Monday, October 24, 2016

A Tale of Two Races, 2016 Edition

It's done! My two half marathons this month, 7 days apart, are DONE.

They were SO DIFFERENT it's really quite laughable. Now, I knew I was only pushing myself for one of them, the City to the Sea on October 9, and I was going to hold back on the second run, Nutrabolt Oktoberfest on October 16, and finish it about 5 minutes slower. That was the plan, anyhow.

For City to the Sea, the weather was perfect! It had been unusually dry leading up to the race, with morning temps in the 50s. I was thrilled because I knew the only thing that would hold back my pace was my own legs and not my lungs. It all worked out perfectly, as I finished in 2:02:39. Not the ultimate stretch goal of under 2 hours, but I am very happy with how I strategized and executed and I'll take a 2:02!

For Oktoberfest, the weather could not have been more miserable. Practically 100% humidity, with an atrocious 75 dew point, and temps in the 70s. Your basic Texas summer morning....only it's the middle of October now. In the back of my head I knew even trying to run my marathon pace of 9:40-9:45 was NOT going to be "holding back" for me, but rather my new ultimate stretch goal for this race. At about mile 6 I knew there was no way I was going to see anything even remotely close to it, although I did manage to hit the pace for the first half of the race, but that was HARD. Anyway, long story short, I finished in my second slowest road half time of 2:16:30. Truly atrocious morning.

But let's go back to the awesomeness of the City to the Sea Half Marathon. Can I just say how much I absolutely love to race in my hometown of San Luis Obispo? I was (mostly) all smiles before the race, hanging out in downtown, totally excited (and nervous) about running through town, through the canyon, and then to the beach. It's a great little college town and a beautiful place to run.

My nerves were off and on. I REALLY wanted a good race. I knew breaking two hours would be tough, but I also knew that if I kept my head in the game I could possibly do it. I was also worried about the hills in the second half. The first half of the race is a gradual decline, with pretty much all the 500 feet of elevation gain coming in the second half. I was hoping to capitalize on the good downhills in the second half if the uphills slowed me down too much. I figured I had nothing to lose, however, and my strategy was to run as well as I could for as long as I could, and when and if I couldn't any longer, I'd suck it up as best as I could.

The start line on Higuera Street in downtown San Luis Obispo

I started off the race at my usual half marathon racing pace, and moved into the 9:00-9:10 pace within the first three miles. It wasn't particularly easy, but it actually wasn't very difficult either. I wore my heart rate monitor and checked my heart rate occasionally, which told me I was doing just fine. One of the great things about this race is that we ran on the same road for the first five miles. No turns, therefore no need to try to run tight tangents. I wasn't picking up any extra mileage like one normally would on a race course with lots of turns. The miles were clicking off nicely and I was through the first half in about an hour. If I could maintain that pace and pick it up in that last mile, I'd squeak in under one hour. At worst, I'd be a minute or two over. Can you say THRILLED?!?! My race was going great and I felt great.

BUT I knew about those hills coming up...and sure enough, as soon as we turned onto San Luis Bay Drive halfway through the race, the first hill taunted us. It was a doozy.

San Luis Bay Drive, mile 7

Surprisingly, however, I ran mile 7 in 9:17. Not bad, but off pace. I sped up on the downhills in the next mile, and Mile 8 came in at 9:14 and Mile 9 back down under 9:10. I was at 9:12 pace overall through 9 miles. The canyon miles were no joke, and now I needed to be faster to break 2 hours, as I had picked up about 15 second of extra distance in the last few miles, in addition to the extra time I picked up in those two slower miles. I knew I was getting tired at this point. I could run the pace, but the hills were taking their toll on my legs. Needing to run sub-9 from here on out was going to definitely start to hurt.

Good grief

And then there was Mile 10. The entire mile is uphill. I wouldn't say that I threw in the towel right here, but this is when I decided that trying to push myself harder just wasn't going to happen. It was also right about here that we could finally see the ocean. So that's when I said, 'okay, I've proved my point. I can run a good pace again, and I have more sub-2's in my future.' It was time to enjoy myself, so I backed way off going up this hill. It was so much slower, that I ran it in 9:55. I sped up in those last few rolling miles, running between 9:20 and 9:35. Seeing that ocean was totally worth giving up a couple minutes on my race time. You couldn't wipe that smile off my face if you tried.

I crossed the finish line in 2:02:39. I had kept pace for about 9 miles, and had it not been for the hills, I would have probably broken 2 hours. This is so huge for me right now. I felt like I had broken through a physical and mental barrier. My IT band was achy for most of the run, but I never felt real pain from it. Perhaps it would have been more painful had I pushed it on those hills, so I'm glad I held back. My average heart rate average for the race was only 153, lower than I expected, and that's a very good sign of things to come.

Why yes, I did grow up here

So...onto the following weekend. The Nutrabolt Oktoberfest Half Marathon in College Station, my "marathon race pace" half marathon. Except that the weather was probably the worst that I've raced in for an endurance event. Coupled with racing just seven days before and a travel week, and I knew in the back of my head, this wasn't going to go so well, but I could still give it a shot.

I decided to run as even paced of a race as I could. Of course my Garmin lost it's signal in the first mile and I actually have no idea how fast I ran that mile. But based off the mile markers on the course, I think within the first three miles I was at 9:35 pace overall. Too fast, but at that point I thought maybe I could hold it for most of the race. I intentionally backed off after mile 3 and then the wheels pretty much started to fall off.

Mile 6 felt harder than the previous miles, even though it barely came in at under 10 minute pace. At this point I looked at my heart rate and it registered a 165. That's WAY too high for an "easy" pace for me, especially considering how in control I was in the previous week's race. I was struggling to keep my lungs working and my heart rate down, and my legs were feeling like lead.

