Sunday, May 29, 2011

How the Runner Crumbles

The Bayshore half marathon was supposed to be my goal event for the spring.  To really have a goal event I think it’s necessary to train like one is actually aiming for a real, solid goal.  I didn’t do this.  I stumbled through an academic year that left my head spinning.  Throughout training cycles for Bayshore and for the Great Turtle in the fall, I made long runs bust little else in my training plan.  It’s not right to have a “reach” goal when training looks like that.

Nevertheless, I’ve been wanted to run a half in under two hours for basically as long as I’ve been running.  It seems like if I make this goal I’ll finally be a legitimate runner, like I’m not successful until I reach it.  After running 2:04 in K’zoo a few weeks ago I thought I had it in the bag – I’ve been told the Bayshore course is flat and much easier than K’zoo and that I shouldn’t have any problem knocking off those last 4 minutes – or more!

We headed up to Traverse City on Friday afternoon.  We’ll have to go again and actually enjoy the area, because Friday we just went straight to the campground, set ourselves up, ate dinner, socialized, and went to bed.  The best part of the weekend was that I anticipated having good hammock trees and took my new ENO hammock up to try it out.  Let me tell you – that’s heaven in a little nylon sack.  I might spend my summer seeking out hammock trees at all the parks around here.  Wouldn’t that be fun?  Runners would come down the trail and see my head pop up out of the hammock – “Hi!!!”

Anyway.  That night I slept really poorly.  We got in the tent around 10:30 and I knew I probably wouldn’t fall asleep right then, but did not anticipate lying awake for hours upon hours.  People were talking, babies were crying, planes flew over, sirens went by, someone had a freakin’ blender going…ugh.  I finally fell asleep sometime after 1:00 but distinctly remember the blender going again around 2:30.  Then it was 4:10 and I heard my friend’s alarm go off.  Sigh.

We got up, ate breakfast, and headed out to the road where another friend was going to pick us up.  She arrived and we headed over to the high school to board buses out to the start.  Once on the bus our whole group of training buddies found seats together and chattered about the race.  I sat there with my drop bag putting my bib on my shirt and getting out my iPod – or at least, trying to get out my iPod.  I reached in the bag, grabbed my headphones…and that’s all that was there.  Doug got me this iPod for Christmas two years ago, as a present from Kona. The engraving on the back says “Let’s run! Love, Kona” and it’s very special to me.  I was so afraid I’d lost it and that stuck in the back of my head all morning.

(When the race was over and I got back to the car, I found my iPod in the trunk.  Such a relief.)

We got to the start about 1.5 hours before go time, so we sat under a tent in a field and watched it start to rain.  Sigh.  Then, finally, it was time to line up. 

The race started and I felt great.  Hooray for smaller races that aren’t so packed at the start!  It was a little crowded, but not like bigger races where it’s a constant struggle to find a clear spot for your next footfall.  A few nights ago I dreamt that I had run an awesome race and Doug had missed me at the finish because I came in so much earlier than he expected.  I held onto that dream and for the first few miles, anytime negative thoughts started to creep in I visualized wiping them out of my mind.  That worked for the first several miles.

Mile 1: 9:09 (perfect)
Mile 2: 8:39 (a little fast, but ok)
Mile 3: 8:43
Mile 4: 8:54 (woohoo feeling great and still under pace!)

Somewhere around here I thought I really should slow down, that running a positive split is never a good idea.  The thing is, I kind of think that I might be sabotaging myself in races, thinking that I can’t hold a pace when really I can.  I decided to stay with it.  At the very least, I was banking time to make my goal.

Mile 5: 8:57
Mile 6: 9:28 (extra walking to take my hammer gel here)
Mile 7: 9:05

By now it was starting to get hard but I thought I’d banked enough time that if I could just hang on in the low 9’s, I’d have it.  My left foot was starting to bother me and it felt like my middle toe was bleeding.  I stopped to walk for a minute, and I heard my friend K yell from behind me.  She caught up, and I started running again.  I told her I was glad she was there, that it was becoming mentally difficult, and she said we’d do it together.  But I couldn’t keep up, and I watched her slip away.  Then B caught me, and then she too slipped away.

