Sunday, August 29, 2010

A10: Annapolis 10 Mile Run

This morning I ran the A10.  Several months ago, a couple of friends talked me into it.  Several days ago, I was wondering what on earth I could have been thinking (a hilly race in August?  seriously?).  In the actual event, I really enjoyed myself and ran a great race.

The weather more or less behaved, although it was humid and warm (solidly in the 70s) and sunny.  The course was pretty much as hilly as expected.  I didn't find it brutally hilly, or even quite as bad as I'd imagined from the elevation profile, but definitely not easy, either.

I had actually managed to completely forget about this race until about two weeks ago.  Somehow, it hadn't made it on to my training plan calendar, and as a result, I'd scheduled an 18 mile run for this weekend.  Once the A10 forced itself into my consciousness, I decided to split my long run (8ish miles on Saturday, race on Sunday) and really not worry about the race.  I just wanted to have a good hill training run.  So I was easily more relaxed about this race than any other I've run.

I met up with one of my friends (one of the two who talked me into this) before the race; she had very graciously agreed to pick up my bib the day before and save me from standing in line this morning.  We got our numbers pinned on and then chatted until it was time to start.  The start was dense and slow; it took us 6 minutes to get across the start line, and then the first mile consisted of a lot of dodging and weaving.  Having my friend to chat with definitely helped me keep a reasonable pace for the first few miles, especially since they were relatively flat/downhill.  One of the more entertaining moments of the race was around mile two.  St. Anne's Episcopal Church had set up a water stop and had it labeled the "Holy Water Stop."  We laughed pretty hard.

Me and my enabler about half a mile in; you can tell because we aren't sweaty yet.

My friend and I separated somewhere around mile 3.5, about the time we started to get into serious hills.  I make a point of running hills pretty regularly, and it's apparently paid off.  Going over the bridge the first time (the big climb starting right after mile 4) hardly phased me.  I didn't feel like I was going particularly fast, but I was passing people pretty steadily, so maybe I was going faster than I thought.  Going down the bridge, I just let off the brakes and let gravity take me for a ride.  As I got to the bottom, the lead runner was just starting his return crossing; he was moving at a genuinely impressive pace.

After the bridge, we took a right turn and headed off through some neighborhoods.  It was great to see people out in their yards cheering.  A couple even had their hoses out spraying water for us to run through if we wanted (75, sunny, and humid makes for an awful lot of ineffective sweat).  My favorite, though, was a couple of women who were blasting the Beach Boys.  I had Fun, Fun, Fun pleasantly running through my head for at least half a mile.  Another of my favorite moments was at an intersection where a woman was informing us all that we had "20 feet of flat, right there."  In some ways, it did feel like the only 20 feet of flat in the whole course.

The last bit in the neighborhood was a rather long out-and-back leg.  The out part was all downhill, which meant the back part was all uphill.  Fortunately, it was quite shady and really not too bad, even though the hill was about as long and steep as the bridge that soon followed.  After the out-and-back leg, we had a nice downhill back to the base of the bridge.  I really opened up my stride and flew down the hill, which was both fun and a little terrifying.  At that point, it was out of the neighborhood (and out of the shade) and back on to the bridge.  The sun was at my back, which was better than being in my eyes, but I almost immediately missed the shade.

Going back up the bridge was much harder than the first crossing had been.  My legs were tired, and much more annoyingly, the right side of my neck/shoulder was getting really tense and rather painful.  I made it up the hill with reasonable form, though, and didn't collapse at the top like at least part of my body wanted to.  Instead, I let gravity carry me down for what was probably my slowest descent, but I was still passing people.  The last mile was theoretically mostly downhill, but my awareness of my surroundings was pretty minimal at that point and I don't remember the difference between flatish and downhill.  I do remember, though, the last little bit.  To get to the finish line, we had to run across a stretch of wet grass (my feet, ankles, knees, and hip flexors did not appreciate this at all), along a narrow wet walkway, and then uphill through the parking lot to the finish.  I'm told I looked good going up that last hill, but I felt like my legs were just toast.

