Sunday, August 17, 2014

Madison Mini-Marathon and arbitrary numbers

Yesterday I laced up for the Madison Mini-Marathon.  I'm not very good at tapering.  Really, there is no tapering that exists for me.  I get to the long run and then just stop running any distance over 5 miles.  It's more of a drop off.  I try to help this by doing my long run only about 2 weeks out from the race, but how much it actually helps is debatable.

After the 10 mile long run on a Sunday two weeks ago, I've only ran a 5k race, two 4 mile runs, and then a 6 mile run this past Wednesday.  I kept up with the yoga and did some biking, but made myself do no exercise whatsoever on Friday.

Yesterday morning, I got up and got on the scale and clocked in at my heaviest.  Ugh, I thought.  Recently, I've been thinking some about this number on the scale and my difficulty in letting it go.  I've gotten better at not dwelling on the number, but I still have to mentally justify that number each time I step on the scale.  Even though I feel healthy and fit, I still struggle with just letting the scale be what it is. 

Race starts at 7am, and I was supposed to meet Barry at 6am at his place to ride downtown together.  I set the alarm for 5:15, and slowly rolled out of bed.  I spent a good 10 minutes dousing myself in sunscreen, trying my best to reach my back without any help.  After digging around for running clothes, I made a cup of tea and only had about half of it before I went out the door with a granola bar in hand.  At 6:02, I was in my car on Barry's driveway.  Barry was running later than me, so I munched on my granola bar and sipped water to make sure I was well hydrated.  We got downtown about 6:25am and parked at a metered spot, deciding to risk a ticket.  Thankfully, it was easy to find a parking spot downtown despite how close it was to race start.

I don't own a running watch.  People ask sometimes how do I know how fast I'm going.  I tell that that I usually just listen to my body.  I aim to push in training and my body tells me when it's too much.  So when I formulate race strategies, it's more of a mental game and throughout the race, it's a constant loop in my head of "remember the miles to go".  For this race, I debated starting with the 2:00 group or the 2:10 group.  Since I was in Corral G, only the 2:10 pacers were in my corral, so I decided to start a bit behind them and to aim to chase down the 2:00 pacers.  Barry had plans of dropping out of the race or to walk for large chunks of the second half.  I wasn't sure what he was going to do, but I knew that running with him is always a bad idea for me.  He's like the watch that I don't need when I want to stay tuned in to how my body is feeling.  I resolve to ignore where he is when the gun goes off.

The race starts and my legs feel fatigued already, but I catch up to the 2:00 pacers pretty quickly.  At this point, I know I'm running sub-9:00 min miles to have caught up to 2:00 pacers about 2 miles in.  But I'm feeling good despite a nagging fatigue in my legs, so I maintain pace and run with the 2:00 group for a while.  I get a little bit ahead of them in anticipation of the water stops, but somewhere around mile 4, I'm feeling really good and I get pretty far ahead of the 2:00 group.  I know they're behind me, but I'm not sure where.  I walk through every water stop.  At this point, I'm resolving to not let the 2:00 group pass me until mile 8.  We get to mile 8, and my pace has slowed.  I know the distance between me and the 2:00 group is shortening when I hear spectators cheer the 2:00 pacers just as we exit the Arboretum.

Right before mile 9 marker is Cemetery Hill.  This was a daunting, daunting hill.  We went up at a sharp incline, leveled for a bit, and then went up some more.  A lot, a lot of people around me were walking at this point and I aim to just make it up the hill.  The hill took a lot out of me and not too long after, the 2:00 pacers pass me.  I keep them in sight though, and slowly recover enough to catch up to them again.  By mile 11, when we turned onto Lakeshore Path, I'm shadowing the 2:00 pacers, and there is hardly anyone around them.  Either everyone's found their legs and managing to stay well ahead of them, or they're lost the 2:00 group.  I know I've got a little bit of a cushion having started behind the 2:00 pacers, but I have no idea how much.  Knowing I'm near the end and almost done keeps my speed up.  When we get to the Memorial Union, I hear the pacers say to each other how they try to tell those in their group to hurry up ahead of them to guarantee a sub-2:00.  I wasn't expecting to have any speed left in me, but when we round that final corner, I catch up to and pass the 2:00 pacers.  I hear them say they've got 40 seconds to cross the finish and make sub-2:00 and they are right on target with their time.  The finish is downhill and I sped down that faster than I had imagined possible at that point.  I felt good despite the blister that I knew had formed around mile 10. 

1:58:47 was my final time.  Sub-2:00 was a PR that I've been chasing for about 2 years now.  I'm happy to have gotten there, but the thrill of achieving a PR is not what it used to be.  I noticed this after the Full Moon 5k.  It was a great PR, but it was mostly just another race.  We attach more importance to reaching a sub-2:00 time, but the difference between a 1:59 and a 2:02 is the same as 2:02 and 2:05.  It's just the difference between a good race day and a bad race day.  Ultimately, I'm still just a 2:00 half marathoner.  

