Monday, March 31, 2014

Race Report: Carlsbad 5000 - All Day 20K

Last week was spring break for the girlie so we decided to take a family vacay down in the land of sunshine and Mexican food - San Diego. My brother-in-law and his wife relocated there just a little over a year ago and recently welcomed an adorable little daughter into the family. It made it an easy choice for a spring break destination.

We didn't want to impose on the new family so we found a great hotel on one of the little peninsula's - Shelter Island - and set up a home base while hitting all the touristy hotspots. We went to LEGOLAND (even though girlie loves her Legos, we could have done without this stop), we went to the San Diego Zoo and Balboa Park (very well received) and spent some time in Old Town (which strangely enough was the girl's favorite stop next to the hotel pool). The boys spent a day on the ocean fishing and I felt compelled to get in some miles under the sun.
Cousins meeting for the first time

I did two short runs around the peninsula of three miles each at the beginning of our trip. It had been over a week since I logged miles due to my hip injury and I was thrilled to discover there was no residual pain or tenderness on the first run. The second run came the morning after miles and miles of walking so it wasn't as easy. My legs were heavy but my heart was light with all the warm sunshine and friendly people.

Amazing runs at dawn
Beautiful sunrises
I decided to let my legs rest on Saturday as I had found myself a crazy exciting race for Sunday - the Carlsbad 5000. This race had everything I could hope for - a stunning location where you could run right along the ocean, a unique concept and some amazingly fast elite runners! Now what is unique about a 5K you might ask? The course is billed as "The World's Fastest 5K" but that wasn't what intrigued me. What I found interesting was the "All Day 20K" option - runners could sign up to run every single 5K race of the day (with the exception of the elite races of course). In total - runners would complete four 5K races - a total of 20K which is just a little less than a half marathon.

I've never seen such an event before so I was eager to register. Additionally, all the 20K runners got special VIP treatment. There was a special 'lounge' for us with bathrooms, bag check, seating (and shade), water, snacks and race support. The race was in Carlsbad which is about a 30 minute drive from San Diego (without traffic). The hubs and kid came with me on Saturday so that I could pick up my bib, wander through the race expo and get familiar with the location. I am kind of a bit of a control freak so not knowing a course or where to park is a big deal for me. This trip on Saturday helped ease my mind a little bit.
Kid's Race for Carlsbad 5000

The kids races were going on when we arrived in Carlsbad so I was able to see a portion of the course already set up for the big show on Sunday. I also was able to make a parking plan and learn where the Honeybuckets were located as well as the finish line. We arrived a little early to pick up my bib so we made our way down the ocean where we met a new friend on the shore.

Making friends on the beach

Overall the town was adorable and charming and I easily understood why people would want to come to a destination race like this one. It was a perfectly quaint coastal community.

After a fairly early dinner on Saturday night, I was in bed with lights out by 10:00. I knew I had a long drive in the dark in the morning, but I wasn't worried about waking early. Unfortunately - I ended up waking almost every single hour that night. I loved our hotel room and access to the beach - but that night there was a raucous bonfire outside our room and I was often woken by loud fire goers. We also had a 2:00 a.m. alarm go off which bolted me straight out of bed. Instead of waking at 5:30 like I had planned, I was up and ready to go by 5:15 Sunday morning. I was tired and I had a screaming headache but I was ready to go.

I left the kid and hubs behind and heading straight for the closest Starbucks. As I drove North I did my best to not nod off on the dark highway. I was so tired and my headache was making me nauseous by the time I pulled off the highway in Carlsbad.

I was able to find a decent parking spot right away and as such I wandered around the streets looking for those Honeybuckets I found the day before. The first race of the day started at 7:00 a.m. sharp so I had about 40 minutes to kill. I easily found the VIP area for the All Day 20K folks and found some water and snacks to munch on. I'm not sure how many of us there were running the 20K option but it didn't look like all that many - maybe 100 folks in the VIP area - maybe another 100 on the course. I began talking to other 20K runners and found that almost all of them had run this before, which I found very interesting. Last year they actually had 5 5Ks to run - All Day 25K but the organizers cut one of the races off - something to do with timing the course around the train schedule.

VIP All Day 20K Lounge

VIP lounge for All day 20K

Soon enough it was time for me to check my bag, a black and hot pink mustache bag (my daughter's) and was thankful and grateful for the gear check. The organizers had done away with bag check for the 5K racers but we had instant access to our gear in the VIP lounge. A light rain had started falling and all the racers moved under the sun shelter. I laughed because it was just a few drops - but I figure they aren't used to this wet stuff down here in Southern California.

