Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Cherry on the Top of a Great Week of Training

I'm still happy as a clam after a magnificent run the the sun with my training partner Laura. We have had what feels like a full week of rain here in the Willamette Valley. I went to sleep last night to the sound of it dumping outside. I was already feeling a bit sore and fatigued from last week's trail race, a super speedy and long tempo run and a faster than usual "easy run". 17 miles seemed like a BIG deal. I hadn't run that far since back when Laura and I were training for a half marathon. I know. 1/2 marathons are only 13.1 miles. For some reason, we felt like we needed to add a 20 mile run to our training plan. Probably because after running marathons, half marathons seemed a little anti-climatic. On this 20 mile training run for our half marathon, I did a lot of whining. I was tired, hungry, hot or whatever I could think of at the time time. Why were we doing this in the first place? Somehow we managed to complete the 20 mile run but it remains ingrained in my brain. I had forgotten what anything longer than 13 feels like on the road since I've been doing trails since January. What? Only since January? Feels like I've been running trails forever! Anyhow, 15 miles on the trail, with the hills, etc. is hard work. I get tired fast out there. If a mere 15 trail miles felt hard, how would I be able to survive two additional miles on the roads where things weren't nearly as scenic and exciting?

My left glute was all, for lack of better word, jacked up. I did a lot of stretching, rolling around on the foam roller and sighing while watching my Friday night movie. Some muscles in my lower calf were randomly throbbing until Steve gave me a wonderful lower leg massage. I was still skeptical and kept looking for my ticket out of Saturday's run. I was still recovering from last week's race, right? My body wasn't feeling right. It would be pouring down rain the whole 3ish hours we'd be out there. I had a women's circle to host and attend at 11:00 that same day. Between my husband and running partner, there was no getting out of the run. My husband who runs in any condition will not listen to nor accept excuses when it comes to running. Likewise I have a training partner who is very consistent and dedicated. She isn't signed up for a marathon (yet) but is willing to train with me anyway. She would not only would be joining me but had also come up with our route. I guess I'd have to give it a try. I could always bail out if I wasn't feeling well.

When I woke up the next day I was feeling pretty good physically and was pleasantly surprised to discover that the weather had completely cleared. It was cool, dry and gorgeous outside. The route that Laura had designed was a combination of a downtown loop, an out and back to Amazon and a through the University area to the River Path. It connected us to three of the few drinking fountains in Eugene that are on during winter and had up hills and down hills in just the right places. My goal was to keep a nice slow pace not exceeding 10 minute miles. This would take some work on my part to keep the LSD pace. Laura likes to go faster than me. We both have Garmen's. Hers always says we're going slower than mine says we're going. I swear its some sort of conspiracy to make me run faster than I want to.

There was an easy steady flow of conversation as we started off our run. The most interesting thing we saw downtown a college kid sleeping face down in the middle of the sidewalk. Perhaps he drank too much the previous night and passed out? He looked quite peaceful. He reminded me of a friend who ended up sleeping the the bushes of a neighbor after a wild party that Steve and I threw back in the day. I guess we should have called 911 or checked his pulse or something but that surprisingly didn't cross either of our minds at the time. We also encountered a man in a walking cast, painfully walking around. He asked a question that I didn't hear. I assumed he was looking for spare change. It turned out that he just needed directions to the bus station. Laura steered him the right direction. I briefly wondered what his story was and hoped that he made to his destination.

Once we got out of the heart of downtown, we were surrounded by familiar sights and memories and lots of fellow runners along Amazon Path. This was Eugene Marathon territory. The loudest cheer section that helped lift my spirits immensely last year. It was such a gorgeous day. We were both on top of the world. We kept talking about how much easier it was to run on the roads and even the bark paths compared to the trails. I told Laura that I felt like I could run forever. Perhaps marathon training wasn't looking so bad after all. Our 17 miler felt more like an 8-10 miler. I chalked that up to the hill work, speed work and technical trails that we'd been running. The combination of road and trail running was only going to make me a stronger, tougher runner. The final portion of our route took us through the University of Oregon area where we got water at the legendary Hayward Field. From there we went down the river path to our third and final water fountain at EWEB. My car and Laura's house were a short mile and half away. After the last little climb my glute started complaining. Enough already! We had a lovely low grade downhill the last mile which made for a nice cool down.

