals, to be more accurate).

So perhaps I was a little crazy to even consider going for a PR in this event.  But then I picked up my race packet and saw my bib number.


Now, I'm no expert on luck, but that seems like an awfully lucky number to me. I actually felt lucky just wearing it. I was ready to run this race.  Although, in hindsight, maybe I should've used my luck to play the lottery instead. 

I started feeling nervous while we were sitting around waiting for the first half marathon wave to finish.  I really didn't know if I could pull off a PR because it had been so long since I had PR'd in anything!  But then we walked down to the track to stash our gear and I saw a most glorious sight - the American flag (er, I mean, "flayg") flying over a port-o-potty - and I was instilled with a sense of confidence.

In Wisconsin, this is a FLAYG. It looks suspiciously like a flag to me.

And then Kristi and I spotted the Team USA Olympic flayg hanging on the wall, and we both beamed with pride for our country and for the fact that our outfits coordinated so beautifully with the the Olympic rings.

If awesomeness were an Olympic sport, we'd totally win gold.

So when it was finally race time, I was all fired up. Between my lucky sevens and my Olympic pride and the 48 possible bathroom stops along the course should I need them, I couldn't lose!  Chris fired the starting gun, and after we all jumped 20 feet in the air because that gun was loud, we were off.  I knew I would have to pace myself very carefully, since I would only be receiving feedback on my pace once every 0.275191 miles (a total of 47 times, plus a fraction of a lap at the start).  I was aiming for lap splits of 2:22, which corresponded to a pace of about 8:35.  I didn't know if I could sustain this pace for 13.1 miles, but I was sure gonna try!

The first few miles were great.  I felt light and swift.  I ditched my arm-warmers by mile 2, and even started to sweat.  The Pettit Center felt a bit warmer this time around than it has on the previous occasions I've run there, but I was very comfortable in my capri-length tights and lightweight short-sleeved shirt.

I was hitting my lap splits with expert precision.  Sometimes I would have a 2:23, or a 2:20, but most of them were spot-on 2:22. The only time my lap splits significantly deviated was during my two planned water/fuel breaks, where I had to walk in order to fuel/hydrate without choking. 

Feelin' lucky...

The middle miles made me delirious.  My mind started to fatigue, and then my legs started to fatigue, and with every  time I passed the finish line I lamented the fact that I was not finished. Knowing that I still had 25, 21, 16, 13 laps to go made it seem like it would never end.  But then I got to the single digit lap countdown and my outlook suddenly improved. The end was always literally in sight, as I kept running past it over and over, but the end of my race was finally figuratively in sight.  

The announcer called out "Emily 777, you are on your LAST LAP!" and I shifted into a new gear, holding on until I crossed that finish line for the 48th and final time. 


I set a new PR by almost 2 minutes.  Chris-the-race-director placed the medal around my neck himself.  Now that's a real personal touch! Nevermind that it was only because he was short on volunteers to hand out medals. I like to think he wanted to be there to personally congratulate me on my world-class race performance. 

Me and my favorite race director, who admitted that  it was just a happy coincidence that I got such a lucky race number. Darn, and I thought it was because I was his favorite race participant!
Kristi finished running shortly after I did, and then we both knew what we had to do.  It was time to refuel.

We started with an appetizer of homemade sugar cookies and chocolate milk. 

 Then we rehydrated with water and good Wisconsin beer.  In this case, Spotted Cow. Yum.

And for the main course, this tasty grilled vegetable pizza.
After sufficiently stuffing our faces with tasty eats, Kristi and waddled out to my car and made the long drive back home. It wasn't until later that evening when I saw the official results from all four races posted that I found out I placed 3rd in my age group (across all four events).  Sweet!

I don't know what the award is, only that it will be mailed to me within the next couple of weeks.  I am hoping for a new car, or perhaps an all-expenses-paid trip to Fiji.  But I guess those are probably the awards for 1st and 2nd place.  3rd place probably just gets a diamond tennis bracelet or something lame like that.

As always, Chris-the-race-director and his team did a fantastic job of putting on a top-notch running event. There's a reason we keep going back to these events, and it's because they are well-organized, tons of fun, and just plain unique.  So thanks, Chris, for another fun time in Milwaukee.  I look forward to receiving my diamond tennis bracelet age group award soon!