In the end, I finished in 1:25:38, which turned out to be a new personal record by 5 minutes!  I'm still stunned by the 5 minutes thing, given the difficulty of this course.  My mile splits were:  9:13, 8:45, 8:39, 8:49, 8:20, 8:39, 8:37, 7:55, 8:00, 8:36, which makes this the first race where I've run a real negative split!  Strategically and technically speaking, I think this was the best race I've ever run.

And to top things off, both my enabling friends had good races, and we managed to find each other after the race.  

Oh, and then there was an awesome brunch at an Irish pub.  The only down side was that I had to drive home, so I decided I should skip the mimosas.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Mayor's Marathon

Last weekend I ran the Mayor’s Marathon in Anchorage, AK. It was a good race, and I got the added bonus of having my family (who live in Anchorage) there to cheer me on. I really wanted to break 4:30, but finished in 4:32. That’s still a PR by 25 minutes, so I’m pretty happy with it.

Leading up to the race, the forecast called for temps in the 50s with a possibility of rain. As it turned out, it was in the high 40s at the start and about 55 when I finished. It drizzled a little bit in the first half but never really rained, for which I was grateful. I wore one of my running skirts with capris, a tank top, and at the start a wool shirt, which I handed off to my support crew around mile 9. I carried two fuel belt bottles (one in each skirt pocket) of Nuun and a SPI belt of mini Luna bars. It seemed to be about the right amount of stuff to carry, especially since I got to exchange an empty bottle for a full one about half way through.

This was the easiest start (in terms of positioning, jostling, etc.) that I’ve ever seen. It was a nice wide start area, and with only about 1300 runners, apparently easy to be lined up in the right place. By the time we got to the multi-use trail (it was paved) about a half mile in, everyone seemed to have found their groove and was comfortably cruising. The people I was near at that point stayed near me for most of the race. One of my goals was to not go out to fast and instead really work on having an easy, relaxed first mile. I think I did quite well there, with my first mile split being just over 10 minutes.

The first 4 miles were on pavement and felt flat, although they may have been gradually up hill. The multi-use trail runs along a highway; there wasn’t much traffic, but occasionally a driver would honk and wave. It was nice to think of them cheering on the crazy runners. There was a water stop at mile 2 that I walked through but didn’t take anything at (I walked through all of them and drank water at every subsequent station). There was another one at mile 4, as well as a Team in Training cheering point; one of the coaches was dressed as a moose, which cracked me up.

From mile 4 to about mile 15 (I think, my memory’s a little fuzzy) we were running on gravel road or on dirt trails. The gravel road was actually the more challenging surface, since the gravel had a lot of big (fist-sized) rounded rocks. From mile 4 to mile 6, I chatted with a woman who was running the first leg of the relay, which I think helped me stay relaxed and keep a comfortable pace. After she finished her relay leg, I found someone else to chat with: a man who was wearing a 50 marathons in 50 states shirt (there were a lot of people with those shirts, actually). He was about half-way though the 50 states. The first mentally challenging bit of the race was from about mile 7.5 to mile 9. Starting at around mile 7.5, I could see the turn just before mile 9, but it never seemed to get closer. It was a long, straight stretch of gravel road with forest on either side, so the scenery wasn’t providing much sense of movement, either.

At mile 9, my family was there waiting and cheering. I tossed my wool shirt at them (I’d taken it off around mile 4) and kept going. There was a water station just after mile 9, followed by more gravel road, and eventually dirt trail. Starting around mile 5 or 6, there were a lot of rolling hills, with more uphill than down. The rolling hills/gentle climbing continued on the dirt trail, which was actually a welcome relief from the gravel road. I saw my family again around mile 13, but I have no recollection now of whether the course at that point was on gravel or paved road. At any rate, I’d had a strong first half, with a split of 2:06.

The highest point of the course was around mile 15, after which it was mostly long, gradual downhill. From mile 15 or little earlier to the end was also all on pavement. Around mile 15, I was starting to feel a little tired, as evidenced by my inability to subtract 15 from 26 and get 11 (I got 9 and was really excited for the 30 seconds it took me to realize my error). At mile 17, I exchanged an empty bottle for a full one (I’d been drinking Nuun every 30ish minutes, in addition to the water from the aid stations), smiled at my family and kept going. The next two miles were tough - we were running on the sidewalk along a major road that we were to cross by a footbridge at around mile 19, but as soon as we made the turn onto the sidewalk, I could see the footbridge, and it just refused to get any closer. At that point, my legs were starting to feel like they’d taken a beating, and I was kind of ready to be done.

