Thursday, October 29, 2009

Thursday Thoughts: Goals, Or Lack Thereof

This is it, folks. Three days until the 2009 New York City Marathon. I leave tomorrow morning (I'm leeeavin'...on a jet plane...dunno when I'll be back again...actually, that's not true, I'll be back in Michigan on Monday evening).

After 18 weeks of training and hundreds of miles of road under my feet, what are my goals for this, my third marathon?

1. Have fun
2. Have fun
3. Have fun!

That's it. Seriously. I put down "3:55" as my projected finish time when I registered. I'll aim for 4:00 or so, but if I miss it, I won't be upset. This time it's all about relaxing and enjoying the moment. I am thinking of this race as a really long run with 42,000 friends.

At Detroit in 2008 I was a ball of nerves, frightened, clueless, and anxious. It was my very first marathon and I had no idea what to expect. At Cleveland in May of this year I had set such a lofty goal for myself (BQ OR ELSE!) that I was focused to the point of obsession on reaching it and I couldn't let myself enjoy the race.

This time,'s totally different. I know what it feels like to run 26.2 miles, so I'm not scared of the distance. I know I will be able to run the entire way. I already qualified for (and was accepted into) the Boston Marathon, so I don't need to freak out about my splits. I'm excited, of course, but I'm primarily very...calm.

I'm taking my camera, my iPhone, and my sense of adventure. I'm going to walk through the water stops, visit the port-a-potty as many times as I need to, find my friends in the crowd, wear my name on my shirt so people yell at me. I want to high-five little kids, take pictures of everything, boogie to the music. I am going to have the BEST RUN EVER.

According to those In The Know, my spot in the Blue bib corrals means I will be on the upper deck of the bridge after the start, and therefore I will avoid being pissed on, unlike the unlucky bastards in the Green corrals who have to run on the lower level of the bridge. This is good. Being sprinkled with other people's whiz is not how I want to start my day.

If anyone is really, really interested in following my progress on race day, there are two ways you can do it. One is to sign up for Athlete Alert, which will deliver my 5K splits to an email address. Additionally, you can also use the Race Day Tracker, which allows you to look at splits on the NYC Marathon web site the day of the race. My bib number is 24783.

I would like to tell y'all a funny story about a long run I had last month. I went out for 18 miles one overcast Saturday morning. I decided to run 9 miles out and back from my house. It was a pleasantly cool day and the first blushes of fall color were beginning to appear on the trees. I was rolling along at about a 9:00/mile pace when I passed a couple of guys who were digging a post hole on the side of the road with an auger. I waved to them and the little kid who was with them for no reason other than I was feeling fine and frisky at mile 4.5 of my run.

I meandered through the countryside, reached the 9-mile point, and turned around. Around mile 13.5 I saw the post-hole-diggers again, who had managed to install a mailbox while I was gone. It had been nearly an hour and a half since I passed them the first time. When I went by they were staring at me with disbelief. I could tell one of them was saying something, so I yanked my iPod earbuds out of my ears and said, "Pardon me?"

"Were you running...THE WHOLE TIME...since we saw you before?"

I chuckled and said, "Yes, I was...well, I'm training for a marathon, and today is my long run day. I'm doing 18 today."

The two men exchanged looks and then one of them said, "I just...can't...I can't even begin to imagine. Well, training for a marathon, I guess that's what you gotta do..."

I laughed again and said, "Yes, it sure is. Fortunately, I love it. I'm at 13.5 and I've got 4.5 more to go!" I waved again, jammed my headphones back in, and moseyed off down the road.

I'll never forget the way that guy said "THE WHOLE TIME." It was priceless.

Edited to add: I still have to pack...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Just Another Day in the Underbrush

Sunday I spent a portion of the afternoon knee deep in mud, wading through water, and crashing through the woods. Oh, and I was also liberally dusted with flour. You want to see people give you strange looks, run past someone raking their lawn and be covered in mud, a strange grayish hue because of all the flour on your black clothes, and you're running at about a 7:15/mile pace. "Weird" doesn't begin to describe the way people were looking at me as I bolted through the quiet suburban neighborhood...

What on earth was I doing? Hashing, of course. I volunteered to be a co-hare at only my third hash, and Sunday I found myself in one of the 'burbs northwest of Detroit in my old shoes and stealth bomber outfit (to be less conspicuous in the woods, of course). I had brought with me 24 bottles of Michigan's finest microbrews (Bell's Best Brown Ale, Arcadia Nut Brown Ale, Dark Horse Crooked Tree IPA, and Founder's Pale Ale, all of which were intended to be an antidote to the cans of Bud, Coors, Miller High Life and Labatt Blue...seriously, folks, did you think I of all people would do anything less?) and six pounds of flour.

