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Thursday, July 12, 2018

Summer series: a muggy two-miler

I'm on a little bit of a race kick right now, as you may have noticed! All of a sudden a ton of race opportunities popped up within a few days of each other, and I decided to just go for them all. None of them are goal races, so none of them have been very fast. Almost all of them have been run on tired, sore leg - and Wednesday's 2-miler was no exception. My legs were so trashed from a hard Tuesday night workout!

My race schedule looks like this:

Sat: Armadillo Dash
Wed: 4 on the 4th
Fri: All-comers track meet
Wed: Summer Series 2 miler
Sun: Spillway Classic 

Yeah, five races in two weeks. That's plenty. After Sunday I get a two-week break.

So, the two-miler: I hadn't planned to run it, because we have Bible study on Wednesday nights, but we ended up not meeting because so many people are out of town or just moved away (WAH, losing two good friends in one weekend!). With my schedule open, I ditched David (poor guy), and drove to City Park for the race. I had a really upset stomach all day, so much so that I wasn't sure I could run, but I reasoned that it wasn't all for nought because it was also early packet pickup for Sunday's Spillway Classic (which was a great idea, and I think helped the turnout for 2-miler as well). 
The art museum at City Park, post-race - what a pretty sky!

It was one of those miserable muggy evenings where rain threatens for hours, then finally there's a short, hot shower, and then it's just steamy. With mid-80's and 100% humidity, I settled for a short warm-up and ditched my sunglasses - they were just staying fogged up, anyway. I had no idea how I'd feel running, but I was definitely fatigued. I'd run 7.5 that morning, but even more importantly, I'd done nine miles of fartlek the night before. When I couldn't get my warmup pace under 8:45's, I knew I was in for a struggle. But then, sometimes I feel better once I start racing, so I got up to the line to start this thing! 

Sure enough, when the gun went off, my legs still felt sluggish. The hot, wet air made it seem like we were running through water, and my heavy legs only enhanced that impression. I pumped my arms a little to try to get my legs to turnover, and it worked a little. I was in a crowd of high schoolers, but I had started close enough to the front to avoid any serious boxing-in. By about a half mile, we had settled into our paces, and I was third female; the first was in eyesight, but far ahead, and the second was about halfway between us. She was a high school girl, and I hoped I could catch her in the second half. However, when the mile beeped at 6:07, I didn't feel like I had any more speed left. I actually started to slow down some instead. I worked to keep the distance between myself and the next girl the same, if not smaller, at least! With a quarter of a mile to go, I glanced at my watch and saw that my pace for this mile had dropped to 6:10 - not my intent - so I grimaced and tried to run hard to the finish. 

Somewhere along that last part I managed to accidentally hit stop on my Garmin, but the race is timed despite being a casual affair, and my gun time was 12:15. I can't complain about that! I should be able to run at or under 12 flat for two miles, but given my recent race and workout schedule, I was actually surprised to be under 12:30. A 12:15 is better than expected, and I think it's a promising sign that I could do that on tired legs. Also, I rallied well after initially slowing in the second mile, so that is also promising. If I can just stay healthy, I can see some PRs in my future! 

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

I ran a track mile

I somehow managed to have Friday night free at the same time as an all-comers track meet in Metairie, so I packed a change of clothes and headed to St. Martin's Episcopal School right after work. I close at six and the meet starts at seven, so I had a slightly tight timeline - plus the issue of what to eat and when. I couldn't run on a totally empty stomach, but I also didn't want to have heavy food slopping around in there. I ended up eating a small piece of leftover pizza around 5:30. Not a great choice; too heavy, but oh well.
After the sun went down: the 4x400 relay (it was 86 with 90% humidity for the start, plus full sun, bleah)

After I arrived at the track, I had time for a short jog, but didn't do any strides, which I should have. The mile is the first event, and it was crowded. I stupidly lined up toward the back. I have no idea why I did this: it's an all-comers meet, and plenty of runners there are slower than I am at this distance. So when the horn went off, I was super boxed in.
Like why was I behind all these people? I finished probably top ten overall.