Peace. Love. Train.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

You can't choose your competition

I have said many times over and over that I have a love-hate relationship with short (5k-ish) races.  Actually, that's not entirely accurate.  It's pretty much just a hate relationship.  Short races hurt.  A lot.  However, I do love when they're over, which is relatively quickly compared to just about any other run I do.  And the end of the suffering brings with it a sense of accomplishment that you just can't get from an easy 10-miler. Not only that, but the best way to be good at running fast is to practice running fast.  Short races are great for that!

And so I concede that even though I don't like short races, I need short races.

In the last month, I have actually run two 5k-ish races.  The first one, the Washington Cherry Festival 5k at the end of May, ended up being one of my best 5ks ever (only 10 seconds over my 5k PR, which I really wasn't expecting considering my lack of training), but competition was fierce and I ended up 4th place in my age group.  What made it most disappointing was the fact that I was only 4 seconds away from nabbing 3rd place.  Four measly seconds!

But the fact of the matter is, you don't know who your competition will be in any given race, and for most of us runners who aren't at the elite level, the only competition we really need to care about is ourselves.  So, running so close to my PR (on a fairly difficult course) was encouraging to me.  Even if I didn't win a shiny medal. *pout*

Yes, I'm a sucker for trophies and medals.  Maybe it's because as a youngster, I was more the academic than athletic type (*cough cough* geek *cough*) and had never won a trophy in my life until I started running competitively a couple years ago. Maybe it's because I'm still amazed that I, someone who was a self-avowed hater of running until recently, can now run well enough to win awards.  Or maybe it's just because I love shiny, sparkly things.

Whatever the reason(s), if there's any chance for me to win some hardware, I become highly motivated to win it.

The past two years in a row, I have run the Lincoln-Douglas 3 Miler and the past two years, I have taken home trophies.  Last Friday, the night before the race, I decided I would go for a three-peat.  Yes, in typical Evily fashion, I decided to run this event at the very last minute.

The weather on race morning was actually pretty nice.  I was hopeful.  Maybe a little too hopeful.  My race went something like this:

Mile 1: Stupidly fast, "Wheeeee! I'm flying!"
Mile 2: Moderately fast, "Okay, this isn't fun anymore."
Mile 3: Sloooooow , "Don't puke. Don't puke. Don't puke."

(I didn't puke, in case you're wondering.)

The finish line on the historic brick-paved Metamora town square.
The giant slide is not part of the race...  but it should be!

Yeah, I started out way too fast and paid for it later in the race.  Consequently, my finish time was, well, not so great.  It wasn't my worst, but it sure wasn't as close to a PR as my Cherry Festival run had been.  Last year, I ran significantly faster and got 2nd in my age group.  I wondered if my time this year would be good enough even for 3rd place.  I waited impatiently for the official results to be posted at the finish line.

Finally, there they were.  I scanned the list for my name and was tickled pink to see I had won my age group!  I had achieved the three-peat, and would be taking home a shiny trophy!


But remember what I said about never knowing who your competition is in any given race?  Turns out I didn't have much competition this time around.  There were only 5 people in my age group, and I was over 7 minutes faster than the 2nd place woman.  There were over 180 people total in the race, and 92 women (of which I was 8th overall), so it's not like there was nobody there.  They just weren't my age.

I'm not complaining, mind you. I got a shiny trophy out of it!  It's just...  well... I could've jogged at an easy pace and still won that trophy.  And that would've been so much less painful!  But, knowing my luck, if I had decided to run it easy, there would've been 20 other people in my age group, all of them Olympic hopefuls using the race as a warm-up before heading to the Olympic trials in Oregon.  And then I would've been dead last in my age group.  By far more than 7 minutes.

So, again, it comes back down to never knowing who the competition is, and going into every race prepared to simply run one's best effort for that day.  Because ultimately, any race I run is a just battle between me and myself.  And if I happen to get a trophy out of it, all the better.

But if the US Olympic team decides to run Lincoln-Douglas next year to try and ruin my chances for a 4th trophy, I will trip them all.  That trophy is mine!

Peace. Love. Train.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

What doesn't kill you...

...sometimes makes you wish it would.  Oh, and it also makes you stronger and all that jazz, blah blah blah, I guess.

