How YOU doin’?

It’s been a week since my epic/painful PR at the 3M Half Marathon.

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How am I doing?

Well, right after the race my right calf seized up, a charley horse I guess. And it was tender for a couple of days afterward. But it didn’t hurt to walk or run, so I wore compression socks for a couple of days and it was fine.

On Monday I ran a couple of slow miles before core class, and Tuesday almost the whole training group took it easy as well. I think my total was 3.6 miles, none of it really strenuous. Wednesday I ran for 20 minutes around my neighborhood.

I usually run 4-5 miles on Thursdays, but I skipped it this week in order to go to dinner (and a Lululemon event) with a bunch of people from my training group. It was fun to see everyone dressed as normal people–regular clothes, makeup, loose hair. And we didn’t only talk about running. At least for me, it was a hard-earned celebration!

So since 3M was my big goal race and I’d done what I set out to do, I kinda half-assed it all week. I ate All The Things, way more than was necessary to refuel post-race. And I ran, what? Maybe eight weekday miles total? I didn’t even get up early to run with the group on Saturday. I ran 4.25 miles from my house, then Sunday morning I met a Rogue friend at the trail for six miles. It was warm–in the 60s–and by the time we got to the three-mile turnaround, my legs felt exhausted. We walked quite a bit on the way back. What can I say? I was on a break recovery week.

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Now that I’ve given myself a week off, I will ease back into training to prepare for three more races this spring–a 10-miler, a 10K, and a half marathon, in that order. But this training group ends with the Austin Half Marathon on February 14, so I need to hammer out some kind of plan to cover March, April, and May.

friends running

Let’s go, indeed. It turns out my 3M 10-mile split was only 13 seconds slower than my Army Ten-Miler PR time from October (the one that was 30 seconds short of my goal time), so that got me thinking maybe I should shoot for that goal time again at the Austin 10/20. I’m not 100% sold on that, though, because the 10/20 is in April and the weather could end up being too warm to help me out there. I have no plans to try to PR the other races this spring, just have fun and use them as motivation to keep training.

But first, I have to finish hide that box of Thin Mints.

rachel

 

 

Veni Vidi Vici

Today’s 3M Half Marathon has been my goal race since the minute I finished it–practically in tears, definitely in pain–last year, some 364 days ago.

So when we got out of the car (into 36* temps) at the start this morning, I felt nervous. I’ve worked toward this day for an entire year. I knew I could vanquish last year’s time, but could I, as Venkman says in Ghostbusters, kick its ass?

OF COURSE I got separated from just about all of my friends before the race. The bathroom line at Texas Running Company, while indoors, was way too long for my stress levels, so I headed to the more utilitarian porta-potty option closer to the starting area. I met back up with two of the others, lost them again, and finally re-located them right about the time the national anthem finished. And then it was time to run.

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Instead of re-hashing every mile, let’s play Most Important Word.

1: dark

2: zigzagging

3: steady

4: loooong

5: coach

6: FAMILY!

7: shorter?

8: uneventful

9: uphill

10: almost

11: Janet!

12: distress

13: Dad!

.1: holyshit!

S and I stuck together most of the way–I was grateful for her even pacing. But the last three miles got pretty tough. My stomach lurched periodically, and it still felt like we had forever to go. Janet did an amazing job pushing me, encouraging me, steering me around slower people, and trying to distract me.

When we got to the bottom of the hill just short of the 12-mile marker, the police directing traffic STOPPED A LARGE GROUP OF RUNNERS for 30-40 seconds to let traffic through. I thought J was going to stop traffic herself to get us across and moving again. I almost lost my mind right there. I was on pace to reach my goal time but didn’t have a huge cushion. What if I missed it because of this traffic stop? A traffic stop.

I picked it up the best I could after we started moving again, but I was suffering.

Janet: Sprint to that stop sign!

Me: Blergghhhhhhhh

Janet: I can hear the finish line!

Me: Blergghhhhhhhh

We finally turned the corner onto MLK Blvd. and my dad stood there, which was an awesome surprise. So now I had a two-person escort up the last hill to the final turn.

I saw the finish line straight ahead. Dad, my sometimes-football game companion, pointed out it was just 100 yards away. They peeled off, and I had to suck it up and finish on my own.

And then I got close enough to see the race clock.

Back at the beginning, S and I had started nowhere near the front. I didn’t look at my watch then, so I couldn’t be sure how far back my chip time was from the gun time, and I hadn’t paid attention to anything other than mile paces along the way. But at that moment, I knew I’d done it.

