Monday, March 20, 2017

Aurora Health Care Two Rivers 10-Mile Run - Race Report

It was o'dark thirty when five of my bestest running friends converged on my house for the long drive to Two Rivers, Wisconsin, so that we could take part in the Two Rivers 10-Mile Run. I was excited to finally have a chance to do this race as it had been on my radar for some years but the timing had never worked out. This year, though, it seemed to fall into place perfectly on my running calendar and I was quick to take advantage of that.

After an uneventful but slightly groggy drive we landed at Two Rivers High School, where the event was being staged. A lovely venue for the race, there was plenty of room to hang out inside the building, a fair number of bathrooms, and the cafeteria was large enough to handle packet pickup and some last-minute clothing adjustments and bib pinnings without feeling like you were bumping elbows with the person next to you. In fact, the high school was probably large enough to accommodate a decent length warm-up run inside the building if one were so inclined. (Needless to say, I was not so inclined.)

We had perfect weather on the slate for yesterday's run: 30 degrees at the start, mostly cloudy, and only a whisper of a breeze. Lining up at the start I was already regretting my choice of attire, which included a pair of tights and a thin merino-wool long-sleeved top under a light shell. With the humidity in the 90-percent range (and me not liking cold, damp conditions), I dressed for being cold. As it turned out, I was indeed a bit overdressed, but nothing that made me absolutely miserable.

As the gun went off, five of our little group started out together. Our lone speedster had lined up a bit further ahead of us, which was as it should be. Starting out with the others, though, was great fun. It's nice to have people to talk to, or just listen to, to feel a sense of belonging. I run so many of my runs solo that being a part of a group is a rare treat, and something I've really come to look forward to.

As with runners everywhere, we started out a tad too fast. I don't think anyone in the group had a solid time goal of what we wanted to accomplish in this event, but fast is fast and you know it when you feel it.

The group I was running with usually does a 2:30/:30 run/walk, but yesterday they decided to run the first few miles through before going to the run/walk strategy. While I have always been a huge fan of the run/walk, since starting my running streak I've stuck more to pure running. The more I have run, the more efficient I have become and it really isn't as hard for me as it once was. Couple that with better overall recovery from running, and I have all but abandoned the run/walk. That's not to say I would never do it, because I would in a heartbeat if I thought it would help me on any given day, but for yesterday I just thought I would run with them until they started their intervals. Then I would continue on and just see how things felt since I was not running with a watch.

So the first few miles would have remained non-noteworthy, filled no doubt with some laughs and good conversation and a solid attempt to not go out too fast, if it had not been for that one person who joined our little group. Now, I am not one to complain about others, and mostly I adhere to the policy of if you have nothing nice to say, don't say it.  However, yesterday's encounter with the It's-All-About-Me Runner almost sent me over the edge. I won't go into details, but I am taking it as a personal lesson. If I decide in the future to join a group of strangers on a run, I'd better be prepared to ask some questions and find out something about them, instead of just talking about everything I've accomplished up to that point in my life. Whew! Anyway, by Mile 3, I had passed her and life moved on. Back to the race...

So, apparently I was a little confused as to where this race actually ran. If I had looked at the course map ahead of time, then I would have realized that the route did not run along Lake Michigan the entire way - like I had pictured in my head for the past few years. (Not sure why I thought that, other than the town of Manitowoc is about five miles south of Two Rivers along Lake Michigan and I had just assumed this race took us to Manitowoc and back. Duh.)

While we did see the lake for a brief spell around Mile 4, the rest of the time was spent wending our way along the country roads near Point Beach State Forest and Point Beach Ridges State Natural Area. Although different from what I had anticipated, the race really did not disappoint. Except for the first mile and a half or so, the entire course was pretty and fairly well protected with large pine trees all around. The "protected" part is important, because while we had fantastic weather, I suspect that is not always the case. I dunno, something about mid-March and Northeast Wisconsin has me thinking that anything might be possible weather-wise at this event.

Around Mile 3 or so, the run/walkers in my group started their thing, and I decided to try my luck continuing to run. One friend decided to run with me and see what happened, which turned out to be great. It was nice having someone to talk to, and I suspect I was a bit better at keeping up the pace with her there with me.

On the whole, I felt very good for much of the run. On a scale between conversational and gasping, my breathing stayed somewhere in between the whole time. There were water stations with water and Gatorade every two miles, and I just focused on getting from one to the next and not much else. I tried to keep my water station stops to a minimum, lingering just long enough to grab a drink, walk through the water station, thank the volunteers, and then keep going once I'd reached the garbage can at the end.