It was the perfect run. Talk about runner's high! I was in a delicious state of bliss for hours on end after this run. I couldn't believe the trepidation on which I had looked at this run. 17 miles? That was nothing! My body, mind and spirit got into its groove and it all was so natural and effortless. I was excited about my marathon training and marathon goals again. Game on!

Lose Yourself

My "Hagg Lake Mudd" trail race debut has come and gone. As always, I suffered a little post-race blues. The trails have been like my own private sanctuary. They are the perfect showcases of nature's beauty. Surprises are lurking at every turn of the trail, no matter how many times you've run it. One day it could be how the trees filter the sun onto the foliage of the forest floor, the next day it could be a critter that bounds across the trail just feet in front of you, or another day it could be the beautiful sounds of a waterfall or stream.

With the Eugene Marathon as the next event on my race calendar, it was time to move away from my beloved trails and hit the hard roads. As if that weren't challenging enough, I would have to work hard to develop the speed required to complete the marathon with my desired sub four time goal. Ack! What did I do to myself? I set a lofty goal, registered for the marathon early and have been overly vocal about all of the above. It's time to get serious. No more blowing off my weekly tempo runs or track work outs. Those would be an essential part of my training program. They would require me to push my physical and mental limitations. I would have some *shudder* uncomfortable runs where my lungs would burn, my muscles would ache and I'd feel like puking. This was going to be work. I am not used to working on my running.

The other aspect that worries me about moving from the trails to the roads is the increased potential for injury. Training and racing on the trails has been something I have been able to do without hurting myself. While training for my previous two marathons I suffered injuries that required weekly visits to my chiropractor for ART and graston. After seeing me the second time around, my doc recommended that I give up marathons and take up ultras where I would be on more forgiving running surface and be able to take walking breaks. I decided to do both.

I've declared Tuesdays, "Tempo Tuesday". After getting off work and taking care of my daughters until my husband gets home. I head out the door for six to nine quick miles. This Tuesday's run happened to be the rainiest day of the week. All I wanted to do was pull on my polar fleece and play on the floor with my daughters. Fortunately my husband encouraged me to get out the door. He convinced me that once I got out there that I'd hardly notice the rain and would feel SO much better. I wasn't so sure but grabbed my iPod, started playing "Lose Yourself" and out the door I headed pretending to be a tough running chick.

Mile 1 was a warm up, miles 2-8 were between 8:42 and 9:10 pace which is exactly what I wanted, then I had a mile cool down. The tempo portion was hard but got easier as I warmed up and loosened up. My body felt good and was cooperating surprisingly well. I felt tough out there running fast in the pouring rain. There was hardly anyone else crazy enough to be out on the paths in the cold, wet rain as the sun was setting. Dang, I was actually having fun out there! 9-1/4 mile tempo run done. I'm ready for my next challenge. What will it be?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Hagg Lake 25K Race Report: Perfect Day for a Trail Run

I knew early on that Hagg Lake 25K was going to be a special race. Since registering for it months ago, I have been receiving informative and entertaining e-mails from the fabulous race directors. There was a Facebook group in which race rookies were able to glean information from race veterans and look at pictures of trail. I was amazed at the race director's attention for detail and how well cared for runners would be on race day. Cute shirts, finisher socks, cookies baked in the ovens of the race directors and lots of mud were promised to runners of this 25 K or 50 K trail race.

My running partner and I decided to make a weekend of it and booked a room for two nights at the Grand Lodge. We got in lots of gab time, ate well and begrudgingly limited our pre-race Gin & Tonic consumption. Our friend Carolyn was also staying at the GL and would be running the 50K the following day. It was fun to be able to hang out and enjoy each other's company the night before the race.