Once everyone seemed to have shown up at the starting point, my two co-hares and I took off, laying trail as we went. I did whatever I was told, tossing flour about liberally, sprinting to catch up, shoving past branches and vines, and eventually landing on my hands and knees in a swamp.

I was having the best time.

Eventually we were able to take a breather at the first beer check, having confused the pack enough that we had almost 10 minutes to chill in the middle of a field before they arrived. After merriment and mass consumption of cheap beer, we three hares left to lay the second half of the trail. Somewhere along the way I ended up wading through a mucky creek which wet me from the crotch down (but my iPhone stayed safe and dry in my jacket pocket). Eventually it was over and I had run/walked/waded/backtracked/staggered about 5.5 miles, but who's keeping track? The only things I cared about were 1) we didn't get caught on trail and 2) I didn't hurt myself, so NYC is still a go!

Then the real fun began as everyone dug into a huge pile of pizza and the rest of the beer. Every last one of the bottles I brought was consumed. I didn't have a single one to bring home with me, which is probably just as well, considering the marathon is in a mere five days.

I still have dirt under my toenails.

My shoes aren't fashionably black...that's just mud.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Autumn Splendor

Saturday I hit the roads of the Waterloo Recreation Area for my 20-mile run. I left my house for this ten-mile out-and-back around 9:45 AM. The temperature was about 30 degrees F and the sun was shining in a cobalt sky. It was a perfect day for a run. I had my CamelBak full of water strapped to my waist, my iPhone, a bunch of packets of Gu for mid-run refueling, and my iPod cued to my "Obsessions of the Moment" playlist. (Yes, I carry a whole mess o' shit with me when I go for my long runs.)

Around mile 9 I paused for a moment, completely overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of the scenery through which I was passing. I took a picture looking one way down the road and then the other.

This is why I run, folks. Look at this. Just look!

I absolutely love running on this road. It's so lightly traveled that most of the time it's like having my own private trail. The scenery, no matter the season, is beyond compare. One just does not truly appreciate one's surroundings until one takes the time to move slowly through them on foot. I experience so many things I would otherwise completely miss if I were in a vehicle. It's so rewarding.

I believe I would not be stretching the truth when I say my 20-miler Saturday was the most pleasant 20-miler I have ever done. I finished the run at an 8:55/mile pace, which is not the fastest I've ever done a 20-mile run, but I felt so energetic throughout the whole thing, maintained a constant pace, felt completely relaxed and happy, and just enjoyed the hell out of every mile.

NYC is 11 days away. I am SO READY.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Oh People. People, People, People...

114th Boston Marathon

Dear Sun Runner,

This is to notify you that your entry into the 114th Boston Marathon on Monday, April 19, 2010 has been accepted, provided that the information you submitted is accurate.

You can verify your acceptance into the field by searching the 114th Boston Marathon "Entrants" database on the B.A.A. web site, Additionally, an acceptance postcard will be mailed to you via US Postal Service mail.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Wild Life Half Marathon: Trail Blazing

Freezing my little buns & boobies off in the parking lot before the race. It was 29 degrees this morning, people! You see the frost on the grass behind me?

This morning I ran a race which exceeded all of my expectations. At one point I felt as if I were having an out-of-body experience. It was that awesome.

First off, let's get the details out of the way: I set a new personal record by running a 1:43:01, which killed my previous PR, set in April at the Martian Half, by 4:01.

People. Never, ever, ever, EVER would I have thought I would be capable of running a sub-8:00 average pace for thirteen miles.

In early September I wrote this in an email to my running buddy TC:
"I registered to run a local half marathon on October 11. My goal is to at least improve on my PR from April (1:47:02) with a really improbable goal of 1:45:59 or better. An 8:05 pace for sub-1:46 vs. 8:09 to beat my PR...totally doable. Or even more wildly speculative, could I maintain an 8:00 avg and run a sub-1:45 (1:44:48 to be exact) half??? Will I be capable of that in six weeks? Who knows. I'm going to try, though. The course is flat as a pancake, a converted railroad to paved trail thing. One long straight shot, balls to the wall. Should be gorgeous, too, mid-October in Michigan with the leaves aflame in fall colors."
That goal was in serious jeopardy recently because my recurring hamstring injury flared up again a couple of weeks ago during track work with the RF501 gang. One minute I was pounding out a 1:35 400m interval...and the next I was hobbling dejectedly around the track trying to pretend this was. not. happening. again. Since then my hamstring has been much on my mind, dogging me every step of the way on every run I have undertaken. As recently as last Wednesday I was able to run only 2 miles in a row. I downgraded my goal for today's half marathon to "just run and have a good time." The weather forecast was decent, the race would be small, the scenery amenable...what's not to like? Just get out and run.