But a couple of slow miles later I got across the bridge. The course then sort wandered through the University of Alaska, Anchorage campus, where I got to see my family somewhere between mile 19 and 20. I smiled for them (my dad was wielding the camera all day), but once I was safely past camera range, I made an ”I’m tired” face (tongue out, slightly cross eyed) at my mom, who laughed. The laughter was a nice mental boost.

From about mile 20 to 25.5, the course was on multi-use trails along a creek. Very little from those miles is distinct in my memory. Around mile 20, someone was telling us we had only 4 more miles to go, and I hated him a little bit for lying to us. The trails were pretty, and a few times, I discovered I was running alone, with no one in sight. It made me really glad I’d done so much of my training alone. From miles 20 to 23, I really struggled mentally; my pace slowed to 11:something miles and I just wanted to not be running. I saw my family one last time on the course around mile 23, though, and either seeing them or knowing how close to the finish I was made a big difference, since the next few miles were 9:something miles.

With about 2 miles left, I caught up to the 50 states guy I’d been chatting with earlier and who I’d figured was at that point way ahead of me, since I hadn’t seen him for at least 10 miles. We ran together for a few minutes and discussed our favorite post race foods before he said he couldn’t hang with me any more and dropped back. At that point, passing someone I’d written off as impossibly far ahead was a nice mental boost. At about the same time, I started to have some lower abdominal discomfort, but moving my SPI belt (nearly empty at that point) from high hips to high bust made a huge difference. I’m sure I looked like a dork, but it was so much better than feeling awful.

My last mile was really slow (12:something) because there was a giant hill in it. We had to get out of the creek valley up to the finish line. If this hill wasn’t the worst I’ve encountered running, it had to be close. It was a quarter to half a mile long (much longer than the steep hills I regularly run) and steeper than Capitol Hill (the only long hill I regularly run). I walked up it. But from there to the end, it was nice flat terrain. The course wandered a little bit through a high school parking lot before dumping us on the track for the finish. It was a little hard because I could see the finish several minutes before I got there and I couldn’t tell how far I had to run to get there.

After I finished, I got my medal and found the family. We all got bread from one of the local bakeries (hardy, dense bread that was awesome with butter on it), and they very graciously waited so I could get a massage. The massage was rather uncomfortable, but I think it did some good because I was hardly sore at all the next day. That evening I had trouble going down stairs, but by the next morning, I was feeling pretty good. For the rest of the week, I just enjoyed not having responsibilities. I did a fair bit of walking with my mom, but didn’t do any more running. It was really nice to not have to do anything. But now it’s back to work and responsibilities and schedules… I had a great race and great vacation, though!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

North Face Endurance Challenge: Half Marathon

I ran the North Face Endurance Challenge Half Marathon on June 6, 2010.
It was an 8am start time, so I met up with some of the triathlon club women to carpool out at 6am. We got to the parking area a little before 7, got on the bus over to the starting area, and then had 45 minutes to twiddle our thumbs. It was (by my standards, anyway) a fairly small race, with the number of entrants capped at 500, so the porta-potty line never got very long. It also meant the start was uncrowded, which was nice.

The start was in a big, open, grassy area, and over the first 200 yards or so narrowed from 20 feet down 10 feet or so wide. There was remarkably little jostling for position - the least of any race I’ve run in, anyway. The first 3/4 of a mile or so (after the grassy start) was on the cart path through a golf course. Then there was about a mile of wide dirt/gravel pathway with the first aid station positioned at the start of the single track. I was wearing one of my Commitment skirts with water bottles (filled with Nuun) stuffed in the pockets, so I didn’t stop at the aid station. One of the best moments of the race was when we were on the dirt path; a group of three men was running behind me and chatting. One of them declared that he was going to get a running kilt because my skirt had convinced him of the merits of skirts for running.

The first half mile or so of single track was through some tallish (about hip high) grass with a road on one side and a stream on the other. No more than a hundred yards into the single track, I tripped and skinned my right knee. The guy behind me helped me up, but I was more embarrassed than hurt. Shortly after that, the trail parted from the road, and we were into the forest along the Potomac. It was really pretty terrain and heavily shaded, which made the heat and humidity much more bearable. Somebody behind me commented that it was like there was no humidity at all, which made me conclude she’s never visited a desert, since it was definitely a bit muggy.