This year marked my 7th consecutive year of running the world-famous Steamboat Classic races.  I have a love-hate relationship with the Steamboat events.  I love having this yearly tradition (this is the only event I have run every single year since I took up running), and because it's always the same, it's a good gauge of fitness.

But, it's always so frickin' hot! (Feel free to replace the word "frickin'" with another suitable adverb of your choice. I can think of at least one better one.)

For my first five years as a Steamboater, I ran the "World's Fastest 4-Mile", and the last two years, I stepped up my game, opting for "Illinois' Toughest 15k".  When I ran the 15k last year, I was in tip-top running shape, I had run the course several times prior to race day, and I breezed through the race in under 1:25.

Oh, the difference a year can make!

A first for Steamboat: gender-specific tech shirts.  Very nice.

I hadn't trained for this at all. In fact, I hadn't so much as looked at the Hill of Death since last year's Steamboat race.  I knew I could finish the race (it's "only" 9.3 miles), but I knew I wouldn't be able to beat last year's time with ease.  I wasn't even sure I could run under 1:30 with ease. But that was my goal - to finish in under 1:30.  My friend Mike was running the 15k for the first time, and had a similar time goal, so we lined up at the start together. I gave him all sorts of sage advice about the course, because, you know, I ran it last year.  *looks smug*  But I knew he didn't need it.  He would do just fine without my help.

I can't speak for these people, but I was sweating just standing here.

The Trifecta of Running Misery - heat, humidity, and hills - was in full force this day.  Steamboat is always too warm (it wouldn't be steamboat without the steam!), but I think this year may have been one of the warmest I've experienced.  The first two miles weren't bad, but once the hill-climbing started at Mile 2, I struggled for the duration of the race.  

Before the hills...  I actually look like I'm having fun!
(photo courtesy of meandeene)
My legs just felt like lead.  Or something heavier (read: denser, for science geeks who care about the difference) than lead.  Uranium!  My legs definitely felt like uranium (minus the whole radioactivity thing). 

I took comfort in seeing other friends along the course - Louisa, Yvonne, Bill, Jose.  We were all suffering together (although it seemed like I was suffering a lot more than any of them - they must've actually trained for this!).  Mike and I leapfrogged each other for the first 6 or 7 miles, and at one point, after we had completed a couple of the tough hills, he looked at me and asked, completely deadpan, "When do the hills start?".  I responded with my evil death glare and briefly considered tripping him. He was definitely handling the race better than I was, and after 7 or so miles, I just couldn't keep up anymore. I watched him cruise ahead and out of sight in the last 2 miles. I attribute his race success to all the sage advice I had given him earlier. I'm sure he would agree. Yep.

Meanwhile, I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, and tried to ignore the increasingly heavy feeling in my legs and the rising temperature.  I was starting to see spots, and images of giant ice cream sundaes danced around in front of me. I rounded the corner to head toward the Riverfront, and there were Becky and Nikki cheering for me.  I shamefully admit to not enthusiastically acknowledging their encouragement because, well, I was half-dead and just trying to remain upright.  Under better circumstances, I would've smiled, waved, given a few high fives, done a few cartwheels, that sort of thing.  But I just didn't have energy to spare.

Becky and Nikki (far right) watching me have a near-death experience.
(photo courtesy of meandeene)

"What? You're not even gonna give me the finger???" Nikki yelled.  Well, that I could handle.  So I flipped her the bird as I trudged past, which earned me an even louder cheer.  

Then I was running the gloriously downhill final 800 meters.  I didn't have much left to give - my finishing kick was pathetic - but the end was literally in sight and I could almost taste that most noble of post-race refreshments.  

Crappy beer!  Yay!

As I rounded the final turn, the announcer called out my name and I dashed to the finish line, relieved to see the race clock was under 1:30.  I didn't do as well as last year, despite suffering a whole lot more, but at least I met my goal.  Whew!

I collected my medal and headed to the post-race party to meet my friends and listen to a favorite local band, The Corn Wolves.  The race medal, by the way, is really quite unique.  It has a slot to slide the timing chip, so the chip becomes part of the medal.  

Since this was only the second time I'd ever run a 15k race, and it wasn't a PR, I suppose that makes it a PW (personal worst).  And you know what? I'm okay with that, because I intend for this year's Steamboat 15k to remain my personal worst.  Next year will be better.  I will see to it. 