But numbers are useful for lines in the sand and setting a goal.  I'd like to run sub-2:00's consistently and see times closer to a 1:55.  

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Two 5k's and extolling the benefits of yoga

This would be my third season of running.  It's been a little over two years since my very first race in April of 2012 at Black Earth.  I've actually raced a lot less this year.  A year ago, by the beginning of August, I had already ran 12 races.  This year, only 3.

It was hard to find local, affordable, yet chipped races in Southern California.  But here in Madison, there are an abundance of them.  Knowing a couple of regular runners and racers in Madison certainly makes a difference in the number of races I enter.  It's the social knowledge of which races are worth entering and which ones are not.

Running of the Swiss 5k
After the LA Marathon in the beginning of March, I've significantly reduced the number of miles.  I've kept running, but rather than running hard and pushing for longer and longer distances, I've just gotten on the treadmill with the goal of enjoying my run.  I hovered at about 3-6 miles maybe twice a week for a couple of months.  When I got back to Madison late May, I had plans to get back into the swing of races, and I thought the Running of the Swiss 5k in New Glarus would be perfect.

I wasn't expecting to set any records, but I wasn't quite expecting how difficult a time I would have with this race.  The lush greenness of Wisconsin was not treating my throat and lungs well.  About a mile in, those floating particles of pollen had found their way into my throat and into a cough that forced me to stop and walk.  About 2 minutes later, I started jogging again, keeping it nice and light so I wouldn't be breathing too hard.

In the end I finished 28:35.  I was ecstatic.  I was hoping for a 28:35 but I had given up any hope of that once I started walking.  I kind of couldn't believe that I managed that even with walking for 2 minutes in the middle there.

Following this race, I signed for a couple of races for the fall.  I thought there would be a few more races I'd run, but the next race was the Movin' Shoes 5k that happened last night.

Movin' Shoes Full Moon 5k
I ran this race last year, and it is definitely my favorite 5k despite the hill at the end.  It's a chipped finish, small field, gorgeous views of Monona Bay and the Capitol on the course, and friendly, friendly people.  There's also a pretty nice prize raffle at the end.

Though my running had still been very spotty throughout June and July (at best 12 miles/week), I started ramping up the miles in the last week or so because of the half marathon next Saturday.  I did 10 miles this past Sunday and it felt good.  Throughout June and July, I had gone on some bike rides and been doing A LOT of yoga.  I knew that the 5k should be under 30 minutes, but nearly all of my running had been on the treadmill and every runner warns about how non-equivalent the two are.  Moreover, I'm currently carrying about 5 lbs more than I was last year.

Last night, I set a PR by over a minute with a 25:18.  That's an 8:09/mile pace which I'm ecstatic about.  I like to measure my running by comparing with what I was capable of doing when I was 15.  At 15, I couldn't go sub-8:00 on one mile for the life of me.  The first mile of my 5k last night was 7:50, 16:02 at mile 2.  So much for trying to not go out too fast.   

This leads me to speculate.  I've ran less all year than I have last year and I'm 5lbs heavier than I was last year.  I shouldn't be setting 5k PRs.  The only thing that I can point to that I've really done differently is more biking and A LOT more yoga.

I started a regular yoga practice last summer, and pretty quickly I noticed the benefits.  Yoga was keeping me strong even if my mileage wasn't quite up to par.  Less miles logged in training, but setting a PR nonetheless at Quad Cities Half Marathon.  What took me a bit longer to notice was that yoga got rid of my hip pain.  My hips had started bothering me after some long runs, especially if I didn't sleep in the exact right way after.  These days, I don't feel it anymore.

It's not yoga specifically that helps with my running, but I believe instead the strength training and the stretching.  I may be carrying more weight, but I'd like to think that the extra weight is due to muscle gain.    

I'm still expecting a 2:10 half marathon next Saturday.  One thing I learned at Quad Cities last year is that while strength training may keep my muscles moving to the end, it doesn't help with the cardiovascular training I need to keep the same pace past mile 10.  

Monday, March 31, 2014

A sort of biking adventure

I've reduced my running significantly after the LA marathon.  Nothing over 6 miles.  My LA marathon partner Anita has gotten into biking and so after a failed previous attempt to go biking, we made solid plans to go yesterday.  We loaded up our bikes, sunscreened and headed out for a path that picked up in Culver City and would drop us out onto the beach path. 

It was a gorgeous, gorgeous day and I was looking forward to getting 10-15 miles of biking in.  A short ride since I hadn't biked in a while.  Unfortunately, we hadn't gone more than 500 feet when I heard a loud POP! - the unmistakable sound of a tire popping.  Though I had thought of bringing a tire repair kid with me that morning, I did not.  I had often gone riding in Madison without one and I had never gotten a flat.  I thought I'd be fine.  Thankfully, between the two of us, we had all the tools and knowledge to fix a flat.  I had a tire pump and Anita had not only a tire repair kit but also a spare tube.  She had never fixed a flat before, and I at least knew how to do it and had removed the tire from my bike before.

