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Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The Power Mile

Saturday was the Power Mile, my very first road mile (except I ran one once as a warm-up for the following 5k, but didn't race it. By the way, this is a very silly plan and you should not do it ever. But anyway, back to my real first road mile race).
My track club, the Power Milers, put this race on, so I was a little involved with the set-up and organization, too. I think it's pretty cool that we have the Power Mile: it's so hard to find a mile race in our area, and it's nice that we can give back to the running community in this way. We also have a great after-party complete with a band, beer, and food, and since we have *cash money prizes* and it's also the RRCA state one-mile championship, we get a fast field.
You should run it next year, and here's the link, put it on your calendar!
This group puts on a great race!
Just in case the group needed extra volunteers, and since David was actually volunteering anyway, we showed up two hours early. That wasn't a great idea, since I stood out in the heat for two hours prior to racing! I hadn't checked the weather, so I was shocked when the sky suddenly opened up and rain started pouring down. The kid's half-mile starts at 6:00, the open mile at 6:30, and the "elite" mile (sub-7:00 pace) is at 7:00. The downpour stopped in time for the races, but did three things:
  1. Kind of killed race-day registration. No one is coming out to race a mile in a deluge. That sucked - we ended up with under 300 runners in the mile, and I would have thought a mile race would be a good one for last-minute registrants. No training needed! 
  2. Soaked the streets. We were left with wet, slippery streets for our race, and since this race is full of turns, that added to the challenge. 
  3. Created the most miserable hot and steamy weather imaginable. As soon as the rain stopped, the sun came back out full-force, and we had high 90's with 100% humidity!
I was weirdly nervous about this race! I fiddled with my Garmin, setting it to autolap at quarter miles, and re-pinned my bib more and more crookedly. We warmed up for two miles, got to see some of the other races, and then headed toward the start. I did four strides while we were waiting and checked out the people around me. I saw right away who the woman's winner would be - a well-known miler from the area. I looked around and saw another fast girl and my two teammates who were racing. I knew all of them would be ahead of me; another friend close to my pace might be faster tonight, too, and then there were those three or four people I didn't recognize and couldn't guess pace. But I figured I'd be in top-ten women. Yet I was questioning my pace and goal. I was sweating so profusely after the warm-up that I began to consider the possibility of running 6 minutes or higher.

When we lined up, I did something I never do - I got up on the line. The start was wide enough that I wasn't worried about blocking others, and we'd have time to sort out before the first turn, so I stuck my foot right on that blue tape and waited for the gun.

BANG. And I did nothing. I stood there in shock, and then snapped back to the moment and charged forward, remembering to hit start on my Garmin as I did. The start was mayhem - immediately fast, people surging past, then me surging back past them. It seemed like I'd barely settled into a rhythm when we were already at the first quarter: 1:23. Oh, shoot, I thought, that was fast. My goal was 1:25 for a 5:40 mile. But I couldn't spend time thinking about that; we were already at the first turn. This course is kind of a "P" shape, only you do the loop twice, and it's larger the second time.
That's a lot of turning for a mile!

It's a tight turn around the neutral ground - kind of like a wide median, it's a NOLA thing - and that certainly slowed me down! Maintain this pace, I thought, and for the second quarter, I did. The cool thing about this course is that, because it's so compact, there are spectators lining every inch of the sides, and I could hear so many people cheering and calling my name as I passed! To my surprise, two women easily passed me during the second quarter, but as I started the third quarter, I passed them back - they were obviously DONE. Miles are hard to pace! I was staying fairly even, but I was glad there were clocks on the course: I kept sliding out really wide on the turns, and my Garmin was way off. But at the half-way point one of my teammates at the clock called, "2:50" and I knew I was on pace for a 5:40. The third quarter got a little more interesting as people were starting to slow. I passed several who had passed me previously, but unfortunately - just like my track miles - my third quarter was slow, a combination of letting people around me pace me (as they slowed down) and a tendency to hold back for the final quarter. But suddenly the final quarter was there - I mean, miles are SO SHORT! and I started picking back up. I was definitely on pace for 5:40, probably under if I could speed up!  And then the worst thing ever happened. As we made the final turn, I had to choose: go wide around two guys in front of me, or go inside and squeeze between them. In a split second, I went on the inside, and to my horror the guy in front flopped his arms down and gave up in defeat. It was only a few seconds, but I was boxed in, unable to sprint, and watching in shock as the clock ticked toward 5:40. I finally wriggled free, started my belated sprint, and crossed the line in 5:38, a 5-second mile PR! I was extremely pleased with that time. Neither the weather nor the course were conducive to a PR (it's flat, but there are too many turns to make this a fast race), I haven't been training for the mile at all, except for the two other (track) miles I ran, and my poor judgment at the last turn probably cost me a second.
I ended up fifth female, but to my astonishment I was 46th overall. We get some FAST milers out there! My Garmin splits were less than helpful given how far off they were (I got 1:03 Garmin, thank you corners), but they sort-of tell the story of the race: 1:23, 1:22, 1:23, 1:21. My teammates were 2nd and 4th, so we did well overall. I can't wait to get back out there next year and better this! I think if I trained I could run under 5:30 - after all, I went from 5:46 to 5:38 in just a few weeks, mostly just from getting a better feel for the distance. If I can keep my old joints working, I might be able to pull that off next year!