I haven't run a mile in forever, so I was really guessing at my ability, but I decided on a goal of 5:44 (just because that would be a PR for me!). I wanted to run 1:26s, but the first lap was a madhouse. I hit an astonishing 1:30 and knew that the last three laps would be work! Luckily, things thinned a tad for the next two laps. I honestly didn't even think that lap two was hard: it breezed by, and I hit 800 in 2:56. Yikes - too slow - my second lap was perfect, but that first lap was killing my time! Unfortunately, I couldn't catch my next lap time, because one of the officials walked in front of the clock, but at that point it was a run-it-all-out situation anyway. Well, sort of. First of all, I am not in short-distance mode, and leaving it all out there is strongly against my natural long-distance inclination. I am quite bad at that. And second of all, now the track was full of eager high school boys who had gone out fast, but couldn't hang on for the last 400. I actually had to run out into lanes two and three for much of the lap to pass slowing runners. I saw the clock and tried to sprint for 5:44 but I was too far off; I crossed in 5:46. That ties my PR. But not bad considering I haven't done any sort of training for the mile and, actually, most of our workouts lately have been strength stuff, not speed.
800m start

I was pretty tired from the mile, but the 800 was up next with only a short break for the 100m sprint. With just two heats for that race, I was right back on the line while still gasping for breath! I knew it would be hard, and sure enough: the second 400 felt like I was walking in quicksand. 2:36. So two 78-second laps: I should be a lot faster than that. Chalk it up to outright exhaustion. The mile really took it out of me.

At this point I should have taken my weak and shaky self home, but instead I hung out with Van and sat out the 4x100 relay. Van was staying for the 2 miler, but I knew I was too tired for that. I ran the 400, which was as hard as I expected (72:00) and then went home.

It's very much not my norm to run a track meet, but having an all-comers meet is such a good opportunity to test and build speed. Not surprisingly, the shorter the distance, the less speedy I am. But what a good chance to see what to work on! With the Power Mile coming up in a few weeks as my next race, I have to get some speed going!

Friday, July 6, 2018

I'll just never be fourth

Ah, one of my favorite holiday traditions: piling into the car, driving across the lake, and running Four on the Fourth!
This race is unique in that the fourth place finishers win the top awards, a nice consolation for finishing in what is usually the most dreaded place. It's a place I've finished many times myself, but for some reason, it's just never going to happen at this race. The one time it counts!

Wednesday morning David and I hitched a ride with a car full of Power Milers up to Covington. It's about an hour's drive (including 26 miles on the causeway over Lake Ponchartrain), although that morning we made excellent time thanks to empty roads. We arrived at about 6:50, plenty of time to register (race day registration is $35, just $30 for the no-T-shirt option), use the bathroom, and warm up before the 7:30 am start. It wasn't a terrible day, only 80 - 85 degrees during the race, but also 88% humidity. We were soaked after a 2 mile warm up. We headed to the starting line in plenty of time, and soon we were off, surrounded by fire works along the course, per race tradition.

My race plan was to run 6:40, 6:40, 6:35, 6:30 - or as fast as I could. In retrospect, that wasn't a brilliant plan, because shouldn't I be faster than that?! But I think the humidity just had me setting my sights low. And then I ended up even slower in reality!

So anyway. The first mile was mostly me being passed by people who would almost certainly slow RIGHT down by mile two, so I tried to just ignore them. I was probably 6th or 7th for much of mile one, but I knew for sure I'd place no higher than third, since I had seen two much-faster local ladies at the start. There was a surprising number of runners hanging on to their pace through mile one. My Garmin beeped at 6:38 for mile one. But somehow, I messed mile two all up. It was WAY too slow! I think it was a combination of a hairpin turn plus the fact that everyone around me was starting to slow down, but I ran mile two far off my pace in 6:45. But it might have also been all the drama - because I was purposefully clipped in mile two. IN A ROAD RACE. IN COVINGTON.