Starting line for first race
After a short line for the 'private' honeybuckets and a chug of free water, I was following the crowd of 20K racers out of the VIP area to the starting line. The first race of the day was the Men's 40+ racers. It was easy to identify the 20K racers in this lineup if they were women. The rain had stopped but it was a little chilly out still (cold if you were wearing a tank top, not cold if you were in Portland). The national anthem was sung, the announcers welcomed everyone and the gun was fired.

starting line Men's Masters
I had talked to a few folks about the course in the VIP lounge. I was told it had a few hills, one at the end of the first straight stretch. Before I knew it we were turning left to start the two miles along the ocean and I thought to myself "did I just climb a hill?" - apparently that incredibly minor incline was a hill to some folks. It was barely noticeable to me.

For the first race of the day - all (nervous) smiles
The course was packed with runners. I was doing my best to keep my pace between 9:00 -9:30 for this first race. I know I can run a 5K faster but I didn't want to go out fast and lose all my steam for the later races.

When we hit the first mile, the race organizers had a big arch so you knew exactly when you were at mile one. We progressed past the arch for another 1/4 mile and rounded back on the return side of the street, closest to the ocean. I can't tell you how much I love running along the ocean (even if it is on the pavement). The only water station was in this portion and I moved far to the right to avoid any cluster of people going for water. I knew I wouldn't need to take in water on a 3.1 mile course so I kept clear and kept moving.
Nearing the Mile 1 Marker
As we crossed the two mile marker - on another "incline" so I'm told, we were once again returning to the downtown area of Carlsbad. We continued in the other direction and again looped back around 2.5 miles. This is where I saw a lot of the Men's Masters kicking in their final push. It took all of my restraint to not join them and keep at my pace. There was a final corner where we had a straight stretch to the finish line, maybe 300 yards and slightly downhill. I allowed myself a kick at this portion only just so I could benefit from a little speed at the very end.

The crowd was amazing - lining the sidelines at the finish and it was a fun completion to the race. Volunteers were handing out medals but I didn't take one as I thought I had read we weren't supposed to as 20K racers. I moved through the busy finish section and avoided the treats and water and electrolytes. I knew we had plenty back in the VIP lounge and I didn't want to get caught up in the chaos.

It was actually difficult to make my way through the finish line, the crowd and the beer garden (although at 7:30 it wasn't going just yet). I moved back to the starting line and into the VIP lounge. I went to bag check to get rid of my long sleeved shirt and find my sunglasses for the second race. The bag check volunteers said 'oh it's the mustache bag' - we repeated this scenario several more times this day.

VIP lounge - plethora of food and beverages
I consumed some more water and had a bite of a cliff bar before I noticed folks were heading out to the start once again. I got maybe 10-15 minutes of a break but it was go time again. This time around I would be running with the Women's Masters - 40+.

Ready for race #2
I lined up once again in the 9:00 mile position and listened once again to the same woman belt out the national anthem. We were off and this time I knew what to expect. I paid extra attention to the first 'climb' and upon making note of it, I can see how some might think it was a climb. It was really just a soft incline. It isn't one I notice, especially so early on a course when the adrenaline was pumping. We turned once again and I started to recognize a few runners. There was a girl wearing all black with a cute skirt and two French braids in her hair. The was another fit girl running right in front of me with Lululemon shorts and a Headsweats visor and two dudes in a previous year's Carlsbad 5000 tshirts. One guy was wearing long sleeves and long compression socks and it made me hot just thinking about it as the sun became more intense during the second race. These four people ended up being my inadvertent pacing partners the entire four events. I saw them on every course and paced pretty closely with all of them.

Women's Masters Starting Line
I tried to pull back my pace even more on the second race because I didn't want to regret my speed later and I did accomplish that by finishing about 30 seconds slower. I hate to say it but I preferred running with the men in the first heat. For the most part, the men lined up by the pace markers and kept speed. The women appeared to just start wherever their friends were starting. I spent the first mile dodging around women running 20-3 people deep and people starting too fast to the front. I didn't have this issue with the men's race. It was quite annoying. I think I actually ran a similar race as the first time but I spent more time maneuvering around the women.


Additionally, the finish line madness was harder to navigate for the women's master's race. It just took longer to make my way through the medal handout and the freebies along the finish line. I made it back inside the VIP lounge, exchanged a quick "hey mustache bag" with the kids at bag check and realized, "Crap, there is nobody else here. I know I didn't run that very fast."

