Like a virgin

Like a virgin

I’m nervous. Nervous like I’ve never raced before. Like I’ve never run a half. Like I’ve never raced in a new city. Like I’ve never raced without friends.

I’m always edgy and anxious before race day, especially out of town races. I’m anxious about getting there, getting there on time, packing the right gear, getting to packet pick-up, getting enough rest (never happens; I don’t sleep before a scheduled early morning run or race), waking up on time, fueling, finding the start line, using the port-a-potty, warming up,  staying warm, starting on-time, finding my family after the finish line, getting cold, cooling off, stretching, getting back to the hotel, recovery. It’s a litany.

I’m particularly nervous this time. I’m doing a back-to-back 5K and Half at the Gulf Coast Marathon Weekend and I haven’t run more than 6.2 miles since breaking my foot in August. My hips and knees are achy from muscle weakness and being off-balance for 12 weeks.  I did as much walking and strength training as I could and got back in the pool as soon as I was cleared, but there’s no substitute for actual time on your feet.  What I could do just wasn’t enough.

My pace is a full 2 minutes slower than my PR back in the spring.   I know this because I have raced three 5Ks and one 8K since August. I walked two of them, the Rise Up & Run/Walk like MADD 5K in September and the Atlanta 5K in October. I ran the Esprit de She 5K early in November; the very evening after getting the all-clear to run. I was so amped to be cleared to run that I may have over-done it a bit. Hello achy knees. Last week, I ran the Turkey Day 8K in Spartanburg, South Carolina. I am so glad they reversed the course this year so the hills weren’t as punishing. I did better than I expected because of that course change. I even found a little oomph to get across the uphill finish before the clock ticked over another minute.

I should be feeling more confident.

I’m not. I’m a anxious mess. I just don’t have the running fitness at the moment. So, new strategy and new goal: timed intervals and finish without being swept.

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Stumbling toward the finish

Stumbling toward the finish

Falling on the trail is not a matter of if; it’s when. My when happened much sooner into my trail running journey than I expected.  I remembered to roll, so I only bruised my ego, encrusted dirt all over the spout of my hand held bottle, and scratched up my elbow a tiny bit. Later, I discovered a nice sized bruise on my hip to go with that scratch. Sorry, you don’t get to see that. It’s a wry irony of being being delicate in a less than delicate sport.

The day after my ugly 5K age group win at Run for the Bridge, I hit the trails for 15 miles. Aside from falling, stumbling repeatedly, seriously considering bagging the whole endeavor after 10 miles,  I ended up walking 3/4 of the last loop.  I severely underestimated how much I overextended myself the day before. And my GPS watch died about a third of the way into the 12th mile. I made it back to civilization just in time to collapse on the pavilion bench before washing myself down at the bike wash and heading home. It was another warm day.

That tumble convinced me that I need both hands free to better balance myself out there.  I nabbed a Nathan Intensity hydration pack for less than $50 from Running Warehouse. I’ve wore it on dog walks to get used to it before racing in it. Time constraints moved my training runs to the dreadmill that week. I took the vest out for a real test two weeks ago at the Dirty Spokes Harbins Park 13.1 trail race.

I loved the Harbins 13.1! I haven’t run that slow since my first half marathon, but that was it an enjoyable race. The course used the shared mountain bike/foot trail, the hiking trail, and the shared horse/foot trail, so there was variety in the terrain.  Dirty Spokes did a marked the course well with flags and barriers; although, during the last mile or so along the trail, I had a little anxiety because the trail itself was covered with pine needles. I finally came upon the 2nd/3rd aid station again, so I knew I was still on the right trail. The bike and hiking trails posed the trickiest footing with lots of “snakes” and inclines/declines. The horse trail was nice and smooth. It’s a popular trail with riders, so there’s usually soft sandy areas that have been torn up by hooves. We all got a nice break to pick up some speed along the fire road/maintenance path.

I stumbled twice and slid onto my butt once when I heard another runner behind me and tried to get out of the way.  I really liked having the pack instead of a belt and handheld hydration. It was so much easier to stay hydrated and get to my fuel. The sound of the sloshing water was rhythmic and comforting. The only problem I had was the inside of my left arm rubbed against the small zippered pocket. It didn’t rub enough to cause a hot spot; just annoyance. I may be able to adjust the straps more to reduce or eliminate that problem. My water stayed nice and cold throughout the run (not so with my hand held bottle even though it’s insulated) and kept my back cool.  My Altras did their job – I had absolutely no foot pain or toe problems during the race.

