Sunday, January 29, 2012

Racing in the Now

~photo by Kelly West, Austin American Statesman~

To put it simply, I feel like this race removed a huge monkey off my back. I raced the 3M Half Marathon here in Austin, notoriously known as a 'fast half' but my past experiences (2007 & 2008) only recall a very painful half that ate me up and spit me out by mile 10. It is a gradual downhill race, point to point, so a net loss in elevation, but they actually threw a few ups into the course this year for good measure. Personally, I much prefer this to all flat or too much down as it just pounds your legs to a pulp. I have run countless 1:17-1:18 half marathons, and a few of those were off the bike no less. While my overall 'time goal' deeply seeded in my head was fairly fast, I just wanted to firmly break through that 1:17 barrier that seemed to haunt me for the past few years.

I viewed this race as a good way to start my (early) season, try to see what I could do for a half marathon, and gain some good fitness. I also wanted to just shake out the nerves a bit. With Panama 70.3 in just 2 weeks, it's a rather high-profile race, and while this is not 'small', it is small(er) scale and simply by virtue of it being a running race vs. triathlon, I feel like I can carry a bit less pressure into it. That said, I did give myself 2 very light days of training so that my legs would feel a little snappy on race day. I have plenty of time to slog through 4-5 hr bike rides this season, so I spared myself of this the Saturday before race day. Just a nice swim, a few plays with the dog and a few hours spent watching a movie, lounging on the couch. I have to say, it was a rather pleasant way to spend a Saturday! Somewhat like a "normal" person! Another nice thing about racing, it allows us to REST a bit...a novel concept!

My plan was to try to keep the pace between 5:40s and 5:50s, nothing too much more ambitious, at least the first 6 miles. I started off with a woman who I have immense respect for, Chris Kimbrough, one of the best masters runners in the country. Chris and I rolled through 3 miles in about 5:40 pace at which point she said "woah" and I took note. A little fast, but not too far out of the range and I was feeling good, so I tried to dial back slightly but still roll with it. There was a woman up ahead a bit, but I wanted to race my race today...not worry about placing, unless a win presented itself. That said, she was like a little carrot up ahead which kept me wanting to run a bit faster.

I was able to move into the lead by about mile 6 or 7, and I simply tried to hold my pace. I was looking at my watch but just as a gauge, trying not to get too wrapped up in each mile split precisely. When I hit mile 7, the mental game kicked in a bit. I told myself, "Only 6 miles. You've done 6 miles of tempo within your long runs the past 3 weeks, on tired legs, this is nothing. Keep it rolling." It really helps to try to keep your race in perspective, especially when it gets tough. I took it one mile at a time, and I came through 8, then 9, and finally 10, when I told myself "Just a 5k. You've done tons of these the past few months. You love 5k's".
(self-fulfilling prophecy here!)

I also peeked at my watch and saw something like 57:05 at this point. Quick math told me that a 20 min 5k would give me a 1:17, and an 18 min 5k would give me 1:15. Those both sounded very doable. I then thought "Hell, maybe I can run a 1:13-high?"

And this is where the mental game became even tougher. There is a point in a race when, it's not so much how badly it hurts or turning off the pain, but on the flip side, you're having a great day; better than expected; maybe what you had hoped as 'best case scenario' is actually happening. It's really easy in this situation to get ahead of yourself, get excited, see some stellar finish and suddenly the body begins to tie up. I've had it happen many times. So I forced myself to pull away from that vision, back to the moment, and said "Keep on pace. It's not over 'til it's over. One mile at a time. 3 strong miles. Control right now." I had to keep myself IN THE MOMENT and this is something I have learned can be so tough to do; it is essentially not letting your emotions take over, but focusing on the here and now.

Thankfully, the miles came along and the body held up. 11, finally 12, and YES as I love to say "The Final Mile!" Here, you lay it out. It's all you have left in the tank. Unfortunately, they gave us a short uphill to lay it out on... however given all the downs, I was alright with this. It was time to grit my teeth and just go!