Race day arrived too soon, after too little sleep. The weather was fantastic! Blue skies, sunshine and projected temps ranging between 34 to 47 degrees. We had coffee and a quick bite before heading out to the race. The drive out to Hagg Lake was gorgeous. Forest Grove is a quaint little town. It had pretty views of the farmland and coastal mountains. We were getting pumped for the race. The drive took longer than we had expected which gave us little time for anything other than packet pickup, dumping our stuff back at the truck, and using the portapottie before hightailing it to the start. The mood was festive. It seemed like everyone knew each other. We were new to trail running. I certainly felt like a rookie. I kept overhearing veterans, who were signed up for the 50K talking about how they "forgot" to train for this event. I had been training for weeks to (just) run the 25K. I had done hill work, speed work, long runs, medium runs, short runs, had PRd at my last 1/2 marathon and had even tapered for the last week to have fresh legs for today's race.

We made our way toward the back of the pack since we had decided to start off slowly with just a minute or two to spare before the race began. This was by far the closest I had ever come to missing the start of a race. I'm sure that from now on, I'll arrive insanely early to prevent this from happening again. The mood was festive. Everyone looked as happy as I felt to be out running on this gorgeous sunny Saturday morning. I hadn't really bothered to study the course map all that much and relied instead on what past participants had said about the run. It wasn't very hilly, was super muddy, I'd likely fall down a lot, might lose a shoe in the mud, should be careful crossing the icy bridges, and would be lucky to run the 25K in an hour more than my half-marathon pace.

The first mile went up a steep gravel road and turned around to go back down that road before moving on to the trails. I was able to see all the fast people whiz right by me. I don't even remember if I ran or walked up that hill. It probably was a combination of the two. I was able to cheer on a couple of fast folks that I knew. I was quite relieved when I got to the downhill portion. I didn't blaze down the hill but I went as quickly as I safely felt I could go with large chunks of gravel under my feet. I kept remembering my friend who had trained with Earth First! and how he would carry a large bag of marbles to dump in emergencies to slow down pursuers. This gravel, along with pine cones, sticks and roots were potential threats to my safety. More than anything I wanted to be safe and have fun. Running this thing in 3:04 or less would be the icing on the cake.

The rest of the race is a blur of beautiful trails, fantastic views of the lake, jovial runners, fabulous aide station volunteers and lots of glances at my Garmen. I was surprised to find that the course was a lot more scenic than I had expected. It took us under the chartreuse forest canopy among glorious ferns, coniferous trees and streams. Crossing streams were one of my favorite tasks. Some I just waded through while others I balanced on logs to cross or rock hopped to the other side. I kept thinking during the whole race that there was nothing I would rather be doing than running this race right here right now.

There were portions of single track trails that I felt a little claustrophobic due to the bottleneck of people. Especially at the beginning, I felt like I was going slower than I wanted to because of a nervous runner afraid to cross the stream or runners taking longer than I wanted to ascend or descend hills in the single-track areas. The mud wasn't nearly as bad as I had expected but it had been relatively dry out there for the last few weeks. I hadn't expected the mud to be stinky, but it was in places. I also met a new type of running surface, mud moguls. These threatened twisting or snapping my ankle as I hopscotch ran on the higher portions of the earth.

The aide stations were positioned just where I needed them the most. Even though I had had breakfast and a Gu, I found myself ravenous by the time I made it to the mile 6 aid station. Rather than waste my time waiting in line and using the portapot, I decided to grab a bite to eat. A friendly attentive volunteer asked me what I wanted in my water bottle and filled it for me. Such volunteers are angels! I grabbed a handful of potato chips and started munching on them while I scanned the table for other things that looked good and wouldn't come back to haunt me. I didn't see anything on that table that I DIDN'T want. It all looked delicious. My only limitation was how much food I could carry away with me to munch along the trail. Knowing that time would be tight, I certainly didn't want to waste any hanging out stuffing my face at the aid stations. I shoved the handful of chips into my mouth to free up my hands and proceeded to grab a salted potato (ultimate endurance fuel), a handful of M&Ms, another handful of chips and on impulse a 1/4 of a PBJ. I realized that I had a little more room and grabbed some more M&Ms at the last minute. I might be a little paranoid but I think people were staring at me in my gluttonous state.