Somewhere around 3.5 or 4 miles in was a giant hill. The rest of the course was fairly flat with some gentle, rolling climbs and descents, but this hill looked like a cliff on the elevation profile. I used walking up the hill as an opportunity to eat a mini Luna bar and drink some Nuun. Going down the hill was fun, in a terrifying sort of way, made more terrifying by the fact that many of the other runners were clearly much less comfortable on the trail than I was - at that point, I was more worried about the person in front of me suddenly stopping than I was about tripping.

Shortly after the giant hill were the first primitive stream crossing and the second aid station. The first primitive stream crossing was a log (all the previous crossings had been bridges) that made some of the people in front of me rather nervous and cautious. At that point, I didn’t know that I was going to end up wet and muddy no matter what I did, so waited my turn for the log instead of fording the stream and scrambling up the far bank. At the second water station, I stopped long enough to down some water and then kept going. Not long after that, I saw the leaders returning. The trail was mostly wide enough that passing runners going the opposite way really wasn’t a problem. There were a few spots where it got really narrow with really tall grass/weeds on both sides, but those were the only tricky bits for passing.

In the last leg to the turn around point, there were two more stream crossings. The first was a knee deep stream that had to be forded. It was also a point where I passed several people who were trying to figure out some drier way to cross. The hardest part was scrambling up the bank which was already a mud slick. The trail between that stream and the next one was like brown marshmallow fluff - slippery and sole-sucking. The third crossing had two options - fording or taking a flying leap slightly downstream of the ford. I opted for the flying leap, using one tree (the trunk was about 4” in diameter) to help swing myself across, and another tree about the same size to keep myself on the far side. From there, it was a short trot to the turn around point.

Going back across the streams was a little trickier. I took the same Tarzan approach to the first one (I really don’t know why more people weren’t trying it, since it completely avoided the mud-slicked banks of the ford). Unlike the couple of women in front of me, I managed to stay on my feet as I slid down the extra-slippery, very muddy bank to the second crossing. I thought I was going to manage to be relatively mud-free, but I slipped scrambling up the far bank and ended up caked in mud from the knees down and spattered in it from the knees up. Back at the aid station, I drank some more water and kept going. Between the water station and the giant hill, very little happened - it was getting warmer, my feet were heavy (soaked shoes will do that), and I could feel the start of a hot spot on my right foot, but I kept using the person in front me (when I could see one) as my target until I passed them.

The giant hill was both better and worse the second time around. Walking up it, my legs clearly let me know they were working hard and would really enjoy a slower pace or maybe a stop. I ignored them and flew down the hill (no concern about running anyone over that time). Between the hill and the last/first aid station, I ate another mini Luna bar, drank some Nuun, and took a few short walk breaks, but mostly stuck to my strategy of aiming for the person in front of me. The most disheartening moment was getting to the final aid station and seeing that I still had another 1.7 miles to go (I’d somehow convinced myself that I was much closer than that to finishing). I think I took another walk break or two between there and the finish, but there were spectators at that point, which provided me with the motivation to keep running. Plus, as long as I kept running, I was still passing people. I was SO glad to see the finish, though.

After finishing, I stopped by the medical tent to get my knee cleaned out, and then took advantage of the buckets of ice water to soak my feet and remove the mud from my legs. The Goretex people were there with a “test our rain gear” truck that simulated rain, but although no one was testing rain gear, they were letting runners used it as a shower of sorts. Being able to rinse the mud and some of the sweat off was awesome. One of the women I’d carpooled with won her age group so we stuck around for the awards (highlight: Dean Karnazes) before getting on the bus back to the parking area (we may have been the least bashful group of women I’ve ever been a part of, since we all changed clothes at the car) and going to lunch (we went to Outback, where I think the waiter was intimidated by our enthusiasm for the bread).