Around Mile 5 I noticed my legs starting to feel a bit heavy, but I put that down to the faster pace than I was used to. Although, in retrospect, maybe it had something to do with only drinking water up to that point. I am not sure. I did take a Gu at the Mile 6 water station, for what it was worth. I don't know if it helped or not, but I tried to convince myself that it did. The good news is that the heaviness didn't really impact my pace too much. I seemed able to keep on trucking.

Around Mile 7, I started feeling ready to be done. I don't know how much of that was physical or mental, because it was around that time that we passed by the turn towards the finish. Before making that turn, we apparently had to do a little mile-and-a-half or so out-and-back section. It's always disappointing, I find, when I have to go away from a finish line late in a race.

Soon after passing our would-be turn, we passed through what would eventually be the Mile 8 aid station. I didn't want to stop, though, until after reaching the turnaround on our out-and-back, when it would really be Mile 8. It's good to have something to look forward to.

Around this time, my running friend said she thought she would go to her run/walk interval, so I pressed ahead a bit thinking she was going to start taking her walk breaks. Over the next mile, though, I continued to hear her footsteps behind me and I grew dubious that she was actually ever walking, but I decided not to look back. At the turnaround, I saw that she was indeed right behind me, but I didn't question it too much at that point. I was too distracted by how heartened I was to see the annoying lady from the first few miles a short ways behind me (#sorrynotsorry) and surprised and happy at the same time to see my other friends not that far behind her. (Not Schadenfreude happy this time, but truly happy. There is a difference.)

By the time I got to the Mile 8 aid station, I was ready for some Gatorade and pleased to see it was purple - my favorite flavor. It was also around here that I concluded that I wasn't going to lose my other running friend, because she had decided she wasn't actually going to walk after all. As we fell into step to run together again, I was actually relieved. Running alone had felt a lot harder than it did with her there. The next mile and a half passed by relatively quickly.

Right around Mile 9, we had a bit of a hill to climb, one we had come down in the first couple miles of the race and one that neither of us could remember as being that significant on the way out. After the hill, I was definitely ready to be done, so when my running partner started picking up the pace with a half mile to go my brain said, "Hell yeah!" Sadly, my body said, "Whaaaaa!?" Although I tried valiantly to put on the speed, my legs didn't cooperate. They were done. I still ran in to the finish, but I ended up being a good 30 seconds behind my friend crossing the line.

That's okay, though, because finishing in 1:33:35, I was surprised to learn I was third place in my age group, something that I have seldom accomplished.

After the race, food was set up in the high school cafeteria for runners to enjoy. There was chili and ham and turkey Subway sandwiches. For us vegetarians, there were cut-up bagels, peanut butter, cream cheese, bananas, oranges, and chocolate chip cookies, as well as chocolate milk, water, and Gatorade. Awards were given out at around 10:05 a.m. (after an 8 a.m. start) with first place age group winners receiving a trophy and second and third place finishers getting medals. Massage therapists were also on hand to rub away any aches and pains.

So, some final thoughts on this event - and this day.

- This was a nice race. I think the folks putting on the event do a very nice job with it. It seems like it must attract a lot of faster runners, given the times I was hearing for the winners. But with the mostly flat course, that makes sense. 

- Weather-wise, we got lucky. There's nothing else to say about that. It's bound to happen sometimes.

- My average pace ended up being 9:21/mile. This is funny because the only other race I have done this year was a 5K in January where my average pace was 9:18/mile. Curious.

- Despite my friends doing their run/walk strategy from Mile 3 on, they finished only about two-and-a-half minutes behind me. Just another testament to the fact that the run/walk doesn't really compromise one's race performance.

- I really feel excited about racing again. It's been a while since I really felt this way. Running a bunch of longer distances last year - 50K and higher - I never felt like I was racing. I mean, I cannot "race" a 50K, I can only try to survive it. At least at this point. For the first time in a long time I feel I can actually try to strategize my approach to an event, test it out, and then see how it goes. That's kind of fun. Anyway, next up - a half marathon.

So, that's my race report. Today I meant to go out and run a mile and walk two, but then things felt pretty good actually and I ended up running a slow three miles. The weather is gorgeous, though, with sunny skies and temperatures in the high 40s. It was nice just to get out there and enjoy the day.

Happy running!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

It's Pi Day!