I walk/jogged as I ate my food and picked my pace back up once my hands were empty again. Everything went down well. Surprisingly, the food I was the least excited about were the M&Ms while the PBJ and chips were my favorites. I was relieved that my stomach accepted all that food in such a short amount of time and was stoked that I could skip my second Gu. I took a pit stop in the woods. That would be my one and only bathroom break for the race. I believe I drank nearly bottles of water and one bottle of Gu Brew during the race.

Around this time I decided that the sounds of the trail and runners needed to be supplemented with a little music from my iPod. I kept the music down low and only wore one ear bud so that I could still be social and hear what was going on around me. The mix of music turned out to be great and helped keep my energy up. I was surprised at how quickly my muscles were fatiguing. I knew that I'd finish the race but worried that I might end up walking more than the uphills as I had originally planned. It was definitely hillier than I had been anticipating. I have been hoping to register for a 50K March 1st. This experience was making me question my physical and mental strength. Could I really handle doing this for 31 miles? More importantly, would I even want to? Why push myself that much?

I was definitely ready for the next aid station at mile 11. More chips, another PBJ, a couple Fig Newtons (my favorite running food) and some juicy oranges. This time I decided to have my bottle filled with diluted Gu Brew so I could get in some additional liquid calories to keep my energy up and muscles from cramping. The aide station offerings went down well and were an instant pick-me-up.

Over the next several miles I started passing several of the 25 K runners. I told them good job and passed as respectfully as possible. I was surprised by the speed at which the 50K runners would pass me. ZOOM! They were amazing and fearless. Streams, muddy bogs and hills didn't slow them down in the least. According to my watch, I had less than two miles to run. I tend to lose all ability to do math while running but with my quick, rough projections, I thought that I had a chance of not only finishing in 3:04 but had the possibility of breaking 3 hours. I was stoked! I picked up my speed and hoped that I could maintain what felt like a blazing speed. It actually turned out that it wasn't likely any faster than 10:30 mi/mi. I am still getting used the difference between speed and exertion on the trail versus on the road. Runners, volunteers and spectators hanging out in the far parking lot a quarter mile from the finish line cheered as I ran by. It was great. I was not used to running an event so light on spectators. I guess I kind of like the crowds at marathons and how I feel like a rock star when they cheer me on. The trail requires more humility and self talk. I could feel my heart rate and respiration increase. I was really pushing it. The sound of the cowbell at the finish was music to my ears. I spotted the clock as I ran to the finish: 3:08:14. My eyes involuntarily teared and I felt a brief moment of sadness and disappointment. For the first time in my racing, I hadn't made my time goal and/or PRd.

I thought back to all the fun I had on the trail, what a great day it was out there and how much I'd learned. By the time I had collected my finisher socks, grabbed a space blanket and cooled down a bit my disappointment and sadness had (thankfully) vanished. My stomach was a little tight from exertion but I knew it was important to get some food in me. This time I feasted on peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies, chicken noodle soup, tofu dog and coffee. I was tired and a little stiff but quite pleased with how well the race went.

It turned out that my Garmen had been off for around a half mile or six minutes which explains why I had underestimated my time. Note to self: I needed to learn how to use the Garmen! I was amazed at how quickly my body recovered from the trail race as opposed to the road race. Hardly any soreness and by that evening the muscle fatigue was long gone. This added to the growing list of reasons why I absolutely LOVE the trails.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Spring is Around the Corner

My medial tibial stress syndrome is trying to rear is ugly old head. I'm determined to stay injury-free and am doing lots of proactive heel, toe walking, alphabet writing with my foot, icing, elevating and trail running. After reading Kara Goucher's story in this month's RW, I'm wondering whether this injury stuff is in my head.

