Distance amnesia

Remember when you were a kid and you’d fill your plate with a huge tangle of spaghetti, glop a giant blob of mashed potatoes next to a pile of Thanksgiving turkey, or grab the biggest corner slice of cake? Then you’d feel full after eating maybe half of it? My mom called that “having eyes bigger than your belly.”

I still have this problem, and not just with food. Most days, I tend to think a race distance like a half-marathon sounds totally doable. I mean, I drive that distance to work in what? Twenty minutes? It’s no ultramarathon. But I’ve run five half-marathon races and more than a dozen double-digit training runs over the last two years, and at the beginning of each one, I suddenly remember just how f-ing long 13.1 miles really is.

Why does my brain do this to me? There’s no evolutionary benefit to this warped view of distance. Not like women who forget the excruciating pain details of childbirth, at least until the next kid’s labor begins all over again. I’m not ensuring the survival of the species with my distance amnesia, so why, unless I’m actually in the midst of a long run, do I walk around thinking that 13.1 won’t be that long/painful/difficult?

Until I tackle that first mile and I remember. Again.

Does your brain trick you into thinking a double-digit run sounds easier than it really is?


Go home Winter, you’re drunk

Yesterday was a really lazy day at my house. The Icepocalypse closed schools and roads, so I enjoyed a day on the couch with my book. But this morning, reality returned. I got up and headed out for a chilly 12-miler, probably the last double-digit run before the Austin Half Marathon on February 16th.

Good morning.

Good morning.

I didn’t see any residual ice on the roads–just the leftover sand that TXDOT used to cover bridges and overpasses to help drivers get traction. But patches of ice still dotted people’s yards, roofs, and some sidewalks. And even though the sun was coming up, the temperature was still in the 20s.

Because the Austin Half/Full Marathon is a hilly course, the coaches had us run Heely Sonova this morning. And heely it is. But fresh off my I-can-run-a-half-marathon-without-a-walk-break confidence from last weekend’s race, I figured my goal should be to run most of it, hills and all. And depending on how you define “most,” I’d say I achieved that, albeit slowly. I ran the first five miles straight through, then walked a few steps before plodding out the last mile. On the way back, I will admit to a few more walk breaks because my hips were feeling really sore, but I generally only walked a minute or a block–some kind of easily-definable duration–and picked up the pace again.

This is so Texas.

This is so Texas.

For once I’d dressed just right for the weather. It was in the 20s when I started, so I wore two long sleeved tech shirts and my tights and hoped I’d warm up quickly. By the end of my run (HOURS later) the sun was bright, but it didn’t feel much warmer than when I started, and I could still see patches of sleet that had accumulated in people’s yards Thursday night. Even so, I’d managed to hit the Goldilocks combination–not too hot, not too cold, but juuuuuust right for a long run.

When I got back to my car, the dashboard displayed the little snowflake icon, which means the outside temp is below 37*. But as I drove home, it rose into the 40s, and my weather app tells me the high should reach almost 70* this afternoon. That’s more than a 40-degree swing, from Icepocalypse to Spring in one day.

Go home Winter, you’re drunk.

The iceman cometh

Yesterday the temperature dropped all day–when I drove home from work, it was drizzling and about 33 degrees. As I built a fire in the fireplace, I heard the rain turn to sleet, its telltale plink-plink-plink hitting my living room windows.

Because it’s been pretty warm all week (a friend on Facebook called our weather the Bi-Polar Vortex) I figured the streets were still holding enough heat that nothing would really stick.

But this is Central Texas, and every few years we get the wrong combination of rain and freezing temperatures, major highways freeze over, and a couple hundred drivers crash into each other. So while it’s not Snowmageddon in which we’re hit with a massive blizzard, the Icepocalypse can paralyze the city just as easily. My school district originally said they’d decide by 9pm whether to delay schools for this morning. But at 9:00, all they managed was a text saying they planned to operate on a normal schedule, but they’d continue to monitor the weather. I went to sleep a little nervous–I live outside the city, and if the district based its decision on downtown road conditions rather than factors involving the greater metro area, I might have to navigate some treacherous roadways in the morning.

My alarm went off as usual–no robocall from the district, unlike the last time we’d had a two-hour delay and the damn thing started calling at 5:15am. But I checked my phone anyway, and I was rewarded with a text that had come in just after midnight, announcing that the district was closing all schools for the day. I started to go back to sleep, but then the district robot called my house phone with the cancellation. Five minutes after that, another text. Then the kid was up and wanting to make pancakes, so that was it for sleeping in.

That's not snow--it's ice.