Not only had I beaten my goal by just over three minutes, I’d PR’d by almost ten minutes. Last year’s race? So far in the rear-view mirror it weren’t even visible with binoculars.

My sherpa crew and my running partners were AMAZING. I cannot thank them enough.

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We came, we saw, we kicked its ass.

Dance of Joy

Anyone not running 3M next Sunday who wants to run the last mile-ish in with me? I have a giant time goal, and I would love someone to push me hard to a strong finish, especially if I get separated from my friends mid-race.

Sounds rather innocuous, right?

I plan to run with my two friends from last week’s Rogue 10K, but I know from personal experience that even with the best of intentions to race with others, I manage to get separated fairly often. I can handle that–I’ll have my music and I’m used to racing alone–but I also know that at the end of that 10K, without the help of others I would not have pushed myself as hard as I did. And since many of my running friends are more than up to this task, I took a shot in the dark that maybe someone would take me up on it.

What I got was, “Can you pick me up at 1040 on Friday or should I take an Uber?”

Um, what?

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Yes, J is coming!

Several other friends will be cheering along the course too–last year they were real lifesavers at different points along the way, and knowing my friends are out there gives me a goal. All the way down Great Northern, “You’ll see them at Far West!” and “G will be waiting at the top of the last hill!”

These people make me so happy, I’m going to do the Dance of Joy with Balki and Cousin Larry.

dance-of-joy

At least until it’s time to leave for the airport.

Danger

Twice a week, my running group meets at a running store in a suburban shopping center, then follows various routes in the surrounding area for our workouts. At least for the first mile, we run on wide sidewalks along fairly busy through roads. The four-way intersection is notorious for drivers blasting through the crosswalks or rolling through the stop signs; drivers on their phones sometimes don’t see us until they’re upon us, and there’s one stretch that backs up to undeveloped land that gives off a weird vibe in the dark. But for the most part, it’s well-lit, well-traveled, and safe. I’ve been running here since the summer of 2012, and I’ve never worried about personal safety beyond making myself visible with light-colored clothing and reflective, blinking lights.

But this week, some asshole stole that sense of safety from all of us.

Early Wednesday morning, an assailant grabbed a runner from behind, threw her to the ground, and sexually assaulted her. The street itself is residential, but according to the map published with the news report, the incident happened just a short distance from the intersection with a fairly busy road. The busy road that is almost always a part of our routes. The one with the big hill, and the other big hill. The two-miles-from-the-store marker. We’ve turned down this very street (or have run up it from the other direction) more times than I can count.

My coach was interviewed for the news report, and she sent an email to the group outlining safety advice: don’t run alone, don’t wear headphones, always carry your phone. On the group’s Facebook page, everyone started asking for recommendations of pepper spray brands and whether the hand-held version was the way to go. Someone else posted (tongue-in-cheek, I think) about “cat claws” that capture an attacker’s DNA. Then there’s the sports bra with a built-in knife sheath. I read an article that advised women not to wear their hair in ponytails because it gives an assailant something to grab. Another recommended self-defense classes.

And the more I read, the more pissed off I got. I mean, in the comments of the original news article about the incident, one person suggested that because women run around wearing “very little clothing in the dark” that it’s no wonder bad things happen. Yes, it’s totally her fault this asshole decided to attack her. That Jezebel.

And now, because of my gender and choice of recreation, I am supposed to carry an extra thing (that could very easily misfire–it’s quite possible for the little safety tab to move while it’s tucked into my belt) either in my hand or somehow lodged on my person so that pepper spray is simultaneously ready for action and safely secured. I mean, I don’t want to drop it or gas myself or my friends.

And the ponytail thing? I have long hair, but I’m not in a shampoo commercial where it can fly around looking beautiful (and untangled) while I run. Over the years I have developed a complicated ponytail system to hold it all back. Now I have to worry about whether my hair can be used against me?

I am happy to run with others, sans headphones, at least on training days. But what about the rest of the week? What if I can’t recruit a protector? And why the hell has it come to a point in which I need to think about bringing along someone who can protect me? It pisses me off that prevailing wisdom is for women to take extreme precautions (I mean really, cat claws?) and live with a sense of fear instead of building a society that TEACHES MEN NOT TO RAPE US.

yoda fear

This morning, our route went right past the street where the runner was assaulted. Some of the men ran alone, but none of the women did. Several women carried canisters of pepper spray. Logically, this guy wasn’t going to strike again here, on this day. But we passed the intersection warily, guarded. Worried about danger.