And now for a few thoughts for the race organizers, should they happen to stumble across this blog.  First of all, thank you for finally ditching the cotton unisex t-shirts in favor of useful and flattering gender-specific tech shirts.  Much better! Secondly, thank you for making sure there was enough food and beer at post-race to satisfy the 4-milers and the 15k-ers.  Thirdly, as of Thursday post-race, the only times posted on the results website are gun times.  Those of us who did not start with the elites (which would be 98% of us) would like chip times.  And lastly and most importantly, who the heck came up with this port-o-potty arrangement? 

Why?  Just...  why???

So to sum up: for next year, keep up the good work with the nice shirts and plentiful refreshments.  But please, give us chip times, and for the love of Pete, put the port-o-potties in a straight line!

Peace. Love. Train.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Setbacks and Comebacks

Greetings, my sweaty friends!  It has been far too long since I last blogged about my running adventures, and I'm sure all (six) of you have been utterly distraught from the lack of new SLAP content.  I apologize profusely.  You see, life has gotten in the way.  Not just in the way of blogging, but in the way of running too.

Over the last 4 months, my life has taken a complete 180° turn, and I find myself newly single, and the proud owner of a new (old) house.  It was all for the best, and I couldn't be happier with the new direction of my life, but it sure was hard to be a consistent runner through all of the stressful events of the last few months.  In fact, I failed miserably at running consistently.  The week I moved to my new (old) house, I logged a grand total of 7 miles.  And in the weeks leading up to and the first couple of weeks after the move, my mileage was not a whole lot better than that.  Packing, organizing, unpacking, more organizing... followed closely by sitting, sleeping, and being generally exhausted - all of these things took priority over running.

Shortly after I moved, I ran a couple of half-marathons as training runs:  the uber-hilly Heights Half Marathon, and the not-quite-as-hilly-but-still-hilly Lincoln Presidential Half Marathon.  I did better than I expected in the Heights Half (2:13), and much, much worse than expected in the Lincoln Half (2:16).  In both cases, I was so far off of my PR (1:54), I wondered if I would ever get my running fitness back to where it was last fall.  It was discouraging, to say the least.

I am not easily deterred, though.  After my less-than-stellar performance at the Lincoln Half, I vowed to run consistently, targeting a weekly mileage of 30 to 35.  I wouldn't worry about my pace, or about doing speedwork.  I would simply get the miles in, however slow they may be.

Fast-forward to the Illinois Half Marathon at the end of April.  When I signed up for this event many months ago, I had intended this to be an A-race, where I would attempt a new PR.  But given the circumstances of life, that goal went out the window quite some time ago.  My new goal was just to enjoy the run, and not worry about my time.

I met up with my friends Becky and Katie for dinner the night before the race, and enjoyed some delicious pasta and wine.  No SLAP race report is complete without food pictures, so here ya go:

Butternut Squash Ravioli in a Sage-Butter Reduction, aka: Very Tasty Noms

We waddled back to the hotel, stuffed with plenty of carbs for the next day's adventure.  After a night of mediocre sleep, I got up early and prepped for what I thought would be a regular ol' training run with 10,000 of my closest friends.  The weather looked ominous, and a quick look at the forecast confirmed that big rain was coming.  There were also 20 mph winds.  I definitely was not going to race this race.  I would be lucky to finish in 2:10!

I was a bit concerned that my race bib had me in starting Corral B.  That seemed awfully... elite.  I planned to place myself at the back of the corral, so that I wouldn't slow down all the faster runners.

Corral B?  That's, like, where they put the Kenyans!

My friends and I sat in the hotel lobby, waiting for the rain to pass before we made the short walk to the race start.  Just to play it safe, I decided to put on a cheap throwaway rain poncho.

It was a child's poncho.  I couldn't get the darn thing over my head.
All of my friends were in different start Corrals, so I made my way to the back of Corral B all by myself.  That was a good thing, though, as I really didn't know how slow I was going to run, and I didn't want to be pressured by, or put pressure on, someone else to run together.  Soon enough, we were off and running.

I started out way too fast.  Or at least I thought it was way too fast.  I was so concerned about slowing down faster people who might be behind me, I took off at a 9:00 pace, thinking I'd slow down after the first mile or two.  But after the first mile, I felt pretty darn good.  And after the second mile, I felt even better.  And after the 3rd mile, I seemed to be picking up my pace, and still feeling good.