During mile two, I was beginning to pass plenty of people who were slowing down, including a woman I didn't know. I passed her, no big deal, but as soon as I did, she sped up behind me and forcefully jostled me, then stormed ahead. Huh?! There was no reason for there to be any contact at all during this race - it is a wide road and there is not that large of a crowd. Bizarre. I blurted an apology out of habit, although later I reflected that really, she should have apologized! It was incredibly odd. Meanwhile, I had other distractions: ahead of us, a garbage truck pulled out of a side street and, ignoring volunteers, lumbered onto the course. I then ran half a mile directly behind a stinky garbage truck. Boy, was I glad to turn around, and no wonder my split was slow!

There is a water stop right before the start of mile 3, and I passed Clipping Girl there. Now I could see a couple of guys in front of me to chase down! Mile three should have been a 6:35, but I was off: 6:37. I had heavy legs, no snap - I didn't feel bad at all, everything was just more work than it should have been. I ended up passing several guys in the final two miles, including one of my teammates (I actually finished ahead of two teammates, so perhaps I am actually starting to acclimate?). My final mile I tried to push a little harder, but I was in a lonely no-man's land with no one pulling me, and I was firmly third female. The race is basically an out and back, but it ends with a turn around the block. I used that opportunity to search for the fourth-place woman, but she was out of eyesight. So much for fourth place! I finished with an uninspiring 6:32, so I ended up seven seconds over my predicted finish, and actually about the same pace as a four-mile tempo I ran a few weeks ago (26:33 for 4 miles). So either the humidity was really getting to me, or I was still tired from Saturday's race and the miles I'd run the night before.
Finish line

Besides the slow legs thing, I felt great for this race, and I like how I've been managing to negative split (or almost negative split) races lately. Such good practice! And I feel so much better afterwards! Although I do think that trying to negative split can make me run accidentally slow times: I still need practice.

 Little Ms. Clipper was 30 seconds behind me and fourth, and won a pair of shoes -  hardly her just desserts given her behavior. But so what. I won a coffee cup, just as good! We hung around for awards and for the beer mile. I was on a relay team, and while my beer-chugging leaves MUCH to be desired, I ran the following 400 meters in 82 seconds, which is pretty good considering that I had already run ten miles that morning, four of which were a race, and had a foamy Budweiser in my stomach. 

Opening that beer!
This race is a little crazy: it's an all-day event, with festivities including a donut eating contest and a kids' hula hoop competition. But I just love it. It's one of my favorite race, and darn it! One day I will be fourth!

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Armadillo Dash 3 mile trail race

This Saturday I actually won a race, the Armadillo Dash 3-mile trail race in the Bonne Carre spillway. The idea behind holding the race in the spillway is to make it as muddy as possible, since it's basically a basin behind the levee protecting the community from Lake Ponchartrain. But thanks to a dry June, we showed up to a hot, muggy morning with dry and dusty trails.
It was a small race, so my arrival 45 minutes before the start was plenty of time to pick up my packet, run to a port-a-potty, and do a 3-ish mile warm up. It was HOT. I was wearing my racing singlet and team shorts with my plain old everyday Kinvaras. I'd never done this race before, I wasn't sure about the trail conditions, and I played it safe!
Near the start of the race

Norco. Ugh. 

We lined up at the start, and after a few glances around, I moved close to the front. I didn't see any women likely to be faster than me, and honestly it was such a small field that I didn't see that many men, either! 

Only Drew and Jeremy from our team were running with me; Drew was right up front and obviously going to win. After the anthem (I sang, I always sing, I don't care if I get funny looks), the horn sounded, and Drew was off like a shot. After about thirty yards of grass, you plunge into the woods, and I hit the woods about ten or twelve back from the front. I was pretty sure that some of the guys in front of me should be BEHIND me, but I bided my time. The first mile is the easiest, because it's mostly a straight shot with just a few twists and turns and tiny hills. The second mile gets harder, because switchbacks start. Or zigzags. I'm not sure how you can call almost flat ground switchbacks, but so the course description named them! 