And run I did. Two days of inactivity did wonders for my hamstring. A pair of compression tights, wrapped snugly around my troublesome thigh, did the rest. I knew the potential for a great race was in me during the first mile. By mile 2 it was undeniable. I found that coveted groove, my fifth gear where I feel as if I could run forever and not shed a bead of sweat.

I was running east into the rising sun (ha) for the first half of the race, and several times, when the sunlight blinded me and I could barely see, I felt as if my legs were disconnected from the rest of my body. They turned over of their own accord, driving forward, pistonlike, and the rest of me was being carried along for the ride. I felt as if I were floating, literally skimming over the ground. It was a most peculiar yet exhilarating feeling. The miles flicked past so quickly, before I even knew it I had reached the turnaround point and was on my way back. I had kept up a blistering pace for so long, I knew at some point I was going to begin to feel fatigued, and around mile 9 it washed over me. My whole bearing changed: my torso angled forward, my chin raised up, my arms crept higher and barely moved, my breathing quickened. I was tiring and I knew it, but I also knew I had run a spectacular race thus far and I had it in me to finish strongly. At mile 10 I peeked at Garmy and saw I was at 1:19. I did a quick calculation and knew that with only 5K left, a PR was definitely in the bag. At the pace I was running, I would cruise through that 5K in under 24 minutes. 1:19 plus 24 minutes equals...1:43.

Holy crap. I was on pace to not only crush my PR, crush my "improbable goal" of sub-1:46, but crush my "wildly speculative" goal of sub-1:45. I just had to stay cool, stay relaxed, stay confident. I forced myself to concentrate on my posture and breathing as the final miles ticked off. Soon enough I passed mile 13, and with only one mile to go, I kicked it into an even higher gear. I passed the posts marking the end of the trail and knew I had only about a half mile to go. I reached deep inside, scraped up some final vestige of energy and let it flow through my muscles. When I pressed Garmy's stop button at the finish line and looked down, I only saw "1:42" on the display. I started laughing. 1:42 WHAT? I quickly found the screen which informed me I had run a 1:42:55, which I realized (sadly) would translate to something a few seconds slower for my official time in this non-chip-timed race. Indeed, my gun time ended up being 1:43:01.

This was the kind of race where one can walk up to the race director and ask "Hey, are there race results yet?" and then read them oneself from sheets which have been freshly printed and handed to one by said race director.

I love tiny races.

Anyway, my official time was 1:43:01, which I immediately zeroed in on as a complete FAILURE, because IF ONLY I had run TWO SECONDS FASTER somewhere on the course I could have gone sub-1:43...all I could think about was my highly annoying 50:00 10K PR from 2008 which twisted around in the back of my head for a year until I finally killed it in May. This is going to be that PR. I am going to obsess over it until I can kill it, and I have already decided where it will be: at next April's Martian Half Marathon. You're on notice, 1:43:01. You're going DOWN!

Never mind that 1:43:01 bested my previous PR by 4 minutes and 1 second and my hamstring didn't bother me at all and I ran one of the best races of my life and I finished third in my age group and 24th overall. No. 1:43:01, people. Two lousy stinking seconds away from 1:42:59. TWO LOUSY SECONDS!



The nitty gritty breakdown:

8:17, 8:04, 7:53, 7:50, 7:50, 7:46, 7:48, 7:48, 7:57, 7:55, 7:45, 7:44, 7:40 & 0.1 at a 6:57 pace.

Final stats: 1:43:01, 7:51/mile avg, 3/10 age group.

I ran today's race as part of the Worldwide Festival of Races global endeavor. I was proud to be part of this informal gathering of runners from all around the world.

I have to give totally mad props to FK, who ran with me every single step of the way in this half marathon. We were side by side, elbow to elbow, the whole way. If it weren't for him I doubt I would have done as well as I did. He pulled me along and kept me going. He's also way smarter than me because while I ripped open my Gu packets and choked their half-frozen contents down immediately, he warmed his up in his hand for a while before eating them.

