Sunday, May 8, 2011

Wisconsin Half Marathon

I mentioned earlier that I was uncertain how this half marathon was going to go. Clearly I haven't completed the same distances and numbers of long runs that I did prior to my last half marathon, where I did a solid 15 miles before tapering. For this race, my longest runs were both 10 miles, one flat, one in hills, and no taper was involved. I had very little concept of my speed as my long runs have been few, mostly around the track at the Y, and easing back into things at an easy pace. I did my 30 min "shake out" run on Friday morning, at a 9 min mile pace, which felt very comfortable. A while back the coach had suggested running at a 9:30 pace until mile 10, then going all out if I didn't feel pain. I thought about this, skeptically, because it just felt too slow. That would put me around a 2:05 total, 4 min slower than my first half marathon 3 years ago. I had to be in better shape than that. I wasn't expecting to perform as well as I did in the fall, when I was so well trained, but I also didn't expect to do a personal worst. I have been very busy cross training, that's for sure.

I figured that I would run this race by feel. I wouldn't be satisfied with myself if I didn't give it my best shot. Even knowing that I'm "still recovering", a 9:30 pace just seemed like it would be too slow- and while I didn't want to go out too fast, I also didn't want to have this just be an easy jog. It was a race, after all. Plus, with all of the negative energy I have been storing up the last few weeks, I needed something more- I needed to at least beat my first half marathon time. We talked about our public and private goals that we had had for this race on the way home. My public goal was that 2:05. I was fairly sure that barring catastrophe, I could do that with little problem. But, my private goal A was sub-2 hours, B was beating my 2:01. And I knew that I needed to go out there and see what I was capable of.

We all started out in a clump, near the 10 min mile marker. Not that that meant anything. I glanced down at my garmin early on and saw an 11:20 pace. Shoot- gotta get around these people! I dodged through the crowd with a guy from run club who was nervous about starting out too fast. For the first three miles it was pretty slow going- partly because of the crowd, and partly because I was just nervous about saving my energy for later. I hadn't run over 10 miles in quite some time, as I mentioned, and I was concerned about how my ankle would feel and how my endurance would look. At mile 3, however, I looked at the total time, around 29 min, and started to panic. That was way slower than my 'conservative' 9:30 pace, and I felt like I was just out for an easy jog. At that moment, I felt good, and I decided to pick up the pace. I left the run clinic guy, hoping I wouldn't see him blow past me later...

I kept a comfortable pace, just enjoying the run, and the weather (despite the forecast of rain, it was a lovely, sunny morning) and kept finding new people to pass in front of me. Almost every time I glanced at the Garmin, I saw 8:45s, 9:00s, and even some 8:38s. I felt great, especially after seeing those low paces I hadn't seen in months, and it inspired me to just keep at it. Around mile 6.5, I saw that I was just over 1 hour, indicating that if I kept my pace, I could achieve my private goal of 2:00. That was incentive enough to not slow down.

A little bit later, there was an out and back stretch of about 2-3 miles. The course cops told us to keep left and watch for the return trip runners. The two leaders looked super strong and super speedy. The wind was blowing towards us all the way leading up to the turnaround, and I looked forward to when it would be at my back. I also started to keep my eye out for friends I knew were ahead of me. I saw Mo and Alicia, who were both looking strong, and exchanged cheers of 'good job's with them. Not long after, I too turned around and kept my eye out for the friends behind me. I saw the guy I left at mile 4, followed by sets of several other friendly faces, including Tracy and her running buddy Jen, who both looked awesome, Lisa, doing her very first half marathon, and Madison, who gave me a high five. It was so wonderful to get to see them- it gave me something to look out for and some motivation to just keep plugging along. Somewhere in here, I was definitely in a running zone. I kept seeing great paces on my watch every time I looked, and I just felt good and really happy. It was shaping up to be a great run.

Somewhere between miles 9-10, I passed a few women, and overheard them talking: "now THIS is a hill. Just so you know" I heard one say to the other. I looked at the subtle incline we were running up, and giggled to myself. I almost said, if you think THIS is a hill, you have another one coming, reminded of the awful steep grades I climbed up just a week ago in Kentucky. I plowed past them on the "uphill" and just kept moving forward. Mile 10 was at the top of a hill, and I saw that I was around 1:32, and kept telling myself, 5k left, just keep this pace and you HAVE the goal. So, onward I went.