During some first-mile loopiness, I was able to see Drew far in front and we could call encouragement to each other. I easily passed several guys who had gone out too hard. By the second mile, I was getting a tiny bit more comfortable on the trails, but I am a very hesitant trail runner. I'm just terrified of going down! There was powdery dust on the trail in areas where it widened - like the many hairpin turns - and I was sliding really badly at those points. But when mile three started, despite the zigzagging, I buckled down and started passing people. I worked my way past them when the trail gave me any opportunity. I passed Jeremy with a little over half of a mile to go, but after that, I never caught anyone else. The race ends back out on the grass, and I caught a glimpse of two guys ahead of me as I neared the end of the woods, but they were way too far up to catch.

I tried to sprint along the grass, but made a sprinting concession to slow down and high five my teammates who had come out to watch the race. I finished fifth overall, first female. 
Power Milers!
 Apparently this race was an RRCA regional championship of SOMETHING, but I can't figure out what. Three milers? Trail runs? Does this count as cross country? No idea. But anyway, here's Drew and I with the RRCA championship finish line tape.

Takeaways: I am SO BAD at trails. It's hard for me to build speed, and I need to be lighter on my feet. I might need to think about a different shoe, actually. Also, I could get more uncomfortable sooner. 

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Habitat for Humanity Women's Build

This spring, a group of cool ladies (most of them running friends) and I got together to build two houses for women in our community. This women-building-for-women idea came from Habitat for Humanity's Women Build, and since one of our running friends Avery is Assistant Director of Advancement at the New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity, we were eager to help out.
This was the first time I had worked on a Habitat house, so the extent of the process surprised me. First, we needed to name our team, and of course the puns started flying. We ended up choosing "The Tool Chests", for which I designed this awesome T-shirt art:
Before adding "Tool Chests" script

Of course that was fun, but the reality of being on a team is more than just cool shirts and punny names. We had to fundraise, and fundraise hard! Luckily, I called in some favors from some drug reps I know, and we ended up exceeding our $350 per person goal by early spring. The date for the build was mid-May.


I wasn't sure how long these houses take to build, but Avery explained that team size had a lot to do with it. Her job includes trying to figure out the timing to make sure just enough teams are scheduled. Our team was pretty small, but we partnered with some other volunteers. There were actually three or four groups out there, as we were building two homes side by side. On the day we were scheduled, the house had been partly framed, and we were finishing framing (including all of the inside) and nailing plywood to the outside of the house.

We worked for eight hours, with two snack breaks and a lunch break, and I kind of thought we didn't get much done! I was very surprised to see that we were give hammers rather than nail guns, and obviously manually hammering in nails takes a really long time. It wasn't like it was a safety concern, either - we were cheerfully operating a circular saw unattended and climbing up rickety ladders all day, so a nail gun couldn't be that much more dangerous. Actually, I was pretty surprised by the amount of freedom we had - some of it misplaced, since we had no idea what we were doing (I still hope that the lady in the house on the right doesn't slam her closet door too hard). However, talking to Avery, I learned that their houses pass inspection at the same rate as the national average, so I guess it's not all sideways nails and sketchy measurements. And in the end, Women Build completed two houses side by side for two women who are cousins! So that's pretty cool!


I would absolutely do another Habitat build, although a fall or winter date would be nice for next time (it was sweltering hot in the sun the day we built). And I'd definitely do another one with this awesome team of ladies!


Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Summer running

Since my last race, I've been taking running easy. I took a week mostly off after the marathon, and eased back in after that. I didn't need much recovery since the race was an easier pace, although I definitely still felt sore! But I didn't have that total fatigue you get after a hard, long race.
One of the guys in my group takes a few weeks each summer dialed back, and says these down weeks keep him from injury, so I am doing the same. Not off, but slightly reduced mileage and more off days. That's fine, because I'm having a hard time acclimating to the humidity. It hasn't been a terrible summer so far (I mean, it's not even actually summer yet!) but I've overheated and almost quit on a long run and a tempo run - all signs that taking it easy is a good idea!
I have signed up for some summer races: The Armadillo Dash and the Spillway Classic, both three mile trail races in the muddy spillway. But those are more laid-back than a typical race, almost closer to a mud run than a race!

