Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The way to a runner's heart is through her foot

Confession: I don't usually use much, if anything, in my race-day bag.

If it *is* a bag, like my Drake Relays gear bag or my Boone County History 5K lunch pail, I'll use it. And I'll probably wear the shirt that comes along with it.

But all those ointment samples, coupons for fitness stores and magazines? Well, I appreciate the thought at least ...

So it is with much excitement that I found something to use and reuse in my Des Moines Half Marathon bag (I might've picked it up at the expo): a keyholder for your shoes.

Until now, the drawstring on shorts/tights has been my savior, but when I have to bring my car keys, that gets rather bulky. To my great surprise, the bundle of a car key, two apartment keys and two loyalty cards fit perfectly in the free keyholder.

I tested it on a recent run through Water Works Park (on a trail that wasn't part of the half) and figured that even if I hated it, I could use the clip on my waistband instead.

No need! The pouch didn't flop around, making me both annoyed and fearful that I'd lose it, and it didn't seem to keep the top of my foot from flexing.

Yeah, I could've bought one of those at any point over the past five years and avoided the complaints I just listed off. But I didn't, and now I don't have to — and I can catch one last post-race high weeks later.

Friday, October 25, 2013

A less technical look at the Des Moines Half

So I've already rambled about what I did right during the Des Moines Half; here's what other people did right.

First of all, I really like Des Moines. So it stands to reason that I'd like the Des Moines Half's course. I liked passing familiar spots, like the Capitol, Court Avenue bars and my hair salon, and I also liked when we veered off the roads I always drive so that I could see a few landmarks I don't have memorized.

I know the race boasted about how much went through Water Works and Gray's Lake parks, and of course those were scenic, but weirdly enough I think I would've enjoyed more city running. 

(Then again, the familiarity with the Gray's Lake terrain was awfully nice. And as someone who works in downtown Des Moines, I probably shouldn't encourage more road closures/detours in a part of town that's already heavily one-way traffic.)

The spectator turnout always impresses me, no matter what race I do. Kids reached out for high-fives; strangers told us we were looking great; signs encouraged us to smile if we'd peed and reminded us that we were running better than the government.

Of course, this was one of the two best signs:

Zach (not pictured, because he's taking the picture), Emily and Regina made this sign for me, though I couldn't read it when I went by; after I'd finished, we came back out to the same spot to cheer on Cory, our marathoner. It was a crowd-pleaser in general.
Seriously, though, Zach, Emily and Regina were awake and dressed and out of their apartments at 8 a.m. on a Sunday trying to cheer me and Cory on. They missed us early on, but they found us at my mile 11/Cory's mile 24, and a block from the finish.

And here was the other best sign:

One thing they teach you at Truman State is how to make fantastic signs. Chelsea and I practiced this skill for Zach's weight-lifting meets, back in the day.
This one came via text from fellow Warriors Zach and Chelsea, who had initially thought they'd already be in Des Moines during the race weekend. (And again, because I got this at the race's start, this meant that a 20-something was coherent at 8 a.m.) It still did the trick.

Speaking of support, of course the volunteers at the aid stations were great (though as I mentioned I didn't really visit that often), and there was even one spectator who brought a box of Kleenex and handed out tissues. I run with my own, but I appreciated her effort.

The second-biggest boost I got was from another runner. Right after I passed Zach, Emily and Regina for the second time, as I prepared to cross the Locust Street bridge, nausea hit me. I could see the finish line, and I still clung to hope that I'd break 2:00:00, but my stomach ...

So I stopped. Maybe swore under my breath. And a woman in a lime-green shirt came up from behind, put her hand on my back, and chirped: "You can do it! We're almost there!"

I picked up my feet and started running again. Thanks, random runner. 

My only quibble was the opening/closing part of the Water Works Park section. You can see on this map that from about mile four to five, and from roughly eight to nine, that you had two-way traffic on your standard-width rec path.