Today's run consisted of what I like to call a half-baked idea to celebrate National Pi Day - March 14.  With a couple of co-conspirators by way of running friends, the Slice O' Pi Run was born.

At 9:30 this morning, I met up with my friends Ann and Paul at a local Perkins restaurant. As Ann was shooting for π-squared, she already had 6.28 miles in by the time I arrived. Setting out at a jaunty pace, we covered a 3.14-mile course that was roughly shaped like a slice of pie.  I wouldn't say it was the best run for me. It was cold yet again with wind chills hovering around 0 degrees and sketchy footing from those who did not feel compelled to shovel after yesterday's snowfall. But, we did it, and once done we indulged in a real slice of pie and coffee at Perkins.

I can't say I remember the last time I actually ate at a Perkins, so this was kind of a novel thing for me. I ordered the Chocolate French Silk Pie, and it was definitely decadent. Ann and I were trying to figure out if this had fewer or more calories than the typical dark chocolate mocha we both have a tendency to order after group runs. While we didn't come up with a definitive answer on that one, my guess is the pie was a bit more caloric. Maybe I should have run π-squared, too.

Having Pi Day fall during this week was actually fairly fortuitous for me, as I had previously decided to dedicate my entire week to the noble three-mile run. Actually, I need a down week after several weeks running calendar's built-in weekly mileage tracker (in graph format) made me realize that.

Since I have yet to have a day in my now 111-day running streak where I dip below three miles, a down week for me looks like this:
3 3 3 3 3 3 3

So, you can see how 3.14 isn't much of a stretch.

There is one thing standing in the way of me having a 21-mile week this week, though, and that is my 10-mile event taking place this next Sunday. Since I log my miles from Monday to Sunday, 10 miles on Sunday means that I'll still have 28 miles for the week, even if every other day is a three-miler. Huh. So, I am playing with the idea of trying out a mini-taper. To accomplish that, leading into the race I would plan to run only two miles on Friday (perhaps then walking one mile) and running one mile on Saturday (perhaps walking two miles). Then at least I could claim I only ran 25 miles this week. I like this idea in principle, but I'm not sure yet if I'll follow through. One thing is clear, though, it is time to do a bit of a rest, so one way or another I'll work that in.

So, that's my homage to Pi Day ... a 3.14-mile run followed by a slice of pie. Oh, but then there is that one other thing. I felt so bad that my family might be left out of these Pi Day shenanigans that I went ahead and baked an apple pie.

Do you like how I made that all casual sounding? Yeah, this is probably the second or third pie I have ever baked in my life, so its creation came with much strewn flour, gnashing of teeth, and referencing of about six different websites. But, it got done. The best part was picking up my daughter from school and having her tell me all about how it was Pi Day and how it would be funny to bake a pie that had the pi symbol on it. Uh-huh. When we got home and I had her look at the finished product, her response was simply, "Great minds think alike." Yes, I guess they do.

Happy Pi Day!

Friday, March 10, 2017

A small celebration of 12 miles in the cold

So, as far as the weather was concerned, today's 12-mile run was exactly like last week's 12-mile run. Lucky me. After a week of mild albeit windy days, the temperature landed at about 15 degrees with a wind chill at about 3 degrees. Huh. Well, at least it wasn't below zero!

Setting out today, I fancied myself rather clever in my planning. Instead of running with the wind to my back for the first half only to circle around to a headwind for the last six miles like I did last week, today I decided it might be smarter to actually run into the wind on the way out and then have a tailwind on the way back. I know, sometimes I'm smart like that. As it turns out, even though the wind did skip around a bit on me, this was the better way to go. And, the bonus of running into the wind was that I knew within a couple of miles that I had dressed inappropriately for the weather.

How is that possible, you ask? After all, you might remind me, today's weather was just like last week's weather. Well, let me explain. Last week I was dressed all but perfectly for the weather conditions, with the lone exception of my arms when I headed into the wind. That tiny bit of corporal real estate had been a bit chilled. Being the aforementioned clever person that I am, this week I decided to adjust for that. So, I added arm warmers. Brilliant, right? Yes. But, then, because that seemed too easy, I proceeded to add a hoodie, another pair of gloves under the other gloves I had worn, and a vest. Apparently, I was under the impression that if something's worth doing, it's worth overdoing. Yeah, I was a bit warm. On a positive note, my arms were fine.

