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.