I'm a little claustrophobic, and I was also feeling perky, so not being able to pass very well frustrated me. This was likely a good thing, to preserve some energy, but the crowd was big enough still at that point where it was physically difficult.

However, I will say that it was neat, and not at all discouraging, to watch an elite runner whiz by at his mile eight, which lined up around my pace group's mile four. Again, these guys literally run twice as fast as we mortals.

Last thing: I made sure to smile when I saw the race photographers. While I don't look like a monster, or a martyr, I still don't see why anyone would pay for these pictures ... but here's a link to them for your amusement.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Full race report: Des Moines Half Marathon

The theme of my Des Moines Half experience (2:00:20, to boast once more) was doing everything right.

When I told people my goals, their responses were either "Oh, you can totally do that" or "I think you'll do even better than that."

But previous races have shown me that executing my part of the plan isn't a given — nor is the continuation of the weather conditions that I've trained in.

That wasn't so Sunday. While it was cooler than the majority of my training, it was just about identical to the taper runs I'd done over the past week.

First good move: fighting off the paranoia about being too cold and trusting (correctly) that I'd warm up enough to appreciate a T-shirt and shorts.

I must've tapered properly, because the only body part that demanded "why are we running?" was my brain. My legs felt fresh and fluid, and I definitely did not get the sense early on that it wasn't going to be my day.

I feared starting off too fast and burning myself out. So once we got started — and wow was this a big race; I think it took about three minutes to cross the starting line — I kept an eagle eye on my phone until I settled into a comfortable pace.

Mission accomplished. MapMyRun says the first mile was my slowest, and it also says I stayed within a 40-second range.

Throughout the race, I mostly trusted my body. I've never taken so few water breaks during a half marathon, but I just wasn't thirsty, and I also really didn't want to stop and break my stride. I did have water around the halfway point, because I'd taken my gel, but that was it.

I've also never taken so few walk breaks. Again, I was in the zone and didn't want to leave it. There were times when I wanted to, but my practice telling myself "you got this" paid off.

The bargaining method ("you can walk at mile 10") worked even better than during training — as other runners have observed, once I reached whatever marker, I actually felt fine and just kept going.

On the converse side, I felt queasy twice. The first time was after the only hill in the half marathon, and after I passed some AWESOME friends who showed up to cheer me on with a sign; the second time was within sight of the finish line.

I let myself walk both times — embarrassing during the second time — and the nausea subsided.

Finally, to wrap this up, my post-race activities were mostly spot-on. I got the massage as soon as possible; I didn't go completely sedentary, but I didn't stay on my feet the entire time; I hit up a hot tub later in the day; and I went to bed at 9:30 p.m.


Monday, October 21, 2013

Early race report: Des Moines Half Marathon

As surely no one will blame me for, I'm not quite up to writing a full recap of yesterday's half marathon.

But for those who are curious — and to massage my own ego — I figured I could at least post some preliminary numbers:

My finish time was 2:00:20 (!), a pace of 9:12 overall. That placed me 162 out of 573 in my age/sex group, but more importantly, it's a personal record by 8:12.

No wonder I'm still tired today.

Waiting for the start, huddled together for warmth with temperatures in the 40s. Give me that over 60s any day, though.
The tl;dr version of the full post will be: This is the first half marathon that I'll repeat ... and I'm 97 percent sure that I'll never run Des Moines' other half marathon, the hilly and late-spring Drake Relays half, again.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Strange sights on Sunday runs

I went for a long stretch without seeing very many weird things out on runs.

The two Sundays leading up to today's race have broken that streak.

First, I saw what seemed to be a strangely high amount of clothing: Downtown, just off the Neal Smith Trail and near an apartment complex, there was a pair of tightie whities crumpled up on the sidewalk.

It reminded me of a pair I watched for months back off a country road in Rockton. I assume — without investigating — that people are discarding dirty pairs, but can't they just wait and put them in a garbage can?