I looked at the race schedule and saw I had 7 minutes until the next race. I grabbed a new piece of gum from my bag, more water and headed back to the starting line. This time I was toeing the line with the Men's and Women's 29-39 age group. These were my people - if I was running only the 5K it would have been in this group. I was pretty sweaty by this point. I didn't look as fresh faced as the other runners and I think I was starting to stink as well. I wanted to proudly display my yellow bib to all as if to say - "hey people, I've already raced 6.2 miles" - but nobody cared. We listened to the same woman sing the American Anthem once again and we started on the now familiar course.
Starting to feel rather punchy before the 3rd Race
I was starting to feel fatigued this time around. It's really hard to keep up with people at their mile two when you are on mile seven. I kept my Garmin building consecutive miles instead of restarting at every start line just to see what my overall time and pace would be. It helped me to remember that I was running a long distance today and to be kind to my body. I finished my third race of the day 20 seconds slower than the second and 50 seconds slower than my first. Obviously I didn't do a great job starting easy.

When I crossed the finish line this time, I did collect a 5K medal. I noticed that several other 20K runners were collecting a medal every time they crossed over the finish line. I didn't need four of the same medal, but I did want to collect a medal for my age division since it was different that the medal we would earn for the 20K race.

I had barely enough time to grab some more water and deposit my new race bling in my "mustache bag" before I ran back to the start line. I really needed to pee by this time, but I didn't have time to stop.

The final 5K of the day was the Men's & Women's 29 and under race. I wasn't looking forward to this race. First off - these were kids and that means they were fast. I was also starting to hurt by this point. My hip issue was presenting itself once again and instead of running all I wanted to do was some serious stretching. Also - it was hot. I mean I suppose Californians thought it was just a nice day but for an Oregon girl it was HOT. I could feel my shoulders burning from the sun. When I applied sunscreen another VIP laughed at me but oh well. As we waited for a train to pass so they could start the final race of the 20K I contemplated walking. I wasn't feeling it - I was hot and I was hurting. And then I looked at my watch and realized it was mile nine. Mile nine is and will always ben my proverbial brick wall. I just crash and burn at mile nine. Even now in this different format, I was struggling (while standing still I might add) with mile nine.

Seriously? I have to do this one more time??
I wiped the sweat off my brow (literally I was sweating buckets) and I committed to running every inch of this course. No walking for me. The same girl sang the American Anthem and we were off for the final rotation of the day. I still saw "French braid girl," "Headsweats girl" and "dressed too hot guys" on the course but this time I also saw a lot of kids. I wasn't thinking about all the kids that would be running the full 5K. It made things a little bit challenging. For starters I was wiped out and it only made matters worse when I realized some young children were keeping pace with me. It actually kind of pissed me off. So I started taking on screaming out the mileage markers for the 20K runners when we hit them "That's mile 11 for all of us 20K runners!" I just wanted those pompous child runners to know that they may be keeping pace with me but I was nearing the end of a half marathon distance to their little 3 mile run. Ok maybe that was mean of me but I don't take well to being beaten by little kids.

I finished that final rotation almost two minutes slower than the first race. I didn't care either. I was happy just to be finished. I pushed my way through the finish line festivities and the beer garden (which was in full swing by now) and claimed my coveted "All Day 20K" medal. I was a sweaty mess but I was happy.

Smile returns once I finally finish!
Because I was all alone, I didn't enjoy my free booze at the finish line. I still had my headache from earlier and I was even more exhausted than I was at 5:00 a.m. I hobbled back to my rental car and drove 30 minutes back down to San Diego - forcing myself to keep my eyes open the entire time. In a perfect world I would have stayed for the elite runners - I'm a big fan of Bernard Legat but I had to get back and pack for our flight. I was able to watch the elite races online and found it humbling to watch the great runners cover the same course I had (four times) earlier in the day.

American Record Holder Bernard Legat in the 5K

After a shower and some pain pills I was feeling great. We had lunch, packed our stuff and let my daughter take a final dip in the pool. I wasn't sure signing up for a race was such a good idea early on Sunday morning but in retrospect it was a great way to close out an amazing Spring Break.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Injury and Chiropractic Support

A week before I ran the Shamrock 15K run, I was out running a long 10 miler and felt some discomfort in my left groin muscle as I was descending Terwillger hill. It wasn't enough of a pain to stop me from running, but it did slow me down enough that I was only running 10 minute miles on the DOWNHILL. So obviously, it felt bad enough that my body adjusted.