The finish was a welcome sight, and it is hard to describe how ecstatic I was to see that a 1:14 would happen...I pushed forward, and let myself enjoy it. Pumped my fists a bit, smiled on the outside but smiled even bigger inside.

~photo by Kelly West, Austin American Statesman~

Unfortunately I didn't have Derick to share it with, as he was off in South Carolina playing "Good Uncle" to his new niece Avery...and I was playing "Bad Runner Aunt"! But the end result was luckily worth the missed trip, and I'll hopefully make up for it by working a visit into my Rev 3 Knoxville trip.

I am extremely happy with the result, but I also know that it's a long season and this is just the start. I know that nothing comes easy in sport, so I'll take this, savor it, hold my head high and be proud of the result, but also re-focus for the next one in just 2 weeks. Short of making it sound like I don't enjoy the moment (as I feel I am pretty good at that!), I believe that past results can propel us forward but we still have to MAKE things happen in the future. Seems these days everyone is getting faster. I'm just doing my best to keep up!

A huge thanks to my amazing sponsors: Memorial Hermann, Zoot Sports, PowerBar, Quintana Roo, Recovery Pump, Reynolds, Katalyst Multisport, Jack & Adams, Road ID, Vision, ISM, Durata Training, Oakley, Giro, Hill Country Running, Advanced Rehab, and Go with the Flo Acupuncture. It's a great way to start off 2012 and I look forward to what the year holds.

Thanks so much for stopping by. And if you raced 3M, congrats, and take your recovery from this one as serious as you took your race. It's a doozy on the legs!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The 5K Off-Season

Everyone seems to have their own take on the 'right' way to approach the off-season. If you ask 3 different people, you'll no doubt get 3 different answers. I have been racing since 2002 so seeing that it's now 2012, that is a lot of off-seasons I've been through. I like to approach it similar to how I approach nutrition. Listen to your body, be smart, have a conscience, and everything in moderation even moderation itself. Which leads me to my next point, I am not terribly good at sitting around on my ass for 2 weeks and literally doing NO training. I just cannot do it. I am too antsy, and I do this stuff because I really love it. I'll get moody and irritable and not nice to be around, just ask my husband! I have always enjoyed 4-6 weeks of doing something most days, not too much, but whatever my body tells me that it needs on the day. That is often a bit of a sleep in, a light swim of a maximal of 2-3k, and if there is a second workout it is something along the lines of a 1-hr trainer spin (accompanied by the Real Housewives or Patty the Matchmaker or something else intellectually stimulating), or a 30-40 min run. I may also head to the gym a bit for some core strength stuff. I don't go too crazy with drinking beer or wine or eating 'bad for you foods' (which I don't really believe in anyway) because those are things that I never deprive myself of, even in heavy training cycles. But, I may enjoy a 2nd one knowing that the alarm will not sound at 5AM.

When this past December rolled around, I was about 1-2 weeks out from having done my last of three Ironmans in 2011. That is a pretty hefty year for me, but I also dialed back racing in general from August on. The only racing I did in September, October and November was Ironman Hawaii and Ironman 70.3's (my first love). I felt good and ready for Ironman Arizona, but I was also fully ready to enjoy some downtime. In short, I was ready for the off-season but did not feel like I had totally buried myself.

I have always loved doing 5k's when triathlon training is not bogging down my weekends. They are cheap, they're over before you know it and you can throw yourself deep into the hurt locker knowing that even if you hit a wall, the end is not far off. It's a different crowd (all runners, some young kids who always jockey for the starting line position, many people who dress up, and those amazing 70-80 year olds). Given that I took a week entirely off (well, mostly entirely off) after Arizona and did very little the 2nd week, I was feeling antsy to jump into the Austin 5K scene for the month of December. Thus began my Off Season 5K Quest. (As a side note, I really wanted to go sub-17 but by a hefty margin, on really no training specifically for a 5k!)