Anyway, in the end it felt good to get this run done. I had been skeptical of adding another 12-miler a week after my last one, but it worked out. To adjust for wind direction, I parked at a local library, ran six miles into the wind to a friend's house, and then we ran back to my car together. That second six miles passed by much more quickly than my first six miles. Maybe it was having someone to talk to - or maybe it was the wind at our backs. You can be the judge, but my money's on the conversation. In any event, I was happy to get back to my car and then reward myself with some coffee and a muffin from a conveniently located coffee shop a block from the library.  

Happy Friday!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Change is in the air

Today is the first day in my now 104-day running streak that I am actually disappointed after a run. I am not referring to being a little disappointed. I mean, I experienced that queasy, greasy feeling of deep disappointment in my gut, and I couldn't shake it for much of the day. I am sure there was no real need to feel that way, but I couldn't seem to help myself.

Throughout this experiment, I have had overwhelmingly good runs. Mostly, I put that down to a willingness to go slow when necessary, as well as knowing that if I do have a less-than-stellar day I only have to wait about 24 hours before getting a chance to redeem myself.

Today was different somehow and I don't know exactly why. I realize that I'm a bit tired from a couple of build-up weeks. In fact, thinking about it, I had something similar happen about a month ago. A week of simple three-milers snapped me out of that rut, so maybe that's what I need to be doing this week. The problem is that I really wanted this to be one more week of higher mileage - not more, just maintaining last week's mileage - before starting my slow descent towards my first half marathon race day in a few weeks.

In any event, when I got to the treadmill this morning, despite feeling awake and ready to do something, I just kind of locked up. Physically, my body wasn't too enthused, and mentally I was already upstairs drinking my coffee. I had checked out. If I had a bit more flexibility in my day - or, more accurately, if I were willing to be more flexible - I would have just gotten off the treadmill and determined to try again later. After all, 5:45 a.m. is a tough hour to commit to anything anyway. And, I've noticed that giving myself even 30 hours of recovery (versus 24 hours) can sometimes make a big difference.

But, that's not what I did. Instead, I started out at my easy run pace hoping that I might perk up. I started upping my pace each quarter mile, hoping to capture some of the magic I had experienced with this same workout just the week before. Didn't happen. My body and mind were just not buying it.

So, after completing my one mile of running (technically what would be required to continue a running streak), I dropped my pace and raised the incline until I ended up at a doable 3.2 mph walk at 12-percent incline.  And that was hard. Both physically and mentally.

Having started walking, I decided to just fill in the rest of my normal easy pace run time with that walk, and by the time I was done I was dripping sweat and my breathing was definitely showing me I had a workout in. (And then, seeing as I was at 2.7 miles, of course I felt compelled to run out the remainder of my typical three miles. Maybe I am a bit OCD after all.)

So, really....that's not a bad workout. I KNOW that. But, while I did technically move for three miles, I am somehow disappointed with myself that half of that was spent walking. Even if it was at a hefty incline. And even if incline walking was something that was in my original training plan way back when anyhow.

So, what's the deal? Why the disappointment, when really if it were anyone else I would be applauding their adaptability and reminding them that with big hill-hiking type trail runs in the not-so-distant future incline walking on the treadmill should be part of the routine anyway.

What am I afraid of?

The answer is inconsistency. Because as crazy as this streak running sounds, there has been a kind of magic wrapped around the whole thing. I have not been plagued by injuries, and the few niggling issues I have had have dissipated within a day or two of cropping up. I have been in a happier place mentally for doing this daily exercise as well. And, doing the same things day in and day out, there has been no decision-making. No question of what I am doing, which also means no question of what I am not doing.

Being inconsistent, even to such a small degree, feels a lot like gently touching my big toe to a very slippery slope, one that could lead to somewhere I don't want to be. After all, it wasn't too long ago that I would intend to take one day off from running only to have it morph into two days off ... or three ... or five. I felt like I was constantly starting over, whereas now I feel I am finally in a place where I am building off of something, and I don't want to lose that.

Hmm, I wonder if that means that I have completed a successful base building phase of training. I have never done that before, so I am not exactly sure what that would feel like. However, if I had to guess, I would think it would be exactly that - feeling like I had gotten to a place from which I could build and do more.

Well, then maybe it's time to reconsider what running looks like for me. Maybe today's nod towards inconsistency isn't meant to launch me down that slippery slope after all. In fact, maybe it just means I am ready for something more, ready to change things up a bit and start some more specified race training. Interesting. All of the sudden, things don't look so disappointing after all.