I took it easy and ran a few 3 milers the week leading up to Shamrock. No pain unless I was running but with some serious stretching I was able to run ok. Downhill continued to be when I felt it the most.

As I toed the line on race morning, I spent a lot of time stretching my hip and I felt great until the last three miles of the race (the decline). Two runs last week (a 3 miler and a 5 miler) convinced me I'm not getting better. Something is wrong with my hip and I think the Shamrock Race made things worse.

A quick review of my mileage helped me realize that my lightweight shoes (my Asics) are probably ready for a retirement. I went out and purchased a new pair this weekend. My second pair of shoes (my Brooks) still have some mileage on them.

The second thing I did was make an appointment with my chiropractor. I found her several years back when I had a different hip issue after running a 200 mile relay. It wasn't the same pain but it was similar. It was through my chiropractor that I came to learn my legs aren't exactly the same length and that my hips tend to get out of alignment and need help getting back to the right place.

I don't tend to go see my chiropractor all that often - usually only when an issue surfaces but she does help and I was feeling like it was in my best interest to get this hip issue sorted as quickly as possible.

So today I had a great adjustment and am hoping I'm on my way to a recovery. I'm also not running for a few days. A week to be exact. Seven long long days. I don't even know when the last time was that I didn't run for an entire week. It has had to be several years ago now. I'm already experiencing the crankiness that comes along without running. I'm short tempered and lazy.

I'm trying to supplement my regular run days with long walks and extra weight sessions. I think a good healthy spin class is a good idea for I only have to find my bike shoes in the depths of my closet.

If all goes well on Thursday, I'll be ready to let loose on Sunday - which is my next race.....yes, I registered for another event last week, even though my hip wasn't feeling 100%. But here's the thing - this is a really cool concept for a race and I don't know if I'd ever get the chance to run it again so I signed up. Hoping a week of rest, a new pair of kicks and an adjustment set me on the road to recovery so I can have a great time come Sunday!

Perhaps my favorite race photo yet

I don't know what it is about race photos. I always think "this time, I'm going to have a great race picture!" and you know what? I never ever do. I've tried everything from ignoring the photographers to posing for them and regardless of my approach the images always look like I'm in the process of dying and/or walking. Why do I always look like I'm walking in race photos?

During the Shamrock Run 15K two weekends ago, one of my friends found me on the course. In a matter of seconds, I went from being elated to seeing a friendly face on perhaps the most severe incline of the day to having Sarah grab me around the neck and say "SMILE!" - snap! I didn't even realize a course photographer was sitting in the middle of the road trying to capture the agony of the climb. Luckily for me I have a knee jerk reaction of smiling like a crazy woman at any given moment so the resulting photo was actually pretty decent - especially for me.

Thanks Shamrock Run and thank you Gameface Media for the free race photos - I treasure this far more than my super tiny race shirt that I'll likely never ever wear!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Race Report: Shamrock Run 15K

Courtesy of Waz-Mix Pics
When I was young, my husband and I really celebrated St. Patrick's Day. We would make a huge deal over where and how we would indulge on St. Patrick's Weekend. Oh yes - much more than just a single celebration day back then.

But now that I'm pushing 40 - my St. Patrick's celebration has turned from bars and beers into iTunes playlists and running. On Saturday night instead of hailing a cab to a pub - I instead found myself hydrating and laying out green running gear.
Once again I signed up for the 15K distance for Portland's largest running event of the year. 35,000 of my closest running buddies joined me for a green mob of movement in downtown Portland. I heard the 15K had 11,000 registrants but I never confirmed this number. What I do know is there were a LOT of people at the starting line with me that morning.