I decided to run with it.  Literally.

I figured if I could just hang on to my pace and feel comfortable, then maybe I could come in just under 2 hours. I ditched the rain poncho at around Mile 3, once I had warmed up.  Not a single drop of rain fell the whole race.  Not only that, but the 20 mph wind was barely even an issue, so sheltered was the race course with trees and buildings.  I gradually stepped up my pace until I was running in the 8:30's and 8:40's - still feeling very comfortable, mind you.  I even mastered the art of drinking from a cup while running - something I had never been able to do before.  The first couple of cups ended up going either up my nose, or down my shirt, but I did eventually get the hang of it.

Only in the last mile did the running become challenging, but that's mostly because I ran the last mile in 8:05.  I crossed the finish line knowing I had broken 2 hours, but only when I stopped my Garmin did I realize by how much I had broken 2 hours.

*hitting Easy Button*  "That was easy!"



No, that's not a PR.  But it's awfully darn close.  Only 17 seconds away, to be exact.  If I had had any idea how well I was going to run that day, I would've stepped it up a little more and gone for the PR.  But don't mistake this "coulda, woulda, shoulda" for disappointment.  I am hardly disappointed.  I am ecstatic!  After a few months of sporadic and inconsistent training, and less-than-stellar racing, I was really starting to feel discouraged.  To be able to run a near-PR half marathon without even planning to was exactly the confidence boost I needed.

But I wasn't the only one who ran well this day.  I actually lost count of the number of fellow FASTies who either set new PR's, or ran unexpectedly strong "training runs".  Becky, Katie, Brian, Yvonne, Louisa, Kristi... just to name a few.  Incredible job, runner friends!

Mis Amigas

So what does this mean for the rest of my racing calendar for 2012?  Well, I don't really know.  All I know is I'm coming back from a difficult time, and I intend to come back stronger than ever.  At the same time, I intend to enjoy running, enjoy my new house and achieve balance in my life, so I'm not going to worry too much about races and PR's and meeting aggressive goals.

*looks shifty*

At least not yet.

Peace. Love. Train.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Frozen Turkey 5k: Freezing my tail-feathers off!

I should've known that any race with the word "frozen" in the name would not agree with this heat-seeking runner chick.  But, when my coworker and running buddy, Mike, told me he was going to run the Tremont Frozen Turkey 5k with the goal of placing in his age group, I thought "Well, I could run that. How bad could it be?". And when fellow FASTie, Stephanie, posted a picture of the race shirt on Facebook and asked me if I was going to run it too, I said, "Why not... how bad could it be?"

As it turns out, really, really bad.

The morning of the race, it was approximately 147° below zero, with 321 mph winds. When I left my house, it was actually snowing sideways.  I struggled to keep my car on the road as I made the drive to Tremont.  When I finally arrived, I realized that I had no idea where to go.  The race website gave no indication of where the race actually started.  Fortunately, Mike had found out it was supposed to start near the library.

So, I showed up at the library.  I went into the library to ask where race-day registration was.  The librarians looked at me like I had three heads.  They made a phone call to the fitness center, which was the site of  packet pickup the day before, but nobody answered.  Since I had time to spare, I decided to drive over to the fitness center myself.  When I got there, there were lots of other runners looking lost and confused, as the guy at the fitness center explained that race day registration was actually at the "old park district building".  Never having been to Tremont before, this was not helpful information.  He explained that it was across the street from the library.  That's where I had just come from!  So I drove back to the library, finally managed to find the registration, and got signed up for the race.  I even got one of the really cool long-sleeved tech shirts, even though they weren't guaranteed to race-day registrants.

That turkey doesn't look nearly frozen enough. Also, he looks like he's having fun, which is very misleading.

And then I realized I left my Garmin at home.  I didn't have time to go and get it (it was a 40-minute drive each way, and the race was going to start in 30 minutes).  So I had a mild panic attack.  Okay, I had a major panic attack. It's not that I need my Garmin while I run, so much as I need the data to analyze after the run.  How would I know what my splits were?  How would I know the total elevation change of the course?!  How would I know how accurately-measured the course was?!?! I felt so naked and lost without my beloved data-collection device.

You'd probably think, after all of this, that things couldn't possibly get any worse.

You'd be wrong.