I had the perfect three day weekend full of my favorite Rs, running, reading and relaxing with kids and honey. Saturday, after my speeding ticket mishap. I picked up my running partner Laura and drove out a half hour from home to Lowell. The North Shore trail, a relatively flat scenic trail has become my favorite trail run. The trail travels at least 12 miles alongside Lookout Point Reservoir. It has gentle rolling hills that travel in and out of the forest canopy and through several creeks. I have noticed that I tend to start out too fast on trail runs. I'll have to keep this in mind at next week's race. Hagg Lake 25K, my first trail race is a mere five days away. I can't wait! It was a terrific run. It's interesting how Laura and I chatter away when we're running on the road. Out on the trail, we tend to quiet down and disappear into the gorgeous setting and our own thoughts.

On Sunday Steve disappeared for hours on end (seven but who's counting?) leaving me to hold down the fort solo. I was so antsy. I just didn't know what to do with myself and my girls on that rainy, sleepy Sunday morning and afternoon. My annoyance with Steve taking the liberty of disappearing for seven hours changed into fear. He was out there alone and didn't bother to leave a note telling me where he was going or what his plan was. To make matters worse it didn't appear that he had taken his cell phone. He finally made it home from what he called a hellish run/experience. Once he showered, ate and started looking human again, I had a whole hour and a half to take my run before heading off to watch Steve's basketball game. I was not a pleasant human being. I didn't even want to be around myself. I headed out my front door with my iPod and forgot all my worries. The River Path it was warm and dry. The run felt fine and cured me of my grumpies.

Today I was supposed to do a mere three mile run since I'm tapering. It hardly seemed worth getting dressed for! I didn't even have a three mile route in mind and had to make it up as I went. It was fun checking out funky houses and gardens in my neighborhood and observing some of nature's first signs of our quickly approaching spring. Yay! 9:30 felt like the perfect easy run pace for me. On my way back home I noticed a fellow runner going in the opposite direction as me. We nearly ran past each other but recognized each other at the last minute. It was my friend Tanya. We ran together in the unexpectedly warm and sunny day and chatted for a mile and half. I was having such a good time that I didn't realize that my three mile run had stretched into a four and a half mile run. OOPS! It felt great and I enjoyed the company and the sunshine. I hope to do more running with Tanya and will try not to drive her nuts with my enthusiasm in her return to the sport.

The day was so spectacular we decided to let the girls decide on how to spend the rest of the afternoon. They voted for gardening and going for a hike. The four of us joined the Bunson trio for a terrific two mile hike at Pisgah. On the climb we were warned by two separate solo hikers about how muddy it was. This was not a deterrent considering all the mud that Steve and I run in. We're used to being ankle deep in some parts of the trail. The mud was no more that 1/2 inch deep in a few parts. The kids loved it. "You call this mud?!" I wanted to shout to the hikers who had long ago made their descent. While Steve and I enjoyed the hike immensely we couldn't help but drool at the trail runners with their muddy calves zipping around the gorgeous trails. The girls surprised us with their strength and endurance. Much to our delight, they actually ran UP sections of the hills. What a beautiful spring day full of gorgeous views and great company. It was the perfect cap to a fabulous long weekend.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Speed Demon

I am trying to remember what it feels like to sleep in on Saturday mornings. It's been a while but all the same, Saturday mornings have come to be my favorite time of the week. I wake up before the rest of my sweet family and go out for a long run. When I return, I'm a new (and much more pleasant) woman. Lately I've gotten hooked on trail running. It's the best! No cars, stop lights, traffic, noise, roads. I love the mud, creek crossings, wild animals, trees, nature and the calm that it brings to my soul.

So this morning, I woke up, washed down my bagel & cream cheese with a steamy cup of coffee and checked my crackbook. My quiet, me-time was quickly interrupted by my bright-eyed and bushy-tailed 5 year-old who decided to wake up early. To maximize my slumber, I had set my alarm clock for as late as possible while still allowing time to get dressed have a light breakfast, brush my teeth and check my computer. Kass distracted me with her happy chatter. After realizing how late it was, I went into my bedroom and whined to my husband who begrudgingly got up and assumed his Saturday morning kid-duty routine.