I’m trying to find a reasonable balance between taking common-sense safety measures and remaining defiant against fear-mongering. But it’s hard. Women no longer have the luxury of saying “fuck it, I’ll run alone with my headphones on” as they pass a street where an assault occurred, like many of our male counterparts did today. And I’ll bet none of the guys worried about whether someone would grab their hair to take them down.

This one hit close to home. It’s our reality now. And it pisses me off.

 

 

Protego

This week has left me feeling … vulnerable, and sad. We lost two iconic artists–David Bowie and Alan Rickman– to cancer in the space of a few days. Devastating losses, unfair losses. Ziggy Stardust and Severus Snape, gone.


Also lost but less well-known was a woman who lived down the street from me. Last summer she recorded a video about metastatic breast cancer that made its way around social media. I didn’t really know her, but her adorable young sons always have a friendly greeting, a wave, or a request for a hug whenever we walk past their house. Less well-known, but not less important.

On top of that, a news story made its way around my running group yesterday after a runner was attacked and sexually assaulted on one of the roads where we regularly train, sometimes long after dark or before sunrise. I’ve never ever felt unsafe running there over the last 3.5 years, even when I’ve been alone. But now we’re comparing brands of pepper spray and planning to stick closely with others at all times. It doesn’t help that the police description of the assailant began and ended with “he was last seen wearing shorts and a t-shirt.”

All of this makes my anxiety about the upcoming 3M half marathon pale in comparison. Beating my time goal is nothing compared to losing a battle with cancer or a rapist. Can I cast a giant Protego spell on everyone?

protego
Lacking magic skills, my next best option is trying to see the positive, I guess. Someone in Austin changed the Bowie Street sign to David Bowie Street, and the city left it that way. The New Yorker published a cartoon of Harry Potter and John McClane toasting Rickman. There’s been an outpouring of support for Holley’s family, and I know that members of my running group will not only be more individually aware, but will be on heightened alert for one another as well.

Defense Against the Dark Arts, indeed.

Go big or go home: RDF 10K

Saturday afternoon, I volunteered at packet pickup for the Rogue Distance Festival. It’s always fun seeing runner friends in everyday clothes, makeup on, hair loose.

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I took a short three-mile run in the morning, but packet pickup wasn’t labor-intensive or anything. I ran down to the Starbucks at one point (it was cold and windy) and joked, “Watch me hurt myself now.” Fortunately I didn’t.

But Saturday evening, things went awry. My asthma had flared up a couple of times this week–nothing major, but I needed my inhaler to resolve them. Last night when it hit, though, it hit hard. One of the worst asthma attacks I’ve ever had. Deep barking cough, no chance to catch my breath, inhaler in the kitchen. I couldn’t even get up to get it. Fortunately the others were home and quickly realized I needed their help.

The inhaler subdued the cough, and eventually my breathing returned to (relative) normal. But the attack had completely sapped my energy. For the rest of the evening I could only lie in my bed, halfheartedly flipping through a copy of Sports Illustrated and texting with K for medical advice (she’s a nurse) and commiseration (she has asthma too). In the back of my mind, I wondered if I could race this thing in the morning.

I’d looked up the pace I’d need to run in order to PR, and I suspected it was just out of reach. My workouts have gone well and my leg has recovered, but I felt like I’d lost some fitness? speed? since the Army Ten-Miler and haven’t quite gotten it back. But since 3M has been my goal race since the moment I finished it last year, I was okay with just giving this one my best shot as a gauge of 3M preparedness and nothing more. Which seemed even wiser after the Night of Asthma.

I woke up a little before my alarm, and my breathing seemed okay. But temps had dropped below freezing–cold exacerbates my asthma–so I still felt a bit anxious about the whole thing. I double-checked that my inhaler was with my race stuff.

I wore only one layer, plus gloves, knowing I’d warm up quickly. I could afford to do that because the race starts in the parking lot of a nearby high school, which opens its cafeteria to runners for a warm place to wait. We only went outside when it was time to head to the starting line.

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I started off way too fast the first mile–like ridiculously too fast–although in my defense it had quite a bit of a downhill to it. The second and third miles, including an ipod playlist readjustment, glove removal, and watch relocation while heading back uphill, were more appropriate but still faster than I was expecting.