Friday, July 27, 2018

A mile PR

Racing weather!
I've been taking advantage of the summer all-comers track meets hosted by St. Martin's Episcopal school this year. They're supported by the New Orleans Track Club, and free for anyone who shows up (which is mostly high school track teams). At the last one, I tied my mile PR; this time, I bettered it!
It was a rush again to get to the school after work - I often work late Friday, and I need to change, drive to Metairie, sign in, and get a warm up in by seven (my store closes at six). But I made it in plenty of time, and proceeded to warm up in the 95 degree evening. It's annoying that the mile is the first event: the sun is still beating down at 7pm, and the track doesn't start cooling off until well after the sun goes down, anyway. I drank some water before the race started, and this time I lined up at the front, to the far right. Much smarter move than last time! Last track mile I was terribly boxed in after choosing (for who knows what reason) to start all the way in the back.

Fellow Power Miler Van and I after the mile (he smoked me)
This time, I was able to easily go out at the gun and cut inside, putting me near the front of the group. I knew I'd only move up further, as most of the runners last time tired in lap three. I had run a nine-mile aerobic workout that morning, since this mile was a last-minute addition, so I didn't feel super fresh, but I felt like I was putting forth adequate effort. I caught my half split at 2:51, but once again, I slowed a little in my third lap. I think that is because the people around me start drastically slowing, and I get influenced by my position relative to those around me. Despite that, I was passing people, and I started lap three as sixth person overall - although it was hard to keep track at that point, since I was lapping youth runners. I was feeling a little sticky, sweaty, and overall miserable as I rounded the track, but at 200 to go a runner near me egged me on: "Do it, let's race!" I kicked a little more - I am not good at kicking! - and ended up with 5:43.1. That's a PR! So thanks, track dude! I'm 35 and have done ZERO fast work in over a year, and I PR'd the mile!

Next up? The Power Mile, a one mile road race my club puts on: on the road. It will be my first road mile, and you know I'm nervous. I don't even know if I can break 6 minutes on the road!

Anyone have any tips for running a road mile? 

Sunday, July 22, 2018

In which I take a spill(way)

Sunday was the Spillway Classic, a 3 mile trail run in Norco, not to be confused with the Armadillo Dash, a 3 mile trail run in Norco two weeks prior.
I knew this race would be...interesting. It was race five out of five in three weeks, and it was the morning after the big move.
Oh yeah, we moved, by the way. In case you haven't seen all my Instagram stories about my adorable new place!
Moving all day is not conducive to racing well the next morning, but I actually registered before we ever even saw the house - it was a whirlwind sale - so I wasn't about to skip it just because of some sore shoulders. I showed up at the Spillway with ample time to find parking and get in the bathroom line, bathrooms. The Port-a-potties never showed up! I started to warm up, but then saw the delivery truck lumber over, full of potties, and turned back around. It was an ordeal - they still had to set up and that took a while. But I managed to get in a bathroom stop and a really quick warm up just in time for the start.

This race is actually only half trail; the first half is (bizarrely) up and onto the levee, which is covered in big, chunky gravel. Then it dips back down off the levee into the woods. You have to GET UP THERE on the levee, or you'll be stuck in crowds in the woods. I was ready to charge up the levee, but...shoot. I actually warmed up too fast and aggressively. I was with some faster people, and then we ran out a little too far, and then we had to book it back (we made it with one minute to spare). I was out of breath at the starting line! Plus just worn out in general, I think. Either way, I was still gasping for breath at the start, and then - BAM! The guy in front of my tripped on the starting mat, knocking people every which way! Luckily everyone was fine, and I actually was able to skirt the pileup and avoid calamity, but the mishap delayed my start a little. Finally I was crunching over gravel under the hot sun, trying to make up some distance between myself and a few others who are usually my pace. Mile one ended still up on the levee: 6:20. Mile two dips down off the levee and into the soggy basin, where the trail portion of the race begins. As soon as you enter the woods, you are faced with "the gauntlet", which is just a huge mud pit. Last year, it was thigh-high water. This year, it was just squelchy mud, and I avoided sinking in by carefully picking my way around the edge. I was proud of myself for safely navigating that dangerous area and then all of a sudden, I was crashing to the ground. I tripped so suddenly that I couldn't prepare myself, and while I landed on soft mud and avoided any cuts or scrapes, my head slammed backward. I had bad whiplash, and while I bounced back up, I reeled in disorientation. Somehow I kept running, stayed on the trail, and followed the group ahead of me. I wish I could remember how I finished the race, but I can't - everything a few minutes after the fall is blank! I finished in 20:37, fourth female, but feeling very dizzy and ill. I quickly hosed off under the firetruck provided at the finish, and drove back home.
I couldn't remember how to get home. Yes, I moved the day before, but we actually moved just four blocks away on the same street! Yet I couldn't remember where I lived. At that point, I realized that I probably had a mild concussion. I had the presence of mind to ask my phone to take me home, and when I found myself at my old place (I'd never driven to the new home yet, so of course it took me to the old one!), I quickly remembered that we'd moved just down the street.
Later in the day I felt much better, but the first few hours were so weird! And my memory of that day is still patchy. Plus, my neck was really sore and stiff all week. Pretty scary.

Have you ever fallen during a race? Tell me your trip and fall tales!

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.