The first one was the good old Jingle Bell 5k up at The Domain. I of course dragged Derick into this quest, which he went along with begrudgingly. We awoke Sunday morning December 4 to the sound of cold rain. Yes, you could tell it was cold by the sound. We headed up there and jogged around a bit in the cold rain with all the other crazies and off we went. Santa started us. I was in a sports bra and shorts, but one guy was even crazier than I, in just shorts. The course is nice and fairly fast with few turns. I managed a 17:12 in this one, and Derick managed a win as well, and we walked away with $200 in Rudy's BBQ gift cards. Well worth the early wake up and the cold rainy run, especially since we enjoyed a big breakfast for all of our effort at Galaxy Cafe and hot coffee post-race. Total running time that day was maybe 45 minutes at most. We'll let you all know when we have a BBQ catered party with a keg of beer.

Next up was the following weekend, December 10, the St. Judes Jingle Bell 5k in New Braunfels. Again, it was cold yet dry for this one but seemingly colder and windier. There was a huge turnout and I was ready to attack it, it was a sub-17 day! There was a clock at the start, counting down to race start time, and for some reason with about 2 minutes to go suddenly we heard a gun. So, we went. Like a flock of sheep, we ran out oddly enough in the direction opposite the cones. Seemed strange to me, but I went with it. After about 100 meters, we hit a dead end and all turned 'right'. After another maybe 300 meters, a truck turned around so we all did too. At this point I was laughing at the absurdity of it but of course thinking "Damnit! So much for my PR!" Then, I figured what the hey... just run hard. Out we went, down the road, through the neighborhood, and back to the finish. I clocked a middle mile, just for the hell of it, and saw a 5:20. Well, if that's correct, that's good! Finished up at 17:09 on this one, not sure if it was accurate or not, but...a little faster. Again total run time maybe 40 minutes today. It was cold, and the car was very warm. (As a side note, the Badass Award went to the man who pushed his walker the entire 5k!)

Final chance was the Reindeer 5k on December 18, which was also the day we'd start our drive to Indiana. What better way to kick off 17 hours in the car than with a 5k? Derick bought into it! This one was at Camp Mabry, and upon warming up, seemed to be a bit hilly. It was a smallish race, but it seemed fairly well organized. I spoke with a guy at the start who was pushing his son which he had done at the Austin Marathon twice, running a 3:15-3:20 both times. I also met a guy post-race who had lost his leg 5 years prior in a cycling accident; he ran with a prosthetic an incredible 18:15 today, and he looked so smooth running. Very inspiring. The gun sounded and off we went, out and around Camp Mabry. Derick was running this with two high school kids he coaches and Derick being Mr. Controlled at the start of every race was trying to get them to start out no faster than 5:20-5:30 pace. I was just ahead of them and came through Mile 1 at about a 5:32 or so. Eek, gotta go. I immediately picked it up and encountered a few hills the next 1.5 miles. The finish put us onto a dirt path which was kind of fun for a change, and I saw 16:05 or 16:10 when I hit the 3 mile mark. Oooh! That's good! I tried to drop all I had in me the final .1 and crossed in 16:45, YESSSS!! That's what I was going for!! Victory. :) The morning was made even more perfect when we hit Taco Deli before the drive started and not only got tacos and coffee for us but of course bacon for the dog. One big happy clan in the family truckster as we drove North.

So, what's the point of this blog? Really not a lot, but I do think there is a good message here. For me, 'the 5k off-season' is something I look forward to. It's nothing I have ever done on purpose, but I look back and realize that often in December, I find myself often hopping into these things. IF it is something that SOUNDS FUN to you (that is of utmost importance during your down time!), I think it's a great thing to do as a compliment to all of the long, grinding training we do all year round. It is over quickly, it's a nice change of pace and environment, and it fulfills your need to 'still do something' without needing to run too long. It definitely prevents me from doing too much at this time of year. And to top it all off, I believe that they can make you a much faster runner. The kind of pain you can put yourself into in a 5k is very different from that of any triathlon. I have wondered a few times if it's a problem that I like 5k's this much and I am training for a 9-hour event, but...for simplicity sake...let's just not go there.

Thanks for stopping by. Now go sign yourself up for a 5k this weekend, just for the hell of it, and embrace the pain! It is over before you know it!