All in all, I had a great race and really enjoyed myself. I see many more trail races in my future.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Cherry Blossom 10 Miler

I ran the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler on April 11. Here's my report from the race:

My morning got off to a slightly rocky start. The wave start for the race was at 7:40, so I’d figured if I was on the Metro (our subway system) by absolutely no later than 6:40, I’d be at the starting area by about 7:10, with adequate time to check my bag and figure out where I was supposed to go. As it happened, I got to the Metro station about 6:35 (feeling pretty good about my timeliness) and then had to wait 20 minutes for a train. I ended up making it to the starting area (I counted the jog from the Metro station as “warmup”) just after 7:30. I found the bag check, left my bag with them, and made my way into the starting corrals. I ended up in the corral behind the one I was supposed to be in, but managed to sneak forward into mine just before that corral started.

The start was really crowded, with lots of weaving and jostling as people tried to find space to run their own pace. Since my goal for the race was to finish comfortably, I was able to stay pretty relaxed about it. About 200 yards after the start was a bank of porta-potties with practically no lines (the ones before the start had super long lines), so I took advantage of one (see goal of finishing comfortably). The porta-potty break had the advantage of putting me briefly between waves, so I got to run with a bit more space for the next quarter mile or so. At about 3/4 of a mile in, I saw the elite men heading the other way (they were almost to mile 5); I envied their grace and speed. Just after mile 1, we headed up onto the Memorial Bridge. Running on the bridge was nice because the course widened so the density of runners dropped a little bit. Since I was near the edge, I could see down the Potomac, but there wasn’t anything really exciting to see - just green park area either side of the river and early morning glare off the river. At the Virginia side of the bridge, we went around the traffic circle in front of Arlington Cemetery and headed back across the bridge to DC. I was feeling pretty good with my pace and breathing, and I was on the wrong side of the road for stopping, so I ran through the water station that was shortly after the 2-mile mark. From there, we headed north for an out-and-back along the river. The turnaround was a hairpin turn and not so much fun. By about mile 3, the combination of warmer weather and warmer me led me to pull off my long sleeve shirt and tie it around my waist, after which I was much more comfortable. After the turnaround, we headed south for about a mile to another hairpin turn and a water station near mile 4. I ran through that one too, for pretty much the same reasons as the first one.

For most of the rest of the race, the scenery was not especially exciting. We took the eastward loop around the Tidal Basin and then ran to the end of Haines Point along one side and back up along the other. If we’d been a week and a half earlier, the cherry trees would have been in full bloom and there would have been a lot more pretty color. As it was, everything was similar shades of green, which was a little less exciting. There was other excitement, though; around mile 5, I had my first ever encounter with road rage from a runner. Although the crowd had thinned out a little bit, it never thinned out very much, and passing tended to be a little tricky. I try to be fairly conservative in my passing and not shoot for small gaps or jump in front of people who are coming up from behind me, but since people don’t always run straight and sometimes do unexpected things, it’s hard. I passed one woman, and I don’t know if I totally misjudged the gap I used or if she drifted into me as I was passing, but there was light arm contact. I said sorry, but she apparently took offense and decided to retaliate by kicking my feet and pushing me. Fortunately, I managed not to fall, and was able to get up one the grass at the side of the road and put some distance between me and her.

About a mile after the road rage runner, I grabbed some Gatorade at around mile 6. I would have preferred water, but since all I really wanted was a few swallows of something to make my throat wet, the Gatorade was fine. Shortly after that water station, a couple near me were discussing how depressing it was that we weren’t even to the half-way point for a half marathon yet, which made me realize that I was running quite comfortably at a pace I was sure I could maintain for longer than a half marathon, which in turn felt extra-awesome given the asthma/allergy issues I’ve been having the last week and a half. Shortly after mile 7, I realized that I was passing people more often than I was being passed and decided to kick up the pace a little bit. The second to last mile was a little slower, back around my average pace, but I was really able to speed up at the end, despite the uphill to the finish area. The last 100 or 200 yards was brutal, though, as I tried to have some more kick and my lungs flat out refused (I guess the allergies had to catch up to me at some point).

Still, I finished in 1:30:40, which was a PR by 3 minutes. Plus, I was really happy with my mile splits (10:32, 8:59, 9:07, 9:13, 8:57, 8:57, 9:06, 8:35, 8:59, and 8:12). All things considered, I couldn’t be happier with my performance, especially since excepting the last little bit, I met my goal of running and finishing the race comfortably.