After mile 11, I started to get a little tired. Maybe this was partly mental, as I hadn't seen this distance in many months. I got a sharp cramp in my right side, and kept telling myself, keep going, keep going. At the water break just before mile 12, I stopped to walk. Perhaps, I walked just a little too long, and I didn't get much cramp relief, unfortunately. I looked at my watch and saw 1:51 and change, and picked it up as much as I could, bearing through the cramp. 1 mile to go. Goal within reach! I kept going and going and heard a spectator shout "a quarter mile left". I knew that if I didn't make my goal, it would be pretty close, and willed myself to push the pace. The finish line was not visible at this point, which posed a real mental challenge as far as faster running was concerned. As soon as I did see it, though, I gave it my all, and finished fast! I clicked my watch to stop and saw the time: 2:00:30! (official time 2:00:26). Well, i hadn't exactly met my goal, but close enough! I had beaten my very first time, came extremely close to my sub-2 hour goal, and had a great, smart, and FUN race! (though I couldn't help but think- what if I didn't have that cramp? what if i didn't start out SO conservatively).  I saw Mo and Alicia who had both finished about a mile ahead of me (speedy speedy!) and hung out with them while we watched the rest of our friends come in strong. So many successes were had- so many PRs, and several first timers! Everyone had such a great race, and it was so wonderful to see! I am so proud of how everyone did and how happy everyone was!

It got super cold while waiting, but we burrito-ed ourselves in the space blankets until we couldn't stay any longer and hobbled back to the car to head to get some breakfast. While this was not at all my best time in the half marathon distance, I am still very proud of myself, and excited that I had no achilles pain! I am looking forward to working hard this summer and doing another half marathon in the fall, with hopefully improved results.

After the race, smiling faces, trying to keep warm.
(I didn't have my phone or camera, so I am stealing Tracy's pic)
The most important part of my running comeback yesterday was that I had fun. I remembered why I really enjoyed running and races, and I really look forward to the next one. And, I had a great time with a great group of people. I really needed this "win" and had such a happy day!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

In search of a positive attitude

A year-ish ago, I was gearing up for my first triathlon and a 10 mile race. I was excited but nervous, looking at everything with fresh eyes and eager anticipation. Everything last summer was a positive experience of PRs and record distances. A 10 miler, 2 sprint triathlons, 1 olympic, and 1 half marathon. With each race, I noticed improvements in myself and my self-confidence.
Finishing strong at last year's olympic triathlon

Fast forward to January of this year: A few long breaks from working out (2 weeks in Japan of only light exercising, break at Christmas time) followed by Achilles' tendinitis, frustration on the computrainer, and stressful swim stroke work. Instead of those feelings of almost invincibility I had last spring and summer, I now feel like I am at a standstill, or worse yet, slowing down. I tried to not let it bother me too much, rejoicing in small accomplishments, like running pain-free, or running my longest distance since my injury, but the small victories do not seem to be outweighing my overall aura of disappointment in myself. It is building up and I feel like a ball of negative energy that I just can't escape from.

This past weekend, I attended the spring training camp in Kentucky- a dedicated training weekend in a VERY remote and VERY flooded location. Oh, and it was also hilly. We didn't get to open water swim due to the brown sewage filled water, but we did plenty of biking and running.

Friends, ready to ride
I am still not 100% sure of my opinion on this experience. It was my first time out on my clip pedals, and first time tackling hills both biking and running in quite some time. I tried to remain positive at first, but my fears got the better of me. My biggest fear was being dropped and having to do a long bike ride in the middle of nowhere on my own. It happened.

Now I know I am not a great biker. I have been struggling with that all winter in the computrainer room, disgruntled about the low wattages I was barely able to muster while everyone around me sustained significantly higher values. I expressed my concerns of being miles behind the group in KY and getting lost to the coach, who said, don't worry about it, we'll stay together. Well, I assume she had good intentions, but a friend and I got dropped before we even began the course. She was having bike troubles (couldn't shift front rings, only one working brake), and we stuck together for the first 27 miles of the journey. While we were together, I didn't really care so much that the group was far far away, because we had each other, at least, to motivate and push through the hilly terrain, laugh about the little yappy doggies that tried to chase us, and navigate the directions given to us on a sheet of photocopied paper. When we got to the aid station, however, my friend said she had had enough of her bike, and I was left on my own. I had a choice to make: stay at the aid station and get a ride back to home base, or keep going, finish my 56 mile loop, but do it alone. I really wasn't ready to stop riding, and I was determined to work as hard as I could at this training camp- otherwise, why did I trek all the way to KY? After a minor meltdown- due to feelings of abandonment and high emotions from the stressful first half of the ride combined with the fears of going it alone- I took off...

The second half of the ride started out ok, and I got into a happy biking groove. But, the last 10 miles were quite possibly the hilliest terrain that I had ever attempted. I had to will myself up some of the hills, only keeping motivated by thinking about everyone else that had done these hills before me. I watched the miles click up on my odometer, knowing that I was getting closer and closer to the end. I distinctly remember one of the last hills. It was so steep, and my legs were so tired, that I almost walked, and most definitely cried. Do not quit, I thought to myself. I started to count strokes- it can't be more than ... 50? I looked at the pitifully slow odometer reading of 5.7 mph, and tried to ignore it, being thankful I was able to keep moving. I finally made it up the hill, and sailed down. What a relief!