Top is Shamrock - left is Heartbreaker and right is Cascade
Even though I don't work downtown anymore - my friends still do so I was able to stash my stuff in my old office before the race. For the first time ever, it wasn't raining at the start - and the temps were actually kind of warm. As such, I elected to wear my ever popular Brooks "Run Happy" shirt. I wore this shirt during the Cascade Half Marathon in January and had so many people stop and compliment me on it. Emily wore her Run Happy shirt for the Heartbreaker Half in February and had the same reaction from folks. We decided to wear our shirts together for this year's Shamrock and I have to say we were ADORABLE! And you know what? Once again I got a TON of compliments on this shirt. People love it - at least four people commented on it before the gun went off and then another four people mentioned it on the course. One woman caught up to me at mile 7ish and said "I ran extra fast to catch up to you just to ask - where did you get that shirt??" Cracked me up! And finally another two women nearly mauled me at the medal pick up tent to find out where to buy it. I might just wear this shirt at every race this year thanks to the attention I get (what can I say I am an attention whore!).
The woman in the purple was the one that asked me about my shirt

But back to the race - as always it took a long time for us to actually cross the starting pad. When you are lined up with several thousand runners - it happens. I was spending every second stretching my achy left groin muscle. I was so worried it would continue to hurt during this race so I was doing my best to give it as much attention pre-race as I could.

Courtesy of Waz-Mix Pics

Courtesy of Waz-Mix Pics

We started running a few feet before the start and I tried to clear my mind of expectations for this course and this race and just attempt to run happy. As typical this race starts out crowded and it stays crowded. I try to avoid delusions of a PR because it is nearly impossible to get a nice fast pace with so many people on the course.

trying to hone my 'photos on the run' abilities

The first few miles were as expected - busy, flat and agreeable. I ran past the railroad tracks and happily was not stopped by a train, although I did spy volunteers hanging on the sidelines waiting to stop runners if one did approach the course. Soon enough we were hitting a short out and back portion and on my 'return' I looked for familiar faces in the crowd. It wasn't long before I saw a friend but she didn't see me or hear me screaming her name. I continued on and new the first climb was approaching.

Unlike a lot of people I really appreciate a hill on a race course. For one - I live in a hilly neighborhood so hills are my "normal," for two - I love hills because it forces the field to spread out. With so many runners, I welcome the distance hills create in runner packs.

The first climb of the course is actually a subtle one as we progress up Broadway. I don't think a lot of people realize the gradual incline until it's kicking their butts. This is always where I see people "stopping to wait for their friends" - I think they are just winded and need a break, but you've got to do what you've got to do.

After we move past downtown, the REAL climb begins as we progress up Terwilliger Hill. This hill is no joke and my goal is always to run every single step. This is where the prepared are obvious. Unless you have done some serious hill training (and even if you have done the prep work), this hill will kick your butt. The first part of the climb always feels the steepest and it doesn't stop - you continue to climb for 2 entire miles. Let's just stop and appreciate that statement. You climb UP for TWO ENTIRE MILES. That's no joke.

Luckily for me, as I was completing my first 1/4 mile of the uphill climb, I started seeing my friends. I saw friends that I knew were running and I saw friends that I didn't know had registered. I did my best to say hello and have a quick little chat but I didn't run with anyone for any duration of time. I just kept plugging on because the uphill is where I make my progress. Most people make their passes on the downhill but I'm much better about  passing on the climbs.
No we didn't stop for a picture - snapped this of me & Elisha ON THE RUN!

Before I knew it, we had crested the top of the hill and were starting our 3 mile descent to the finish line. The first 1/4 mile is a sharp decline but then it tapers off and isn't as aggressive of a downhill. It was here that I was reminded of my groin pull. The downhill is where it bothers me the most and true to form, it really started hurting. As such I, I kept my stride short and tried to keep myself from a full race effort in those final three miles. I didn't want to do any long term damage to myself.

After finishing I was hoping I could find some of my old co-workers to let me inside the building. I found Sarah and not only did she let me inside to collect my gear but we made our way to the beer garden and celebrated together. Fun fact - this is the first Shamrock Run beer I actually collected. It's usually so wet and cold that the last thing I want is a beer, but this year the weather was pretty lovely for Portland in March so I opted for a little celebrating!
My first Shamrock Run beer with Sarah
After the beer garden with Sarah, I went to the local Irish pub to meet up with my friend Elisha for some catching up.

When I finished the race today I felt like I had gas in my tank left to burn. I assume that is because I held back on the final three miles to avoid additional strain to my already sore muscle. But I also think that it might have been because I'm getting used to racing half marathons more and this was a 'short' race in comparison. My time was three minutes slower than last year's Shamrock and four minutes slower than my 15K PR but I was pleased with my effort and decision to run the final miles smart.

I so enjoyed seeing so many familiar faces on the course this year. I love that I have so many running friends and that this race brings almost all of them out! Now I need to figure out my April races!!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Blood, Sweat and Tears

I like to think that race day is my victory lap  - regardless if I set a P.R., conquer a new course or distance or simply make it to the starting line. But if my races are my victory lap - my long runs are my blood, sweat and tears. And every now and that - that is a literal statement. 