When I finally made it to the finish I was surprised with a beer glass! The race description had not mentioned a beer glass, so that was very cool. Finishers also received a car sticker (Jellybean attempted to eat mine. Bad dog).  Even though I finished during the awards, there was plenty of bananas, water, granola bars, and other snacks on hand.  Packet pick up included the t-shirt (quality shirt), Clif bars, and Clif Bloks, which came in handy. I stuffed a few more in my pack at the aid stations.

I could  have pushed myself more  for a better time, but I took it easy.  I admit, I was still feeling a bit sore from the previous week’s fall and a nasty charlie horse after one of my cross-training swims earlier in the week.  I enjoyed being able to relax and appreciate the trail. Best of all, I discovered, I can fly!

Dirty Spokes made this a must-repeat race. I’m looking forward to another Dirty Spokes race!

Cussin’ the Whole Way (or been there, done that)

Cussin’ the Whole Way (or been there, done that)

 

I ran the Run the Reagan Half for the first, and likely last, time. The race is the only time the Ronald Reagan Parkway, which runs east to west, connecting three cities, is shut down, making this a fairly popular race for that novelty. It was a small race with approximately 800 total runners and walkers. The Half Marathon was only 148 deep but with some stiff competition because it is chip-timed and certified.  There were plenty of water stations and two port-a-potties along the course. Each mile and the turn-arounds for the 5K, 10K, and half were clearly marked.

In past years, the race was held over the Presidents Day/Valentine’s Day weekend. This year, the race was moved to April, which was both good and bad;  good because it was most definitely warmer than years past and bad because it was most definitely warmer than years past. Regardless of the temperature, there is always a brisk headwind and tailwind with cross-winds on the overpasses.

This year, going out, we had a tailwind, which made it almost too warm on the four-lane black top. I was seriously regretting my wardrobe choice until we hit the turn around point.  The headwind was instantly cooling although the sun was warm and bright. Yay, for that. Except, you combine the 15+ mph headwinds with the loooooong rolling and graded roads, and suddenly the second half of the course is much more challenging.   My form started failing making the uphill and slanting roadway more difficult.  That’s when I started muttering colorfully and swearing off Run the Reagan in the future.

I clearly need distractions and sights to keep my mind from wandering into the negative talk zone.

If you’re running fast enough, you don’t miss the lack of on-course entertainment and cheering sections because there isn’t much to look at – just trees along the set-back, hiding the subdivisions. Going across the two overpasses, the usual suburban businesses are visible.   There were a few cycling groups taking advantage of the closed roadway and a few people who had walked up from their neighborhoods (or drove as close as possible then walked on to the parkway).  I wish some of the people from the neighborhoods who ventured onto the parkway had been there to cheer.

If you’re one of those people out there cheering on runner/ walkers with silly signs (way to go, random stranger!), high-fives, power-ups, cowbells, a guitar and amp playing, a kind word,  – anything – you are more than appreciated. You are making a difference to some runner who is about to give up. The 5K race started two hours after the Half start, so we middle of the pack runners, saw the 5K runners approaching their half-way point, so we exchanged encouragement across the median.

At the end, they had plenty of cold water, bananas, and apples.  There was a small after-party/community event with vendor and sponsor tables and bouncy houses for the kids.    The Half Marathon finishers received a medal and all the runners and walkers received tech shirts. Personally,  I would have liked the shirt to have the race distances on them (possibly even a different shirt for the half marathon runners) and for the volunteers to have a different shirt. It was hard to identify the volunteers from the runners.

The overall winner came in at 1:28:10 with the second place runner just 2 seconds behind him, so it’s not an impossible course. There were awards for overall, division, and age group winners in each distance.  A number of the women from the local MRTT chapter placed, including over-all Female Grand Masters for the Half and 5K. I ran an average time for me – not my best and not my worst.  Regardless, I got it done and was happy to finish.

This isn’t a race, I’d eagerly sign-up for again, especially considering the number of other more enticing and less expensive races around.  I will consider volunteering for a cheer section along the half marathon route, though.