Eventually I was nearing the end, and the coach and a friend came by in a car to see how I was doing. I lost it when I saw them- I was feeling anger and resentment for having to go this alone while everyone else was done. Thankfully, they realized that if they stopped me with only 2 miles left to go to relieve me, it would be even worse than enduring the remainder of the bike course. I would have been completely unsatisfied with myself had I not been able to complete it. So, they let me finish, and collected me and my bike at the end. I was so glad to see the finish line! 56 miles- done! That's the distance in the HIM. Now, I know I can do it-I just have to work on getting it done faster!

Now, one would think that most normal people would be satisfied with this new distance achievement. I was, I really was. But, inside of me, the burning feeling of sadness, abandonment, and inadequacy- and being left behind because I wasn't good enough- overwhelmed my thoughts. I took a walk, cried, and wished that I could get a hold of myself. I should be so proud of myself- when I did my hilly olympic tri last year, I barely made the 25 miles, and today I had gone 56! Why wasn't that enough for me. Everyone was saying what a great job I did, and what determination it took for me to do it alone. For some reason, these positive comments, coming from people who finished at least a half hour prior to me, just went in one ear and out the other. My friends tried to make me feel better too, but I was just wallowing in self-pity, and wouldn't let myself get past my feelings of inadequacy. I am sure I was an extremely unpleasant person to be around this weekend, and I don't know how they are still friends with me...

The next day, I tried harder to look on the bright side and stop worrying about how I compared to the masses. We had a 20 mile bike ride, followed by a 10 mile run on the schedule. I figured, if I could do 56 miles Saturday, I could for sure handle 20. I started off alone again, as everyone zoomed off before I even got my shoes clipped into the pedals. At the first hill, I thought to myself, good grief, these hills just keep on coming. Another woman started to ride with me, and we took turns being the leader. I would zoom past her on the hills (not sure how that is possible given my weak, wussy quads) but she would pass me speedily on the downhill, pedaling while in her aerobars, while I was gripping my handlebars for dear life, coasting out of fear of shifting. At the turnaround point, we stopped for a water break before heading back. She gave me a pep talk, which I desperately needed. I started to feel better about myself and more confident about my riding, and we finished the 10 miles back strong.
biking in the Kentucky hills

Now, time for the run. 10 miles. Same course we just biked on, full of hills, including a super long incline on the way out. I started off with my biking buddy, but she had an injured calf, and walked up an early hill, so we parted ways. This run was a struggle: I had tired legs from 75 miles of biking, was carrying all sorts of stuff in my bike jersey, was sweating from the humid weather, and was terrified of the tons of hills, since I hadn't done any hill preparation since well before my Achilles' tendinitis diagnosis. But, I plowed through, slowly, just making sure I never stopped to walk until the aid station. At the aid station, my broken bike friend ran with me almost 2 miles. I needed that more than anything, and I am so thankful she was there with me. I felt like I was in a marathon, hitting a wall at mile 22, and she came in to rescue me and give me the motivation to keep going. After she departed, I picked up another girl who wanted to run the last 4 miles with me. Thankfully the 2nd half was mostly downhill, so it felt a bit better. This run was hard. Very hard. Finally, I finished, running only 2 min slower than my last 10 miler on the flat ground.

Again, I should be happy with this performance, and I am. Running 10 miles in hills after a 20 mile hilly ride is an accomplishment for me for sure. And, technically, I'm still recovering. Though since the pain is (thankfully) gone, I at times have trouble remembering that. I had to watch my usual running buddies blow past me at mile 7, pushing their pace limits, when I was well behind, chugging along at mile 3. I am so proud of all of my friends and how far their running skills have come in the last few months. I just am having SO much trouble being left out. I know that if I didn't have this injury and recovery holding me back, I'd have been right there with them. But instead, I am watching from the outside, wondering if/when I will catch up to them.

The half marathon is this coming weekend. I have no idea how it is going to go. It's flat, thankfully. But, I haven't run more than 10 miles since October. That's a long time. I guess I will just have to see how it goes. I am going to try really hard to take whatever happens in stride, and recognize that my injury was a setback, and I can only go up from here. I am hoping that this race will be a kick off for me - the start of getting back into training injury free. I know I am going to be so proud of my friends who are all going to crush their goals because they have worked so hard and improved so much in the last few months. I am hoping for a positive attitude for myself-  to have for the race on Saturday, and to keep with me in the remainder of the long road ahead in the racing season and the training towards the HIM.