I met up with Mike and his wife shortly after I registered, and of all the bad luck, he forgot his Garmin too!  Well, that ruined my plan to run with him and snag his Garmin data afterward.  The race was supposed to start in 15 minutes, so Mike and I decided to go for a warm-up jog down the street. We were encouraged by the fact that the sun had come out.  Maybe it wouldn't be so cold after all...

It's not a good sign when you finish your warm-up jog feeling colder than when you started it.

Bonus points if you can find me in this picture
(Photo - Tremont Park District)

We lined up for the race start, and before we knew it, we were off.  The first half of the race was running directly into the wind. My face was frozen, my eyes were watering, and snot-sicles were forming on my nose.   I'm sure it was a beautiful sight. Mike stuck with me for about the first mile, and then I noticed him drifting further and further behind me.  I was absolutely miserable, trying to fight the wind, but I could see the turnaround point ahead, and I was highly motivated to get to it quickly, so that I could finally have the wind at my back.

And what a relief it was to run with the wind, instead of against it!  Of course, I expended so much energy in the first half of the race trying to battle the wind, that I didn't have much energy left for the last half of the race.  I pushed on as best I could.  When I rounded the final turn, I tried to kick, but I had nothing left.  I crossed the finish in 24:27, a far cry from a PR.  (My current 5k PR is 23:13)  But given the horrendous race conditions, and my complete lack of speedwork during the last 5 months, I was actually really pleased with my performance.  I wasn't sure how many women had finished ahead of me, but I didn't think it was more than about 5.  I was hopeful that I had placed in my age group.

Almost done.  And almost dead.
(Photo - Tremont Park District)

When Mike finished, about 40 seconds behind me, he confessed that it was the first time he had ever wanted to quit a race.  That's how miserable it was.

Mike (right) finishing. Not quitting.  'Atta boy.
(Photo - Tremont Park District)

Somehow, despite the horrible wind, fellow FASTie Stephanie managed to run a PR, which is very impressive.  Just imagine how well she will do in a 5k that doesn't have gale-force winds!

Yay Stephanie!
(Photo - Tremont Park District)

After we had recovered from our efforts, we all moseyed over to the awards presentation ceremony.  I knew Mike really, really, really wanted to get an age group award.  He's never gotten one before, but he's been getting faster as a runner so I thought it was a possibility.

They announced the female award winners first.  I was ecstatic to find out I won my age group.  And before you ask, NO, I wasn't the only person in my age group!

Like a boss.

Then they moved on to the male award winners.  They appeared to be having some trouble with Mike's age group (40-44), and they stumbled over a few names, but ended up skipping giving out awards in that group altogether.  Then they got to the Male 50-54 age group.

"Third place: Mike!"

So, he won an age group award.  It just wasn't in the right age group.  He alerted them to their mistake, and after some hushed discussion among the race coordinators, they ended up telling everyone there was a problem with both the 40-44 and 50-54 age groups, and they would contact the winners later, after they sorted it all out.

Well, damn.

Race results were posted online a couple of days after the race, but the results did not list ages or gender of participants, so there was no way to tell how Mike had placed.  But then, a couple days after that, they posted the age group award results.  They still had Mike in 3rd place in the Male 50-54 group.  But a quick look at the results of the 40-44 group, and it was clear that Mike should be in 3rd place in that group.

A couple of phone calls to the park district later, and Mike was the proud owner of his first age group medal.  And of course, he sent me a picture right away.

It's the right age group and gender and everything! 

"Aren't you glad you didn't quit?" I asked him.

"Yep!" he responded.

It's true what they say: Quitters never win, and winners never quit.

But it's also true what I say: Running in the sub-freezing gale-force wind really sucks, and it's best to just never, ever do it in the first place.

Peace. Love. Train.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Kickin' Ice at Icebreaker 2012

Hard to believe it's already been a year since I ran the Icebreaker Indoor Marathon!  As you may recall, it was the most fun I've ever had running around in circles.

Until now.

I know what you're thinking:

What could possibly be more fun than running around in circles for 26.2 miles???

The answer is simple, my friends: Running around in circles for 26.2 miles as part of a team.

That's right; this year I took on the Icebreaker Marathon Relay as part of Team Frosty Femmes.  My speedy teammates (Kristi, Juliet and Nikki) and I had two goals: run fast and win hardware.  Based on the 2011 relay results, we thought we stood a pretty good chance of placing among the top 3 female teams.  Possibly even winning.  We were hopeful, determined, strong...