This wasn't worth it. I crossed the timing mat at the 10K in 1:00:15, a 9:40 pace, and at the halfway mark, I walked. My heart rate needed to come down or I'd throw myself into a massive asthma attack.

So for the next 6.5 miles, I ran 5-7 minutes (I couldn't get the running under 10 minute pace) and walked a minute or two. Did I mention they found every single hill in College Station for this route? They felt like mountains (they weren't really bad). The sun came out. Everyone was walking portions of the race. Nobody was really very happy. All the happy people were done at this point. The rest of us wanted to be put out of our misery.

This weather was REALLY REALLY bad. This race was REALLY REALLY ugly.

About 11 miles in, I was so frustrated that I thought of bailing on the whole thing. But then I remembered that we got to finish in Kyle Field and that I'd get a beer stein and a medal with a beer opener on it. Time to suck it up and finish, no matter how ugly.

After what felt like a day and a half, we could see Kyle Field in the distance and I sped up to a blazing 10:15 pace (for real, this was the fastest I think I could run at this point).

That stupid clock said 2:16:30 when I crossed the finish line. I hate that clock.

With Tony and Barb, my badass GTT teammates 

Officially this was my second slowest road half marathon out of 17. I ran one trail half that was slower, and one road half that was slower. And 15 that were faster. Damn.

However, considering how great it felt the week before, I'm not letting it get me down. Especially since on Monday I came down with a doozy of an illness. It's entirely possible I was actually sick during this race, which would mean that of course I felt as horrible as I did....I had pretty much everything going against me.

Did I mention my friend Tony ran this race 19 minutes faster and he's 14 years older than me? Butthead.

The bright spot....I realized 11 miles in that I hadn't felt my IT band AT ALL during this race. I had actually forgotten all together that I was even injured. That's a pretty big win right there. Rehab is the bomb.

Two half marathons in 7 days are done. I have 12 weeks until the Louisiana Marathon and despite, the mediocrity of the Oktoberfest Half, I'm feeling pretty great going into the hardest part of marathon training. I have a great training plan laid out, I have some pretty kickass training buddies (side note: my friend Jeff ran 10 miles with me this past Saturday, just 6 days after the half and coming off an icky sick week, and I ran 9:35 pace overall. Guess what? The weather was great...imagine that), and I'm being a good girl with my physical therapy.

Baton Rouge better be ready for me. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Race Week is Here

If you had asked a month ago what my ultimate goal was for the City to the Sea Half Marathon on October 9, I would have said "sub-2."

I've run a few sub-2 hour half marathons, but most have been in the 2:00-2:05 range. There was a time when a race under 2 hours was a given, and I never wanted to see another 2+ hour half.

Ha! Funny.

If you asked me yesterday what my goal was, it would be "please don't let me embarrass myself."

All summer I've been using the weather as my excuse for feeling so horribly slow. However, the last few weeks have really forced another issue to come to the forefront and that is my right leg. It's just not cooperating! My gluteus medius muscles are apparently weak, and my right psoas muscle is very tight. My right IT Band is pretty locked up, and the outside of my knee is where the pain has manifested. I am a pretty good girl about foam rolling and trigger point, but I have to admit I haven't been really great overall with my consistency.

I couldn't ignore this problem any longer and knew I just needed someone to work on it and guide me through some rehab without actually having to stop running. We all know I'm not going to stop running.

Enter Airrosti. I've known about them for a long time. Heck, they even came to my house in January for an Injury Rehab Clinic...oh, the irony there, I know. Since they accept my insurance I got on their schedule. I have appointments every 3 days until my race this weekend, and then I will see them again next week.

My leg is HURTING. It's very sensitive to the touch because there is some bruising going on along my IT band and in my glutes because of the work the doctor is doing. I can still run, but my leg makes sure I know it's there. I have strengthening and stretching exercises to do daily so I can fix this damn imbalance problem.

See, this is why I'll never be the fastest chick out there! Scoliosis, a leg length discrepancy, and the resulting nagging muscular imbalance is a serious buzzkill.

But it's fixable (to a point) with diligence on my part. I've gone years at a time without issue so I know it can happen again.

Sitting around icing and complaining, however, has given me time to think. I'm frustrated, and I've thought more than once if it's worth it to keep trying this whole endurance thing. Maybe I'm not cut out for it, maybe I should just take a year off, maybe I need a different hobby. After all, this can't possibly be good for me.

But then another perspective has slowly crept into my mind. I'm a healthy and active middle aged woman, I'm at a good weight and have never been overweight, I don't have any obesity-related illnesses like diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol, I'm not in a high risk medical group, and it's because I AM ACTIVE and I take care of myself. Plus, I love my exercise and healthy cooking hobbies. I have a focus on long term health.

If some discomfort because of my endurance endeavours is occasionally the result, then I'll take it. It's far better than the person I would be if I was sitting on the couch night after night, taking the easy way out with my exercise and eating habits. It's far better than developing obesity-related diseases and shortening my life span. Perhaps this is my personal price to pay for the rewards that I will reap in the long term.

I'm going to keep thinking like this as I go through this round of rehab. I posted on Facebook yesterday that years from now I'll see this as merely a blip and I won't regret not giving up.

Nope, definitely not giving up. This is the only body I have and I'm going to continue keeping it healthy and strong....I just have to put a bit more focus into my poor glutes being strong!

Did I mention it's RACE WEEK!! On Sunday, I'll earn myself this sweet medal.

I get to run from my hometown of San Luis Obispo, through the canyon, down to the beach in Pismo. Seriously, you just can't beat that. What a way for me to experience where I grew up in a unique way. And that medal! 

4 more days!