Then…I crumbled.  Maybe it was the poor training.  Maybe it was the poor sleep the night before.  Maybe I went out too fast. Maybe it was all in my head.  Just before the 9-mile marker I passed my local running club’s tent and considered stopping.  Actually considered quitting with 4+ miles to go.  Mentally I was done and I just unraveled; I never picked myself up again.

Mile 8: 9:48
Mile 9: 10:00
Mile 10: 10:25
Mile 11: 10:06

At the 11 mile marker (1:43) I figured out that I could run fast enough to still make it under 2 hours – I’m physically capable of running 2.1 miles in 17 minutes.  It wasn’t there though.  I don’t know if it was mental or physical at that point.  I’d been light headed since early on in the race and had hoped gels would help, so I took a second one in the 11th mile – neither helped.  On the other hand, I had gotten so down on myself I was really ready to quit.  At the same time that I was figuring out I could still get my goal, I was considering walking the rest of the way. This was also where I realized that I could walk the remaining 2.1 miles and still finish way under my time for my first road half.

Mile 12: 10:55 (yeah.)
Mile 13.1: 10:50

Total: 2:05:05

There was no finishing kick.  I don’t know if I could have picked it up at the end – I do know I didn’t want to.  I watched my goal slip away, watched my PR slip away, and didn’t fight either.  When it all comes down to it, I didn’t want it badly enough. 

When we got back to the campsite and I finally changed, I discovered that my feet were hurting because I had blisters between my toes.  The usual blisters under the callous at my 1st metatarsal joint are there, as I could feel, but only 2 of my toes don’t have blisters somewhere else.  This makes me feel a little better, like there is at least a little bit of a physical reason for feeling so awful, but I can’t blame the whole race on blisters.

So, now I have to do what I didn’t do during that race and pick myself back up again.  Running feels very stale right now, it has for a while, and I have to figure out how to get back into it because I have a marathon coming up in October.  I’m going to build myself a plan that includes cross training (probably cycling) a couple days a week and hope that helps to keep things interesting.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Belated Kalamzoo Half Marathon Report

Short version:  Chip time 2:04:05, a nearly 5-minute PR, and one hell of a fun weekend!

Long version: This race was not on my schedule until a few weeks ago.  I had planned to go watch since so many people I wanted to see were running, but since my "goal race" for the spring is Memorial Day weekend, I was not planning to run a half three weeks before it.  Eventually I decided I didn't want to just watch and just about convinced myself to run the half.  Because of the craziness that is the end of the semester I couldn't commit for sure, but took note of the online registration deadline and decided to make up my mind by then.  The night before the deadline it looked like my grades would be done in time, and I signed up.

Grades were posted Friday afternoon and I took the rest of that day and Saturday morning to just chill and enjoy being done with the semester.  Then, I headed to K'zoo to celebrate!  E and her family were kind enough to host me.  When I got to their house (after spending 45 minutes literally sitting still on a freakin' interchange), we headed off to the expo, picked up our packets, and drove around the course a little.  We took note of two big hills and I commented that the first looked just like the overpass I run here - Sunday I remembered that hills always look smaller in cars.

Normally I sleep ok the night before races but Saturday night I didn't.  Chalk it up to semester-end stress, a strange place, and lots of cats.  At 4:20 I finally called it good and stumbled out to the kitchen to find E and her dad - her dad making coffee.  Hallelujah.  We all got ready and headed out to the race around 5:45.