And then two other Peoria-area all-female teams were formed, including a team headed up by our very own FAST coach, Maggie.  Her team, Illini Quad, consisted of a bunch of gals who (a) were 11 years younger than the average age of my team and (b) all ran cross-country competitively in college.

Oh crap.

The local running community was buzzing about these two teams who all had talented runners on them and  both wanted to win.  People were even wagering on it.  Who would be victorious?

Suddenly, our goal of placing wasn't enough.  Our new goal was to beat Maggie's team.  In the weeks leading up to the race, every time I or one of my team members ran into Maggie, growls and evil glares were exchanged.

Before we knew it, race day was upon us.  It was time to prove just how awesome we really were.

The relay didn't start until 1pm, so we had a lot of time to sit around, watch the half-marathon races, chat, snack, and exchange more evil glares.  We also made last-minute tweaks to our race strategy.

Strategy, you ask?  How complicated could it be?  Each person runs 6.55 miles, right?


What makes an indoor marathon relay so unique is that team members can switch off as often as they like, in any order they like, to run any distance they like, so long as the team runs 96 laps total.  You might think, given that knowledge, that it would be best to have team members run one lap at a time, as fast as possible.  But, team members have to hand off an ankle bracelet timing device each time they switch off, which wastes valuable seconds.  So there's a delicate balance between how short of intervals team members run and how much time is wasted transferring the ankle bracelet.

Our team's tentative plan was as follows, with the understanding that we could modify this plan at any time during the race, depending how team members were feeling.  Keep in mind that 1 lap is 443 meters, so 4 laps just over 1 mile.

Me: 4 laps
Juliet: 2 laps
Kristi: 3 laps
Juliet: 2 laps
Nikki: 6-8 laps
Lather, rinse, repeat, for 96 laps total.  This plan was designed to allow each of us to run the distance we felt we could run the strongest. For Juliet, that was short bursts of about 800m.  For Nikki, that was 1.5-2 mile segments.  For me and Kristi, it was about 1 mile increments.

Peoria-area runner chicks chillin' before the start of the relay
(L to R: Juliet, Nikki, me, Maggie, Louisa, Kristi, Katie W, Katie O, and Laura)

We ended up sticking to our plan almost exactly.  And let me tell ya, it wasn't easy.  It took a couple of hand-offs before we mastered the fine art of efficient timing chip transfer.  And because there was so much time between a given runner's intervals, it was nearly impossible to stay warm and loose.  It was essentially a speed interval workout with extremely long recovery periods.

I'm running so fast, you can see through me.
I didn't even know that was possible, but the camera doesn't lie!

Maggie's team seemed to be implementing a similar strategy to ours, playing up each individual runners' strengths.  There were times during the race where we seemed to be surging ahead of her team...  and there were even more times during the race where we were falling behind.  We were just no match for a team of 25-year-old former cross-country stars.  But that didn't mean we didn't put up an admirable fight.

Our team placed 3rd in the female division with a time of 3:05:54.  Take a moment to stop and ponder how fast that really is.  That's an average pace of 7:05. For 26.2 miles! This time would have won us 1st place in last year's race.  This year, the field was that much more competitive. Three minutes ahead of us was the 2nd place female team.  And then there was Maggie's team, who ran a blisteringly fast 2:55:25 for the win. Huge congrats to them - what an outstanding performance! And the other Peoria-area team, The FASTies, also ran strong and broke the 4:30 marathon barrier.  Way to go!

It's amazing what four people can accomplish when they work together!

But that's not all, folks.  I served a dual purpose this weekend.  Not only was I a runner, but I was also a videographer.  As a favor to the race director, I shot video all weekend long (except when I was running) and created a promotional video. So now, I present to you my very first video race report!

If, after watching that, you have any doubt remaining about how cool the indoor marathon experience is (both literally and figuratively), then I have not done my job as a blogger or film producer.  You should fire me.  Except that I don't work for you, so you can't. Ha!

And the good news, for all of you wanna-be indoor marathoners, is that you don't have to wait until next January to try this.  There is a new event coming this July 28 called Heatbreaker, and as you may have surmised from the name, it is great a way to escape the mid-summer heat.  This event is a half-marathon event only...  but never fear, you marathon addicts!  There are four half-marathons spread out over the course of one day (spaced three hours apart), and runners can choose to run one, two, three or all four races.  FOUR half-marathons!  Can you imagine?  For those of you who are not mathematically inclined, that's a total of 52.4 miles.  In one day!