Monday, February 27, 2017

When the answer is always "run more," what's the question?

On Thanksgiving Day 2016, I started a 39-day challenge for myself. I wanted to see if I could run three miles a day every day until January 1, 2017. Why? Mostly because I was burned out from training for and running long distance events. I liked the idea of having an excuse to run short, and somehow running every day made those short distances more I wasn't really throwing the towel in on running, just making it challenging in a different way. Also, as someone who always seems to have major injury cycles with my run training, I just wanted to try something different, something I decided to run more.

On the surface, this whole idea seemed ludicrous, and I was fairly certain I would put myself out of commission soon enough with such shenanigans. However, on the other hand, there was enough affirmation from others who had tried this (and even my chiropractor and PT person) that I had this niggling suspicion in the back of my mind that this may not be as crazy of an idea as it sounded.

So, I tried it. And succeeded. Although the first couple of weeks were a bit rough (after all, just because my mind was made up didn't mean my body was convinced), I persevered and managed to hobble through the rocky patches - those first couple of weeks when my body really balked at the continued assault. After about two and a half weeks, though, I somehow found my swing. Suddenly, running wasn't foreign. My physical self stopped fighting back and seemed to accept that this is how we do things now. It got on board with the challenge. After that, although there were days that were harder than others - maybe I was tired, or just wasn't feeling it - my body performed up to expectations, and I got through the challenge.

Then it was over. As the weeks ticked by, I started counting down until January 2, the day I thought for sure would be my first rest day in six and a half weeks. I couldn't wait to get there so I could take some time off, make some training plans, and get back to reality. Funny thing is, as January 2 got closer and closer, I seemed a bit at a loss. I found that the idea of NOT running come January 2 just seemed wrong. It appears I had created a habit for myself, no less important to me than brushing my teeth in the morning. When I consulted with a friend, who was the inspiration for this challenge having done something similar years before (and who continues to run most days), the answer was RUN MORE. Huh. Okay. So, I continued. And continued. And continued.

To this day, I have run 96 days in a row, covering no less than three miles a day. (I say "covering" because there have been a few days where I took a few walk breaks here and there.) I have not missed a day. In fact, when the time came to start building a training plan for my first half marathon coming up, I opted to start building a training program around the daily runs. At this point, I have one day a week where I run five miles, my long run day is now officially up to ten miles, and one day a week I make sure to run a very hilly three-mile course. Those are my "workout" days. The rest of the week, my "rest" days consist of slow three-milers, usually on the treadmill.

I suppose some people would call my three-milers now junk miles, and maybe they are. Maybe I would be better served taking a true rest day, or cross training. But, the thing is - and I'm knocking on wood here - I feel better than I have in a long time. So, what's going on? For someone who could barely run three days in a row, I don't know as I understand how this all works either. My guess is that physically my body "gets" running now. Literally, through building of muscle memory, the actual "running" has become the least of my issues. My body knows what to do. Now, on any given day, I may be tired, or my breathing may be off, but as for my legs - they can run.

And, I think the consistency of running every day is right for me. Through all my cycles of tendon injury, one thing always seemed clear: my tendons tighten up with inactivity. I have to remain a moving target to stay healthy. Run more.

Mentally, I love the freedom of running every day. Yes, the FREEDOM. Running only three or four times a week and having that ability to juggle when I ran, THAT was stressful. There was a lot of thought that went into running. Do I run today or tomorrow. Run long today or not. When do I fit in my runs this week. Running every day, all that is gone. Do I run today? The answer is yes. Do I run tomorrow? The answer is yes. How about four days from now? Do I run then? The answer is yes. At some point, I stopped asking the question, because I already knew the answer. The less thought that went into it, the lower the stress levels.

And, I shouldn't forget the stress of NOT running. The most fundamental answer I can give to someone who might say I'm running a lot of junk miles is that running makes me happy. And I don't mean in some kind of "yay, I got it done way," I mean in a physical endorphins-released, actual measurable-rise-in-contentment way. And, if running makes me happy, shouldn't I run every day? Don't I want to be happy every day? Naturally, the answer is yes.

So, at this point, I am still running daily. I keep wondering if this day or that will be the day it ends, as it seems clear that it probably will have to end at some point. It's still hard for me to believe that this is going so well. That other shoe has to drop sometime, right? Well, maybe. But, in the meantime, I'm going to try to keep moving. Because, if the question is "what makes you happy?" and the answer is "running," then why wouldn't I want to do more of it?