We ran mostly through a quiet residential neighborhood, but when we crossed one of the main roads at about 2.5 miles, a loud group of Beef Team spectators, including two friends, perked me up a bit.

These were streets S and I had run several times this summer, but even then I wasn’t quite sure where I was at any given time. I didn’t look at my watch a whole lot, mostly running by feel. And I felt good–breathing was okay and temperature was comfortable. For me anyway, even in just the one layer. The bundled-up course monitors and spectators looked positively Arctic.

Just after mile four I saw my coach cheering wildly. And then somewhere during mile 5, I caught up with my newest running partner as she played the passing game with the same pair of run-walkers who, since the first mile, had run a pattern of pass me, stop in front of me and walk, over and over. Then S caught up to us. Normally faster than I am, she’s still recovering from an injury so she was chasing me instead of vice versa.

I’m pretty sure the Mile 5 marker was misplaced–my Garmin said 4.93 when I reached it. I’d done a good job taking corners properly, and up to that point my watch had matched the mile markers. I crossed my fingers that I wouldn’t be surprised by extra mileage at the end.

And then, in one of those mind-game peer-pressure moments, our trio started speeding up. You can do anything for a mile. Later, we each will say one of the others started it. But however it happened, we chased down that last mile only a few seconds slower than my ridiculous first mile. I don’t know about the others, but I was at least partially fueled by a burning desire to finally leave those run-walkers in the dust. The sun was behind us, and I kept seeing approaching shadows over my left shoulder. Nope, not gonna let you pass me now.

My breathing was hideous at this point–I probably sounded like a wildebeest in labor–but I had my headphones on and didn’t care. I could see the water tower just past the finish line and knew I had enough in me to get there. It didn’t hurt that one of our Rogue friends who’d already finished ran with us until the final turn back into the school parking lot, where another Rogue coach cheered loudly for us.

Point-two to go.

Go Big or Go Home” blasted through my headphones, and we sped up again.

Spectator and race announcer noise. Beef Team friends again. Wildebeest breathing. FINISH LINE.

The race clock had started with the 30K’ers who’d left 15 minutes before us. My math skills are suspect with full access to oxygen, so there was no calculating my finish time on the fly now. The three of us crossed the finish line together, and I stopped my watch.

I collected my breath and my medal (one took longer than the other) and exited the immediate finish area. I hadn’t seen M and B as I was running in, but they found me immediately so I know they had seen me finish.

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And then I looked at my watch.

Wait, what?

I PR’d by four minutes and fourteen seconds.

Even before last night’s asthma problems I hadn’t thought I could run anywhere close to the pace I ran for the 8K back in September–the one that made me adjust my Army Ten-Miler goals–but my average pace today was eleven seconds faster than that for a mile and a half longer.

It’s funny–later at breakfast (pancakes with impunity!) each of us said, “No, I didn’t speed up. I was chasing you and just tried to hang on!” But whatever psychological trick kicked in there, I’m grateful for it. I’m certain I would not have pushed myself into the wildebeest-labor zone alone.

Obviously I must adjust my pacing strategy for a race more than twice the distance. But maybe–just maybe–I can find redemption at 3M after all. With a little help from my friends.

 

 

Not a casual stroll

Running has thrown me so many ups and downs this fall, I kind of need a ladder to deal with it all. Hot-cold-hot-cold weather, funky-but-recovering leg muscle, fast-then-slow races. But last night all the good parts of that equation came together for the strongest Tuesday training run I’ve had in a while. 

We started with a one-mile warmup, then switched to intervals of one minute hard, four minutes easy for another four miles. Of course it worked out that we had to run hard up the steepest part of the hill, but we nailed it. Not only that, our fast intervals got faster as the workout progressed and we ran all eleven of our slow intervals faster than my half marathon goal pace!

I’ve felt discouraged lately, like I’ve lost some of the momentum that got me a seven-minute ten-mile PR back in October. I started to wonder if I should rethink my ambitious 3M time goal. But last night in the cold and the dark, I got some confidence back. 

Just in time to race a 10K his weekend. 

The weather forecasters keep dropping Saturday’s overnight low–first it was 38*, then 34*, and as of today they’re predicting 28*. I doubt it will warm up much by the 7am start. Fortunately, the race starts and finishes at a high school near my house, and they open the cafeteria and restrooms for the event. So I can dress for running in the cold, not waiting around before the race. 

I say this almost every year about this particular race (because it’s two weeks before 3M) but I’m not racing this one to PR, although that would not suck. I really just want to gauge my race-day fitness.