Last week was a challenging week for me personally and professionally. I had a lot of deadlines and long hours which means I didn't hit the pavement like I prefer. In addition I had to say goodbye to a new friend I met last summer through my work with organ donor advocacy. He was hospitalized down at Stanford waiting for his second double-lung transplant. Unfortunately, his body couldn't hold on any longer and he passed on Thursday night.

By the time Friday rolled around I had only logged 3.5 miles, I was upset and I was sleep deprived. I was physically and emotionally exhausted but more than that I was frustrated so I laced up and went out for a run as dusk was settling on the horizon. I told myself I'd just run my short 3 mile loop so that I would be safe and sound by the time darkness took over completely.

Once I got my legs moving I just couldn't turn home at my 1.5 mile turnaround spot, so I kept going onto the 2 mile marker and turned back. But as I was almost home, I kept on straight instead of turning home and ran into one of my favorite natural forest parks here in Portland. As I exited the paved street and my feet hit the dirt path I felt my body relaxing, finally. Among the old growth trees, I was finally finding my release. What I love most about trail running is that you have to stop thinking. If you focus on anything beyond the trail you will eat dirt. Up until this point my mind was full with thoughts of my week consuming me.

Maricara Natural Park at dusk
Once I hit the trail I was focused on the protruding roots, the giant mud puddles left by the rainstorms earlier in the week and the steps carved into the muddy trail. But even though my thoughts were vacant, somewhere around half a mile in - I released and I cried. I cried for Kurt and I cried for his pregnant wife. And I cried because I realized that although I've met dozens and dozens of organ donors and recipients this was the first friend I had lost. Up until now all my experiences were positive ones of science winning over the human body and this time was different and I was crushed. I cried for the remainder of that trail run, but as I emerged into the moonlight and street lamps outside the forest, my mood had changed. By the time I finished that trail loop I felt more grounded, more complete  and with perspective on things once again.

That final half mile in the darkness to my house was exhilarating. I'm so grateful I've found an outlet for my anger, my pain, my frustrations. That was my Friday night run. My Sunday run....well that was the other side of the coin.

My long run on Sunday just started out rough. It was the first day of daylight savings and I was tired. I was also sore from my weight session the day before. And I had to run early because the girl had a Girl Scout cookie sale commitment and I had to work a Ragnar booth at RoadRunner Sports grand opening of the new Portland store. It was an early run or no run. At least it wasn't raining.

Long story short - my usual long course around the Portland waterfront was flooded out by all the rain this week. Typical for winter in Portland. So instead of continuing along the waterfront, I headed up. Up up up Terwilliger Hill. Next week is the Shamrock Run - so I figured why not refresh my memory on my most despised course of all time. I still don't know why I continue to sign up for the Shamrock when it treats me so poorly, but I do. Every. Single. Year. Sigh.

Do not pass go
The climb up Terwilliger was actually pretty decent considering how steep and long it is. I never quite got into this run. My left thigh was bothering me and I never felt good the entire run. My pace was slow but it was steady. When I summited the hill, I decided to return the same direction to get in some extra miles instead of going down the short side. Even though I was descending, my pace wasn't improving all that much. I just wasn't feeling this run - even on the downhill I couldn't pick up my pace. I finally just gave in and stopped checking my Garmin splits and focused on simply finishing instead of finishing strong.

Full unopened beer. I was tempted...

Views at the top are pretty amazing though

Lost and found on Terwilliger

Just a bit of hillwork
I was rained on, flooded out, and unexpectedly ran through a homeless camp (freaky). I was so happy to be done  with those grueling 10 miles. Then when I got home I was locked out. Husband and kid were at the grocery store selling cookies (I took longer than planned) and didn't bring my house key. By the time I pulled my wet socks off I noticed one of my toenails was bleeding. Whatever it happens.

So between my last two runs I literally experienced blood, sweat and tears. I'm so happy it's a new week and I get to reset.

Signs of spring

The new Portland Bridge is getting close
Lovely view of Portland from the top

And finally - in honor of Kurt - if you have not yet, please consider registering to be an organ donor. When you are gone you don't need those organs I promise - but someone amazing does. If you are interested in reading about Kurt's courageous battle with Cystic Fibrosis - you can read his blog (updated by his wife) here:

Monday, February 17, 2014

Race Report: Heartbreaker Half

I was so surprised by my half marathon race in January that I allowed myself to sign up for another one this month. My February Half Marathon is appropriately titled "Heartbreaker Half" and includes an extra special challenge - a race within a race! At mile four of the overall 13 miles racers cross a second timing pad and race up Heartbreak Hill. Extra special awards are given to the top five finishers of this portion of the course.