Once at the race site E and I headed inside to find bathrooms. We waited too long to jump in line, I guess.  I left E somewhere near the 2:30 pacer and tried to get up between the 2:15 and 2:00 pacer but gave up when I wasn't even close to the 2:15.  Whatever.  The guy next to me was also trying to get to the 2:00 group and we decided it would be fun to pass a few hundred people in the first mile.  I quietly worried that it meant I would go out way too fast.

Finally the race started and we walked...and walked...toward the starting line.   Then, we were off!  The first mile was pretty flat, maybe a slight downhill and I probably did pass a few hundred people. The second mile featured a very nice downhill, which I tried to enjoy to the fullest while being careful not to stumble over people as the field was still pretty thick here.  Near the bottom of that hill I blew past the 2:15 pacer and started to worry that maybe I was getting a little ahead of myself.

Mile 1: 9:10 (hmmm.  That was nice)
Mile 2: 8:34  (uh oh.)
Mile 3: 9:00 (geez.  Slow the eff down already!)

Just before the 3 mile marker, I caught the 4:15 marathon pace group.  Their pacers started calling out mile times in the 9:30 range and when I saw the 9:00 on my watch, I decided to hang with them for a while.  I've never run a negative split in a half but I HAVE burned out in the last few miles, and I really didn't want to use all I had in the first few miles.  I'm absolutely horrible at maintaining a constant pace and I always get all swept up in the excitement.

Unfortunately, the half split off from the marathon around the 4-mile mark.

Mile 4: 9:07 (hmm.  Ok)
Mile 5: 9:19 (That's better)
Mile 6: 8:05 (shiiiiiiit)

Up through this point I was feeling really good.  I think it was somewhere during the 6th mile (when I was apparently running far too fast) that I decided to get out of my head and just run.  What if I really was capable of running that pace and was just holding myself back?

Mile 7: 9:29 (baby hill here)
Mile 8: 9:28 (hey, this is going ok!)

Around mile 8.5 we hit the first of the two big hills.  This is the one I thought was similar to my overpass. Let me tell you.  It was not.   It was steep.  And long.  And it sucked.

Mile 9: 10:35 (yeah)

By this point I had blisters on both feet.  I spent the majority of the 10th mile trying to decide if it would hurt more to run the rest in bare feet (never having run barefoot) or to continue running in my shoes.  Naturally, I stuck with my shoes.  It did hurt though.

Mile 10: 10:19 (sigh)

Around this point I finally did the math and realized that once again, I would not get the elusive 2-hour barrier (clearly - did you see those splits?) but I knew that I could still PR and had quite the time cushion with which to do it.

Mile 11: 9:56 (Hey!  That's a little better!)

The rest is kind of a blur.  Just after the 12-mile mark we turned a corner and climbed another big hill, which also sucked.  Not long after the top of that hill I could actually hear cheering from the finish - or at least I decided it was from the finish - and that helped me get through.  Much to my dismay we sort of ran around the block (I think) so we weren't quite as close as I thought, but whatever.  I clicked through my playlist to find a high-energy song to finish with and did my best to kick into the finish.  My pictures will probably be terrible - I had the side stitch from hell there at the end.  When I turned the corner into the final stretch I saw the time and felt a little pang - I'd gotten so close to that darn 2-hour mark!  But I did get the PR that I had no right to run, based on my piss-poor training this last semester, so I'm very happy with the day.

Miles 12-13.2: 21:00

Final (watch) time: 2:04:07
Chip time: 2:04:05

Good for an almost 5-min PR (old one was 2:08:58, set in October)

In closing, I have to recommend this race.  It was really well organized and it was clear that the town was really excited.  The half has been going on for a few years now (not sure how many) but this was the inaugural year for the marathon - people were clearly pumped.  There was great crowd support throughout - not constant, but frequent enough.  The course was well-marked, start and finish were well-organized, shuttles ran really well....all around it was just great!  We also had a fantastic weather day, which we've been starved for around here.

Next up, Bayshore Half Marathon on Saturday :)

Thanks for reading!