Also, a huge HUGE HUUUGGEEE shout out to my peeps who ran the Chicago Marathon today: Spike, Morgan, Cowboy Hazel, and Coach Ted from the Chelsea/Dexter RF501 gang.

Final high note: Saturday when I drove out to Concord to pick up my race packet I went there directly from viewing the live broadcast of Tosca at the movie theater in Ann Arbor, and I sang opera the entire way to Concord and back to my house, a trip of approximately 90 miles, and I wasn't in danger of being pulled over for Speeding While Singing Opera Arias because...HELLO CRUISE CONTROL.

Even when I flung out the most perfect string of high Cs and Ds I've ever done (the final run from "Ach ich liebte") and I realized I was straining all of my legs muscles and gripping the steering wheel so hard my knuckles were white, I was motoring along at a sedate 72 MPH (in a 70 MPH zone).

Three weeks to NYC, people!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Running Coast to Coast

I'm bicoastal, yo. If one considers the Straits of Mackinac to be a coast, that is. And why not, I say! They don't call them the Great Lakes for nothing!

Representing the West Coast: I dug up these pictures of me running the Race Thru The Redwoods 10K in California on August 16. I can't believe that was over six weeks ago...sigh. I was hit by a wave of post-vacation melancholy today which completely and unexpectedly flattened me. I haven't wallowed in nostalgic funk for several weeks and for a brief period I allowed myself to do so this afternoon. It was painful.

Quit looking at the woman who's taking off her shirt OR the woman who's about to take off her shirt, you perverts! And NO, I'm not talking about myself. The sports bra-only look is one I have not yet attempted.

I saw the photographer and actually smiled for this one even though my arm felt as if it was on fire from the hornet sting.

And the finish. Don't forget to stop Garmy! Following this race I drove down the coast a ways and parked myself on the sand for five hours, hoping against hope that the sun would break through the fog and provide me with some much-needed beach-baking-in-a-bikini time. I got about 20 minutes of quality sun and that was all, unfortunately. (Side note: Doesn't my leg look awesome in this picture?!)

And for the East (Midwest?) Coast: more pictures from the Mackinac Bridge Run on Labor Day.

Right at the start. Checking Garmy.

On the bridge with one of my fellow Fitness Ambassadors. I have my "serious face" on.

I'm smiling! Running is fun! Note to EN and TK: can you tell what socks I'm wearing? :)

Side note: the latter two pictures came from RunMichigan's photo page, where they have high-quality digital images available for an extremely low price. My two photos were $4.00 each. I cannot stress enough how fabulous I think this is. We know all too well the exorbitant prices most photographers charge for digital pictures. I REFUSE to pay $50 or what-the-fuck-ever for one goddamn digital picture. Hello, people, you would make a lot more money if you offered digital pictures for a reasonable price like RUN MICHIGAN, because I'm going to give THEM my money and NOT YOU. YOU LOSE! LOSERS!

So there. Run Michigan, YOU ROCK MY WORLD. I will continue to pay for your lovely pictures as long as you offer them at the current totally awesome and wallet-and-runner-friendly price of $4.00.

On another note...this afternoon I came home, threw on some running clothes, and got myself out the door before my brain could organize a protest. Today was a day made for running and it would have been a crime not to embrace it. It was an absolutely beautiful fall day: about 58 degrees and sunny. I had 5 tempo miles on the schedule and I decided no excuses, I was going to do my best to reach that goal.

7:55, 7:48, 8:10, 7:49, 7:47, and a cool-down mile at 8:32. The 8:10 came on the hilly part of my chosen route and I just couldn't sustain a sub-8:00 pace. The whole thing came in at 8:00/mile, which met my goal for the run. I felt amazing throughout and it bolstered my confidence a great deal. I have a half marathon race on October 11 at which I would love to PR but I've been feeling rather sluggish lately and my hopes have dwindled. Today's run told me that, yeah, these old legs still have some life left in them after all...

After I got home I roasted a chicken, potatoes, and some Brussels sprouts for dinner and I found myself eating the crispy, salty skin off the steaming, carved-up bird before I even sat down with my plate; it was that good. And I was so thrilled about the Brussels sprouts, y'all have no idea. When I saw the giant bin full of them at my CSA farm at pick-up on Tuesday I literally yelled "OH MY GOD BRUSSELS SPROUTS!" Thank god there wasn't anyone else around. If anyone had ever told me a few years ago I would become this excited about Brussels sprouts...well. I think "laugh my ass off" would have been an understatement. Snort. I now believe that olive oil, salt, pepper, and the dry heat of an oven can turn anything into a gastronomic delight.