That’s not snow–it’s ice.

I built another fire in the fireplace while B made pancakes. We were out of syrup, but he improvised with honey. I skipped the morning news programs, knowing it would be an endless parade of meteorologists having what my friend Ilene called snowgasms, even though there was not any actual snow. It was cold though–one of the outside faucets had frozen, despite my attempts at dripping it overnight.

I lived in northern Virginia until I was 12, and every winter we experienced the mythical snow day. Once, the snow was nearly as tall as I was! But I was like eight and not really tall, so it’s less snow than you might think. So I understood B’s enthusiasm when he piled on a bunch of clothes and went out to play in the white stuff on the ground.

After a while, he appeared with a snow ice man. He’d collected a bucket full of these sleet pellets from around the yard and driveway, then assembled it with a little tap water to freeze the whole thing together.

You can be my wingman anytime.

After a while, the neighbor kids came over and all three of them took off for parts unknown. They came back wet and cold an hour or so later, warmed their hands by the fire, and eventually went back out before the last of the ice melted.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I parked myself firmly on the couch. I had coffee, my quilt, a book, a warm fire, and replacement firewood delivered by the aforementioned boys. I got up to fix some lunch, to throw another log on the fire, and to make more coffee. I only went outside to take a picture of B with his iceman, and to shut off the faucet, which started spewing water when it finally defrosted late in the afternoon. I managed to slip in the ice on the back deck and land hard on my knee during one of those sojourns, but the fall generated only a slight bruise. Good thing my big race was last weekend, though!

This afternoon the temperature eventually got up into the 30s and most of the ice melted. The streets should be dry by now, although I haven’t ventured out to check, and I assume all systems are go for me to get in a 12-miler tomorrow morning. After a day of lazy, I think I’ll need it.

Half marathon goal pace

After Sunday’s epic 3M Half Marathon and 19-minute PR, I figured I’d be exhausted and sore for a day or three. But by Monday I felt back to normal, so I went to core class as usual. It helped that our instructor had run the Houston full marathon, also on Sunday–we didn’t spend a lot of time on lower-body exercises.

On Tuesday I went to my usual training workout. We went to the track to run three repeats: one mile at half-marathon goal pace, 90 seconds rest. Except I really didn’t know where to start with the HMGP. I’d had a pace goal for Sunday’s race, but my goal and what I actually ran were so far apart, I couldn’t even begin to predict what I want to run for the Austin Half Marathon in a month. It’s a hilly course, which makes a repeat of the mostly-downhill 3M a bit out of reach. But my initial 3M goal pace now seems too slow. Who knew??

In the end, I set my Garmin to my actual 3M race pace–I figured the challenge might help improve my speed over the next couple of weeks. I couldn’t quite maintain that average pace last night, but over 4.5 miles, it was only ten seconds off. Considering this was just two days post-3M, I certainly can live with that.

Tonight I just ran an easy three-miler around my neighborhood since it was sunny and warm when I got home from work. I probably should have taken a rest day, but winter is supposed to come back tomorrow, with highs only in the 40s and freezing rain possible on Friday. I hope it’s all gone by Saturday though–I’ve got 12 miles on the schedule and don’t really want to freeze. Again.

Race report: 3M Half Marathon

My sherpa support crew dropped me off near the starting line at about 6am, and almost immediately I ran into a friend. She had some friends staying at a nearby hotel, so we wandered over there–indoors, with nicer bathrooms! Around 6:30 I started to get anxious about getting to the start with enough time to settle my brain down and get ready to go, so I headed over to the starting area on my own. I ran into some more Rogue runners, and we walked over to the starting area. A few more Rogues joined us, and before we knew it, we were moving forward. Go time.

Starting line

Starting line

The first song my playlist chose was “The Best Day of My Life” by American Authors. I hoped it was a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The first 30 minutes of the race, it was still dark out. As the sun came up, I wondered if I had started off perhaps faster than I’d intended, and at some point after three miles I looked at my watch. I was running between a minute and 90 seconds faster than that goal pace. But I felt really good and just went with it. I’d set my Garmin to alert me if my pace fell below the average I needed to meet my goal, and so far it had only buzzed when I slowed through the water stops. I know conventional wisdom frowns upon “banking time,” running faster early in the hopes of offsetting later, slower miles. But I knew the later miles would be more challenging whether I slowed down at the front end or not, so through the first half of the race, I tried not to worry about whether I would hit a wall later and just kept going at whatever pace felt comfortable.