So I turned my bike upside down, removed the tire, put in the new tube, pumped it back up and were in the middle of putting things away when POP! - again, the tire was flat.  We were baffled.  We hadn't even put the tire back on the trail yet.  I undid the tire once more, examined the tube and saw that it was a different kind of hole.  The hole looked like the tube had been pinched but I had checked and double checked that it wasn't pinched between the tire and the rim.  I told Anita that I would try to fix it again, and if it popped once more then I think we should call it a day.  We took out the patch kit and I patched up my tube.  I put it back in and in the middle of pumping the tire back up, I noticed that the tube was peeking out of an apparently giant gash in the tire.  The pressure as we pumped it pinched the tube and led to the second popping.  Of course, I forgot to check the actual tire itself.  So we packed it up and hiked a trail nearby and had lunch. 

Giant gash in my tire.
Afterward, I learned of "the dollar bill" trick, where you stick a dollar bill where the gash in the tire is to prevent the tube from pushing out and getting pinched.  It's not ideal, but when you're miles from home, it can temporarily provide a way to limp home.  Now I've got to make sure to carry cash and a tire repair kit with me the next time I ride.

I noticed a couple of things while attempting to repair the tire on the side of the trail.  One is that people were very willing to help us.  Nearly everybody who passed by no matter if they were bikers or runners would ask whether we needed any help.  We politely turned them down each time, but it was nice to know that we could've easily found help had we needed it.

The other thing I noticed was how impressed people were that I knew how to fix a flat on my bike.  I always thought that everybody who rode their bike knew how to fix a tire or rode with somebody who did.  I mean, I was nervous to ride long by myself when I didn't know how to fix a tire.  We got a lot of offers of help but also a lot of people commenting on how impressed they were that we seem to know how to fix the situation because they would've been stuck themselves. 

I only know because I took the WAAM class in Madison.  Even though the problem wasn't something that I could actually fix on the road, it's nice to know that the next time I run into a flat, I know how to keep going. 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

2013 Race Favorites

I meant to write this around the New Years since it seemed a fitting way to recap 2013.  But alas, here we are in March.

I set a few PRs in 2013.  Some by default, and some by training. I set a half marathon PR in March, and then set a new half marathon PR six months later in September.  I set a 10k PR as part of a 50k relay, along with a 5k PR.  These were by effort.  That is, these are instances of measurable improvement.  In comparison, I also set a 1 mile PR and a marathon PR by default since they were the first of these races that I've ran.

There were a few races in 2013 that were quite memorable and enjoyable for me.  Of course, because experiences are biased by default, you should take my pick of favorites with a grain of salt.  Had the weather been different that day, had I better trained, etc, I might have picked a different set of favorites.

In the category of half marathons, the Quad Cities half marathon is my favorite of 2013 for the unique experience of running across a suspension bridge, a very scenic course, cheap race entry and the ease of logistics.  The Get Lucky half marathon comes in second for its awesome swag and ease of logistics.  There aren't too many races where you can easily find parking just a five minute walk away when it's 50 minutes before the start.  Third is a toss-up between Fort Atkinson and Madison Mini-Marathon.  The Madison Mini drops a bit because of the course change that sends you up some not fun hills at mile 10, which also makes the last bit not as interesting.  However, the beginning of the race is still quite lovely as it hits all the highlights of Madison.  Fort Atkinson, on the other hand, has a quaint small town feel.  I love that the field of runners is so small and the race entry is so cheap.  I also particularly enjoy the AYCE pancake breakfast at the end and its flat course.  Last, of course, is the Haunted Hustle.  That one, I'm never doing again.

I only ran one marathon in 2013, and even if I were in the vicinity, I don't know that I'd do again in 2014.  I still remember the hills of Cincy, but I also remember the very well organized race.  I suspect it's one that I'll come back to in the future, just not immediately.

I ran three 5ks in 2013.  My favorite is definitely the Full Moon 5k.  I mean yes, I did PR so that may be why I think of it as fondly as I do, but I also remember the amazing view of the Capitol building at night as we rounded Monona Bay.  The glittering reflection of the Madison skyline in the water is mesmerizing.  I'd run it again just for that.  Neither the Arboretum Sprint nor the Valentine's 5k made a strong impression on me.  Those are take it or leave it for me.  The same goes for Syttende Mai and Crazy Legs.

The last 2013 race that I'm sad to be missing in 2014 is the Mad City 50/100k.  This is also a small race, but I enjoy it for the opportunity to run my favorite path in Madison, as well as the chance to run among runners of all speeds.  In most other races, I'm corralled or grouped with other runners of relatively the same speed as me, but in this event, I get passed by the faster elite runners AND I get to see the slower runners steadily plodding along, and both of them inspiring me to keep pushing for my best.  I also really like watching each of the relay teams support their teammates and the general camaraderie as we wait for our own teammates to finish. 

I have yet to make plans for 2014 races mostly because I'm not all that certain where I'll be for the second half of the year, but I'm looking at some of the races mentioned above if I happen to be in Madison.