As quickly as possible, I put on my muddy trail shoes, grabbed the bag that I had carefully packed (Gu, Gingies, CliffBars, wallet, phone, hat) and headed out the door with my dog Japhy. The previous day Japhy had rolled around on an unfortunate worm that happened to be in my lawn. Mysteriously enough, worms are scentless until they have been smashed and smeared into the neck of my dog. At which point they take on a particularly rank smell. I placed Japhy who is named after a character in my favorite Jack Kerouac novel "Dharma Bums". It was the only way I could get my husband to agree on letting me have a dog some eight years ago. Japhy Ryder of "Dharma Bums" is a fascinating character: Zen poet hiker minimalist nature lover. This dog would get Steve and I out into nature and keep us from forgetting about the all important search for Dharma (truth). I am still trying to determine if he's lived up to his namesake but that's another story for another time.

Once Japhy and I are in the car, we set off to pick up my running partner who I hope won't be too offended by my dog's ripe scent. I have a whole ten minutes to make it across town to pick her up at the planned time. I have a complex about being late. I don't mind if others are a few minutes late but I despise being even five minutes late to most of my destinations. I cranked up the radio to get myself pumped for the run and hightailed it out out of the driveway. I was having a good old time blazing down a nearly empty 7th Avenue until my stinky dog squeezed through the doggie gate and weaseled his way into the seat next to me. God, he reeked! I rolled down the window to try to keep from swooning from the odor. I didn't have time to pull over and return him to his rightful location. Oh well. Nothing was going to dampen my spirits on my long trail run day! Shortly thereafter, I checked my rear view mirror and noticed flashing red and blue lights behind me.

Crap! I knew I was speeding but did he see me texting at the red lights? Was I weaving or running red lights in my previous and short-lived blissed out pre-run state? I was relieved that at least I had remembered to bring my wallet, that actually held my license and a relatively current insurance card. I rolled down my window to greet the officer and see if I could talk my way out of the ticket. Japhy decided to give the deputy an earful. He was barking his fool head off. I apologized profusely, grabbed his collar and moved him into the back gated area where he should have been in the first place. Meanwhile, I hoped like heck that I had a cool officer that would issue me a warning rather than a ticket.

No such luck. Evidently the officer had been following me for a while and wondered where I was going in such a hurry. He claimed that I was going 42 MPH in a 25 MPH zone right in front of City Hall. I had no doubt that I was going that fast. The one break he gave me was by saying that I was in a 30 MPH zone rather than a 25 MPH so my insurance wouldn't freak out on me when they found out about my infraction. I looked at the citation. $142 fine! There would be no trips to Buffalo Exchange, Miss Meers or even Sephora on this lovely 3 day weekend. I slowly went along my way wondering how I'd break the news to Steve who'd been on my case about me driving too fast lately. Wait a minute! This was my first speeding ticket EVER! How had I managed to avoid speeding tickets until the ripe age of 38? Pretty impressive I would say. Why have I suppressed this urge to speed for all these years? It was rather exhilarating!

This speeding ticket, my FIRST, had to be an omen. My confidence as a runner has always been lacking. I constantly doubt my ability to run the distance, stay injury free, stay consistent, finish races, etc. but probably the most haunting doubt is my ability to run fast. I still see myself as (on a good day) a ten minute miler. Lately I've been wondering about my lofty goal of breaking 4 hours at the 2010 Eugene Marathon. I couldn't help but think that since my marathon PR is 4:19, that I should set a goal of that shaved maybe five or ten minutes from that PR rather than a whopping 19 minutes. Until just a couple months ago, I dreaded, despised and often skipped the speed work portion of my running routine. I wouldn't go as far as saying that I enjoy my speedwork but am noticing and appreciating the results of those tempo runs and intervals. As silly as it sounds, this yellow speeding ticket may very well have been what I needed to reveal to myself that there is a speed demon in me waiting for permission and the opportunity to fly. I have eleven weeks left to train for this marathon. I am not holding back. I can do it.