Somewhere after mile two I got my first text from K, cheering me on. I used my bluetooth headphones to ask Siri to read it to me: “Ok, two miles behind you! Yay, you don’t have to run them again!” I laughed. At mile five, her text reminded me that at mile five of the Cleveland half, she was dancing and singing out loud.

Four miles, five miles, six miles–no Garmin alerts other than mile counters. High fives from a friend on the sidelines though, which was unexpected and quite awesome!

At about 6.5 miles my sherpas waited at the bridge. I could see the bridge at least half a mile away, and I just focused on getting there. B had made a sign and was cheering like a madman. He’d drawn Steve from Minecraft being chased by one of the Minecraft bad guys to the finish line, and it said “Steve believes! GO MOM!”

Go Mom!

Go Mom!

I dropped off my discarded arm warmers and kept going. B ran with me for a few steps, and I carried on. M texted K to update her on my progress and send a picture of B’s sign, and I soon got a reply: “Now you are safe from the creepers and ghosts!”

Around mile 7, the Clif Shot people were handing out energy gel, but I had my own gummy gels and kept going. As I made the turn past the baseball fields, my stomach kind of lurched–bleah. But after a half-mile or so, it felt okay again and I put it out of my mind.

At this point, my memory played a trick on me. Even though I’ve lived here 30+ years and I knew better, I had it in my head that after I made the left turn, it wasn’t more than a couple of blocks to the turn onto 45th Street. Yeah. No. I still had about two miles to go before that intersection. But this area is largely residential and a lot of neighbors had come out to cheer. One young girl even had a table with bananas and apples–sadly the Free Cookies were all gone.

Finally, 45th Street. Where it kind of goes uphill. Yarg. K’s perfectly timed text said: “I know it hurts, but you worked too hard to slack off now!” It’s like she knew I was struggling.

Some of this section is kind of fuzzy in my mind. I remember my ipod playing a song J and I had laughed hysterically about (cheesy 1980s hair band) when we were in Huntsville together last summer, and in my head I imagined that scene and the one of K dancing, with that song as background music. It was like a TV sitcom montage in my head. By the time the song ended, I was past the hilly section and rolling again.

More cheering and high fives from a friend working the water stop near mile 10. And K’s text said: “Just fucking run!” which made me laugh again because it sounded funny in Siri’s voice.

This is a pretty busy road with several large intersections. Police directed traffic, and as I approached one of the intersections, the officer waved a car through. But the driver hadn’t been paying attention and didn’t move quickly. The officer actually held his hand up to ME to stop, but because that was completely alien to me, I didn’t register it and kept going. Whoops. But really, who asks runners–in a race of this size, in which streets are closed–to stop for some dumbass not quick enough to recognize his turn to move?

I didn’t fall into that “just a 5K to go!” thinking–I’d made that mistake last year and knew it would be the most difficult part of the race. Not “just” a 5K. Miles 11-12 involve some rolling hills, and my legs were tiring. I went back to that sitcom montage strategy in my head, which once again got me through the worst of it. At the highest point on Duval Road, I could see the University of Texas ahead, and I knew I was almost finished. Down the hill at Duval, onto San Jacinto. K said: “You worked hard for that damn medal–go get it!” And then: “Suck it up, buttercup. You can do this.”

I passed the football stadium. I’ve had season tickets for eighteen years, so this place is familiar to me. We just hired a new coach–his last name is Strong–and the back of my shirt (coincidentally) said Run Strong. It felt like a little tip of the hat to my football team. Then I realized that with under a mile to go, I was still well under my minimum pace and would definitely meet my ‘If I have a perfect race….” goal. In football terms: nearing the end of the fourth quarter, I had the ball and a lead the other team couldn’t catch.

But I was hurting.

I approached 19th Street where B was waiting. He ran up to me and fell in stride. There’s a little incline in the road here, between San Jacinto and Congress, and I needed every bit of help to get me through it. B chattered about something he’s building in Minecraft while I tried not to puke or die. Then he said, “You’re going to sprint the last of it, right?” Gah.

We turned onto Congress Avenue. The finish line was about two blocks down, the Capitol looming behind it. I sped up. Where I got that energy, I have no clue, but I gave it all I had. We finished together, and B asked if I’d come in under my goal. I knew I had, so I didn’t look at my watch right away. I got some water and my medal, then the photographers took a picture of us.

At this point, my phone was blowing up–K wanted to know my finishing time. “I’m having you chipped permanently. The suspense is killing me!” Only then did I look at my watch.

I absolutely destroyed last year’s time–by 19 minutes. NINETEEN. I’d beaten this year’s main goal by nine minutes and my rainbows-and-unicorns goal by four. K said: “You fucking nailed it!” and, well, I guess I did.