Now, I know you're thinking that I'm the sort of person who is just crazy enough to run four half-marathons in one day.  I can assure you, I'm not that crazy... yet.  But I have never been one to pass up a good challenge, so I will be running the Two-Alarm Challenge at Heatbreaker, which is back-to-back half-marathons.  Some have argued that that's the same as running a full marathon.  I beg to differ.  One would not normally sit down and relax for 45 minutes in the middle of a full marathon.  So, as you can see, it's totally different from a full marathon.

And, as usual, I will not be doing this alone.  Fellow Goofy Challenger, Kristi, is also on board for the Two-Alarm Challenge.  Let's see how many other people I can coerce...  er, I mean, encourage to do one of these events!  Milwaukee will never know what hit it.  Who's with me???

Peace. Love. Train.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend: Kristi & Evily's Goofy Adventure

When I first started writing this race report, I figured I'd write it like any other race report...  long and detailed. But the more I thought about it, the less appropriate it felt for an event like the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend.  And so, instead of lengthy prose, I give you...  *drum roll*... a song!  Because "It's a Small World" is far too annoying of a song (sorry, Disney), these lyrics are sung to the Gilligan's Island theme song (which is marginally less annoying).

*begin music*

Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale
a tale of hell and heaven
that started from Midway Airport
aboard this 737

There was a tall blonde runner chick
and a short brunette for sure.
They were headed down to Disney World
For a race-running tour...
a race-running tour!

The Goofy Challenge was their quest
They hoped they would come through
They were going to run 13.1
plus 26.2!

The race expo was super-huge
and they wandered aimlessly
They bought t-shirts to brag about
their accomplishment-to-be.

After traveling all day they wanted some food
So they hopped on a pontoon boat
They set sail for Downtown Disney
on a 30-minute float...
a 30 minute float.

The House of Blues had yummy food
They ate and ate and ate.
But they had to wake at 2:30am,
so they couldn't stay up late.

They took a bus to the half-marathon start
It was a long and early ride
Then they walked a mile to Corral D
where they waited side-by-side.

The wheelchairs started at 5:30
then Corral A, then B and then C.
Finally it was time for "Da best" corral
to start its 13.1-mile journey...
13.1-mile journey.

The path was narrow, the runners were many;
They couldn't get ahead.
So they went with the flow and saved their legs
for the next day's journey of dread.

They reached the finish line intact
They still felt pretty good
They both received a Donald medal
just like they knew they would.

They spent the rest of the day at the pool
trying to relax
Then they went back to House of Blues
and carb-loaded to the max.

At 7:30 they went to bed
and fell fast asleep
But they still were quite unhappy
When the 2:30 alarm started to beep.

They donned their tutus and their Bad Axe Pigeon shirts
and headed back to Corral D
The port-a-potty lines weren't as long
So they had lots of time to pee.

The marathon began on time
They ran and ran and ran
through Epcot and Magic Kingdom
and then the pain began...
and then the pain began.

The miles got longer, their feet were sore
The sun was getting hot.
They took fun and silly photo breaks
every chance they got.

Lots of people noticed their shirts
Some asked "What's Bad Axe Pigeon?"
Other people recognized the towns
and yelled "Yeah Michigan!"

In Animal Kingdom they searched for a goat
but instead they found a sheep.
They also found a tiny owl
they really wanted to keep.

They nearly died at Mile 18
and have the picture to prove it.
At Mile 21, the green Army man
told them to "Move it! Move it!"

They hobbled as the pain grew worse
There were blisters everywhere
They dreamed of crossing the finish line
and sitting in a chair.

At Mile 26 their spirits soared
with the sounds of a gospel choir
The finish line was in sight
two more medals they would acquire!

They ran toward the finish line
shuffling with all their might
They crossed the finish victoriously
A stinky, proud, tired rainbow sight.

Two more medals they did collect
for a grand total of three
They weighed at least 2 tons apiece
They were very hard to carry!

The blonde and brunette runner chicks
were really rather proud
But the pain was just too intense
"Never again!" they both vowed.

Peace. Love. Train.