Luckily for us, the snow of last weekend had all melted by the time Saturday rolled around but unfortunately in it's place torrential rain and overall stormy conditions replaced the white stuff. On Saturday I participated in a race expo where I picked up my bib as well as did some ambassador work for Ragnar. All the while the rain was pouring down and my feet were sopping wet because the tent did a very poor job at keeping the water out.

I came home and tried putting my Sunday race gear together. It is still February after all, so I needed to dress for warmth and also wet but I just wasn't feeling good about my options. I eventually settled on a nice brimmed hat, a pair of capris and some layers on top - no jacket. I run warm so figured two shirts would be enough, but hopefully not too much. I also spent some time figuring out my race strategy for the next day. Like my January race, my goal was not to get out there and set a PR for myself but instead to run a race where I felt good for the entirety of the course. I was going to again attempt to run by heart rate - with a goal of keeping my heart rate between 150 and 160. It's hard for me to not fixate on the minute per mile number but because I'm not in peak race condition I figured this was a much safer and enjoyable race for me to run.

I woke early on Sunday and winced a little when I heard the raindrops on the roof. But luckily as I drove myself out to the Portland suburb I noticed the rain was letting up and I crossed my fingers for a dry race.

My friend Emily met me at the lovely indoor pre and post race party area and we made our way to the starting line together. As we walked I set my Garmin to lock in on a GPS signal. It took quite sometime before locking in but then I realized - just moments before the gun - that my heart rate monitor wasn't picking up. I kept getting a message I had never seen before on my watch, it was telling me there were too many heart rate signals coming in and my Garmin couldn't identify which one was mine. This was obviously problematic because my strategy was to run this race by heart rate.

I kept hitting the "ok" button on this message for nearly two miles. I tried my hardest to slow my pace down and run by feel. This is something that all great athletes can do and I'm trying to listen to my body more and more but I haven't mastered this .... at all.

Once my heart rate monitor and my Garmin finally started communicating, I was able to calm my nerves and begin running the race I had planned to run. The scenery was stunning. We were once again running on country roads, passing old churches, farmhouses, estates and even some llamas. I fell in easily with a group of runners hitting the same splits and we carried up and down many rolling hills which I enjoy more than a basic flat course. Soon enough we hit a gravel section and a significant incline. I wondered if this was Heartbreak Hill but realized we hadn't cross a timing pad. Once we crested the gravel hill I saw a split in the course where the half marathon runners were to head out to Heartbreak Hill and an extra two mile loop. We climbed again but again I didn't see a timing pad.

I was trying to keep my heart rate below 160 but that was challenging as we were climbing. I kept thinking back to the course description and I didn't remember any mention of extra climbs other than Heartbreak Hill:

The course is comprised of three loops (one of which is run twice) over quiet and scenic country roads... into the countryside dominated by farmers’ fields and wineries. There is little elevation gain for the first 1+ miles, then a few moderate climbs before coming to Heart Break Hill.

From MP 2.98 to MP 3.98 there is an elevation difference of  +193 ft. Within this section, dubbed “Heart Break Hill”, each participant will be timed and have their time & pace reported like it was a separate race. The fastest 5 males & 5 females will receive a special prize.

Once you reach the summit, the course is mostly flat with one major downhill as you conclude the Heart Break Loop which will be run only once. The remainder of the course has a lot of flat terrain with only a few moderate rolling hills. This loop you will run twice.

"A lot of flat terrain" ??? Regardless, I was climbing and my heart rate was up - I looked ahead and saw the runners narrowing ahead of me and surmised this was the timing pad and knew I had about 100 yards to slow my heart rate down so that I could hit the timed hill portion hard.

I crossed the timing pad and the real incline hit. It wasn't the hardest hill I've encountered but I couldn't tell how long it climbed from my vantage and I didn't want to burn out. I was quickly passing many runners that had slowed to a walk. I put my head down and climbed and silently thanked my giant ass that helps me propel up steep hills. I passed a number of people that had passed me on the first three miles of the course and knew they would probably pass me again later on but didn't dwell on that thought long.