The back of my shirt says "Run Strong"

The back of my shirt says “Run Strong”

It took a while for the whole thing to sink in, though. We were on the highway headed home when it really hit me, the magnitude of a 19-minute PR. Tears, goosebumps, and immense gratitude for the people who helped me get there.

I put on a different shirt to go to lunch!

This medal is for you.

Symbolically, not literally. I’m not giving that sucker up.

Let’s get ready to rumble!

Knock on wood, but I think I’ve made it through the week unscathed! B is coming down with a cold, but I’ve been popping Vitamin C like it’s candy, so I’m hopeful that I have staved off whatever it is he’s getting.

And now it’s race weekend. I took off work today for an unrelated medical appointment, and since I had time, I also scheduled an appointment with my sports massage therapist to work out the kinks in my calf muscles. If you’ve ever done a sports massage, you know it’s not the same as a relaxing massage with Tibetan monk background music and aromatherapy. It hurts–deep muscle manipulation that sometimes leaves bruises. But I reap the benefits a day or so later–just in time for the race.

After my appointments I headed over to the race expo. Last year we waited in line for at least 30 minutes; this year, I was early enough that I encountered no line whatsoever. I got my goodie bag, shirt, and race number. The expo is tiny so I didn’t stay long. When I got home, I checked it all out.

No pressure, there.

No pressure, there.

This race is known for its goodie bag full of 3M products:

The goodie bag

I was just looking for super glue the other day, so yay!

I’m not running today, and I think tomorrow my family and I will take a walk around the neighborhood to keep my muscles loose and ready to run Sunday morning. Last year’s race was so cold and windy, but the gorgeous weather of the last few days is supposed to continue into the weekend–mid 40s overnight, sunny and brisk all morning.

Something else in my favor: the course has changed a bit from last year, when at mile 11.5 the route turned left up 26th Street. And up, and up.  Then down, and back up. The last mile and a half of the race surprised a lot of runners who expected a downhill course, billed as a “Fast, Easy, Fun 13.1.”

World of suck, indeed

This  year, the course has reverted to the 2012 iteration, eliminating that world of suck series of hills. Every little thing that helps me reach my time goal!

So now I’ve got my race number, I’ve got my playlist, and I’m ready. Assuming I don’t catch B’s cold.

Race security

This morning I read a Runner’s World article called What Race Security Will Look Like in 2014.

Last year’s Boston Marathon bombings “exposed the vulnerability of large, outdoor events of all types” and “it showed that somebody with very little technical capability can become incredibly effective.” As a result, race directors are implementing new security measures this year.

Austin Marathon race director John Conley says that the 2014 edition of his race, the first since Boston, will feature beefed-up security, and if there are further changes down the road, they’ll be in the form of increased, not decreased, security. “I can’t see us going back, and I can certainly see us instituting more and more security measures,” says Conley.

Some of the changes include requiring runners to carry their gear in clear plastic bags and pick up their race bibs in person. Others involve increased security on the course–police officers, security cameras, even helicopters.

But honestly, I’m torn here. I’m not sure how clear plastic gear check bags and stricter bib pickup rules for race participants really do much for security, considering the Boston Marathon bombers weren’t actually running the race. Are these new kinds of measures really doing anything, or are they just window dressing to make people think the event is safer?

On the other hand, I remember very clearly as I ran along East Ninth near the end of the Cleveland half marathon (about a month after Boston), I heard sirens. For a moment, I wondered if something had happened at the finish line. But the race volunteers along the street didn’t react, so I pushed it out of my mind and ran on.

Another factor is the finish line itself. Big races have huge crowd support at the end–it’s such an amazing experience to see spectators crammed together, cheering (and at least in Cleveland there’s the Indians’ drum guy at the last turn) for the finishers. And at last year’s 3M half marathon, B ran the last quarter-mile with me. It’s so motivating–you’re exhausted, but the energy from the crowd pushes you the rest of the way.

Yet, from the article

“Race officials [at the Chicago Marathon] kept everyone a safe distance from the finish area—friends, family, everyone—so there was no cheering and celebration from the thousands of people you typically hear as you cross the finish line. Literally, the only people you saw were race volunteers, “ says [Jim] Weatherly. “It was a little surreal—such a big race, but no one at the finish line.”

And while part of me understands the practicality of that–what race director wants his/her race vulnerable to another finish line massacre?–I also hate that this may be the new normal.

In the end, I’m with the guy who said, “Yes, it is a possibility, but ultimately a statistically improbable one, and I can’t live my life fearing every single thing out there just because it could happen.”