One of our typical summer workouts is either a Fartlek or repeats on the bridges on the lakefront (oh, the things we do to get hill work in in NOLA), and one of our runners invited us to her pool nearby right after. Now that's how I like my summer workouts!

I plan to run a winter marathon to update my Boston time, so once I'm done resting a bit I'll be back to training for that. But for now, it's mostly easy running and some less-intense workouts.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Buffalo Marathon: Race review

The Buffalo Marathon is a runner's race: the race director MUST be a runner. There are so many little details that make this race easy for competitors!
Registration and cost: Registration prices go up over time, but the race was surprisingly affordable. It's $85 for early registration, and you can find coupon codes, too. When I registered, I chickened out at first and didn't complete the process. The next day, I received an email with a coupon for $5 and a link back to my incomplete registration.
Swag: Runners get this great technical half-zip, with thumbholes. I've always wanted thumbholes! Finishers also get this gigantic plaque of a medal, and the marathoners get a keychain bottle-opener, too.


Expo: I didn't go, except for early morning-of packet pickup and bag drop, but it's very conveniently located steps from the starting line.
Course: I liked the race course a lot. It's a point-to-point course that ends just a few hundred feet from where it starts. It has hills, yes, but even for someone like me - who NEVER runs on any hills and comes from an extremely flat area - they weren't bad. Nothing steep; nothing too long. Garmin connect tells me that there was under 400 feet of elevation gain, with only a few feet net gain. The course is quite pretty, covering neighborhoods, parks, downtown, and along the lake; it was a scenic race for sure. Two mild drawbacks are the twists and turns, which are plentiful, and the lack of shade on the second half. Keep in mind that, since it's late May, it can get rather hot - which is mitigated by the early (6:30 am) start. Overall, it's pretty, there is good crowd support, and it's fairly fast.
Bright sun on the course! 
Course support: Gatorade and water on the course with two spots for gels (I honestly don't remember which gel. I think it was Cliff??). Some of the volunteers hadn't really set up well, and were tightly bunched, making it tough to get water at some of the earlier, more crowded stops.
Post race: The after party is actually held indoors, at the convention center right at the finish. There were some vendors with giveaways, plus a massage tent and stretching area. The race provided more snack-y options, plus pizza and a very good beer by Flying Bison Brewing, brewed specially for the race. It was unusual to be indoors, but since it was getting hot and sunny, it was actually a relief to get inside.
Awards: Cash awards to the top five, ranging from $1000 to $80. Age group awards were mailed out promptly after the race, and since I'm old, I won my age group, so I got this cool hat:
Vented with UPF 50!
I appreciate a good USEFUL award!
Communications and convenience: This race, and trip, was a breeze start to finish. Race social media is good - responsive Twitter, Instagram, Facebook - and emails have useful content, not just sales pitches for merchandise like Rock 'n Roll race emails. The race was easy as can be:
  • The early start kept temperatures cool(er)
  • Packet pickup is day before or race day, which is so nice for a big marathon; it's also right at the start/finish area so if you're traveling, you really only have one destination to think about.
  • Several hotels are within walking distance of the start, and the race offers a hotel booking service. I actually used this, since I registered really late, and the nearby hotels were all booked. Rooms that the race had booked were still available, so I used them to book a room in the Best Western less than a mile from the start. 
  • There are plenty of restaurants near the race for dinner the night before or lunch after.
  • The airport is close - it was a $16 Uber ride for me.
Etc.: The race might fill up, so register in a timely fashion. I think the half sold out and the full was at 95%+ filled. I noticed good security at the start, including bomb-sniffing dogs and sand-filled garbage trucks, which is nice to see in a race, but also means that you need to be aware of security requirements for bag drop (their clear bag only). Hotels near the start do fill up, although I think a further hotel and a quick Uber would be fine.

Overall, I had a very positive experience, and I'd even consider doing this race again, even though it's hardly nearby. If you get bitten by the Boston bug in the spring, or if your winter race didn't go as planned, it's a good choice to fit in a BQ race before it's too hot to marathon.