The end of the timed portion ended on a decline and I opened my stride and allowed myself to really run through the timing pad. I'm sure I looked like a fool but the competitor in me just can't coast across a timing pad without going full out.

After conquering Heartbreak Hill we continued on a decline and looped back to the course we had detoured from earlier. It was at this point that we encountered the 10K runners. I enjoyed adding new people to the course. It gave me something new to look at and new people to chase. As I was chasing a group of tutus I realized we were climbing again but this time it was a long slow climb. And again I thought of the course description and how I just was not prepared for all this climbing!

As I neared the halfway point of the run around 6 miles or so the first place runner came up behind me with a motorcycle escort. Two more runners past me on their way to the finish line and I suddenly became so very aware of the intense headwind that was blowing straight at me. I put my head down and ran into the headwind trying to not think that I hadn't even finished my first loop yet.

This was the hardest portion of the course for me. I play head games with myself when I run and I love that moment when I hit the halfway point - typically the "and back" turnaround point on an out and back but because this course was two loops + an extra single loop that tangible halfway mark wasn't obvious. I had my Garmin so I knew when I hit 6.5 miles but because I wasn't through the first loop it didn't "feel" like halfway. It's hard to explain but I really struggled with this concept on this course. The headwind probably didn't help either.

As we approached mile eight, we turned left and I realized we were finally starting the second loop. That was a nice feeling to know we had one loop left but had already put two miles into the second half. As we turned onto the repeat loop I spied the BEST spectator of the race standing with her cowbell and perfect sign. I stopped to snap her picture and thank her for her enthusiasm.

This time around the runners were more spread out. I personally like the excitement of having a lot of runners around me. We progressed once again over the rolling hills and onto the gravel incline. A woman I had been pacing with since mile five stopped to ask the water station folks where the Honeybuckets were and they told her they never showed up. At first I felt terribly for her and then the thought of needing to use a bathroom made me have to go. Urg. I put it out of my mind as best I could and I climbed to distract myself.

By the time we hit the long slow climb there were no more 5K or 10K runners on the course. It was just us half marathoners and I realized I was over this run. I was at 9.5 miles and although I wasn't hitting my wall, I was tired of running. I can't stand running on courses where I repeat distance. I like an out and back because I get to see my friends on the course that way but a double loop just pisses me off at some point and today that point was at preciously 9.5 miles.

Then at 10.75 miles we turned and crashed right into that punishing headwind. Now remember, I was so grateful the winter monsoon had stopped raining for our race and I was still grateful to be dry but the wind was challenging and I wasn't having it at that point of the course.

I'm not sure if it was all the unanticipated climbing and descending or the headwind, but right around mile 11 my left thigh started screaming at me. I'm not used to being sore while running. After I stop - yes always but never during a run. And I worried because I never want to risk injury, especially when I'm not pushing for a PR. I had a heated discussion with myself for approximately 3/4 of a mile where I weighed the risk of long term injury with my pride at how I would feel defeated if I walked the final two miles. In the end my pride won and I kept on running - albeit at a reduced pace.

When I climbed the final hill where we previously turned left for our second loop, I was initially ecstatic because we were now turning right and coming home. That happiness dissipated when I realized I still had more than a mile before I was to cross the finish line. I hobbled along and tried to pay attention to my heart rate instead of my pace.

Soon enough we were back on the high school grounds and entering the track & field where we ran our final .25 miles around the nicely maintained track and across the finish line.

I was happy to be done but I realized right away that my leg was still angry with me. I hobbled inside the cafeteria where I collected my belongings and started stretching out while I waited for Emily to finish up.

Looking back on yesterday's race now I'm happy I did it. It's only February and I've already raced two half marathons, I only ran three in all of 2013. Of course this wasn't my fastest race - 2:07 - but that's ok because it was very hilly and I was able to keep my heart rate and pace in check. The other thing I'm happy about is that while I was fighting with myself over whether or not to walk, it hit me that I can and do run 13.1 miles without walking and that has become second nature to me. My first two half marathons included walking. They included more walking that I like to admit but I've gotten stronger and have improved my cardio to the point that I don't even include a goal of "run 100% of the race" any longer. That's just a given now. And that makes me proud.

I took my really cool medal and headed home for an afternoon of donuts, shopping and mani/pedis with my little girl. And as I fell asleep to the pounding rain that had inevitably returned, I realized just how lucky I am to be able to sign up and run a half marathon with only two weeks prep. I'm really enjoying keeping my mileage high and adding in races as they come along.