Less gross but more oddly placed were the socks along the Jordan Creek Trail's 50th Street underpass. Without an apartment complex or laundromat nearby, there's not much explanation beyond a very unhygienic one: If there's no toilet paper to be found, I'm told, one's best bet is to use a sock.

But not everything I saw was bathroom-humor-related: I had a pleasant wildlife encounter not far from my complex.

I'm used to running up toward geese, which frankly scares me a little bit (do they attack?), so it was a pleasant change to see smaller birds hanging out on the sidewalk this past Sunday.

Most of them scattered as I approached, except for one bold one. As it turned out, s/he was lingering to pick up a half-eaten piece of pizza.

I suppose I could also demand who throws out a perfectly good piece of pizza, like I did with the laundry-litterers, but I was too amused by the bird's salvaging of it.

It was like something out of a cartoon, come to life. If only a dopey person had been holding the piece, gearing up to take a big bite ...

(Yes, I know birds eat people food, the prime example being bread crusts.)

Friday, October 18, 2013

Race-day goals for the Des Moines Half

The latest issue of Runner's World magazine includes an article on how to create a race-day plan ... which you're supposed to have created three weeks out.

Oops. Well, I can at least set up my race-day goals for the Des Moines Half.

Optimistic goal: Finish in 2:05 or below, meaning a 9:30-mile pace. During my nine-miler, I kept a 9:16 pace; during my 10-miler, I was at 9:29; and during my 11-miler, I did 9:18.

Given that the middle of those two runs was the hottest and hilliest, you might think I'm selling myself short in this goal. (Cory does; after my 11-miler, he told me I could maybe hit 2:00. That's a goal for later)

However, we all have to remember that I have a history of choking on race day — going out too fast and having a subsequent mental meltdown as the speedy miles wear me down physically.

While I realize that unlike during the Hy-Vee Half, the weather should be cool, and the route should be flat, that doesn't mean fierce prairie winds can't sink me.

But back to optimism: Nowadays, I'm doing a much better job of keeping a sustainable pace for the first few miles, then speeding up as my muscles warm up and the terrain flattens, and talking myself through the tougher final miles.

With that in mind, if I keep the first few miles around 9:30, I can give myself permission to let "comfortably fast" happen. That could be 8:45; that could be 9:00 — whatever. Just as long as I don't burn myself out so that the final miles creep up to 10:00.

Acceptable/realistic goal: Beat my previous PR of 2:08:32, meaning a 9:48 pace. If this doesn't happen, I'd be ... well ... as shocked and pissed as I was this spring (2:10:33). Again — flat and cool this time.

Worst-case-scenario goal: Keep it above 2:10, but more importantly, don't suffer too much.

Goal(s) not related to time: Improve the pacing over previous races — i.e., don't fly out of the starting gate, walk most of the last 5K, and/or crawl across the finish line.

Keep positive, or at least neutral. The self-talk has become more encouraging, so I hope to continue that, and I really hope there's no repeat of "where the f*** is the finish line?"

And lastly: Take advantage of the post-race massage booth.

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A possible half marathon first

Something special could happen for me at this weekend's half (gulp!) — I could have a cheering section.

To be specific, it would be a handful of friends who didn't already run an event that same day. It would be people who dealt with event traffic/road closures/early wake-up calls to watch my tomato face huff and puff.

It started with a regular conversation about the race with friend/emergency contact Ken, a former photographer who's still got the bug ... and a new camera. Maybe he would swing by at the start and take a few photos of me, he said. 

Then out-of-town friends who were already going to be in Des Moines that weekend anyway asked what I was up to; I told them that Friday night — not Saturday — would be the time to paint the town, because Cory and I would be racing Sunday. 

"What time does it start?" they responded. "It wouldn't hurt us to be sober enough to cheer you on."

Next was a discussion of when to catch up with a perpetually out-of-town friend. As we rattled off our various commitments, I mentioned the race, and how there might be a few cheerleaders there for me.

She lives downtown, not far from the start — "Oh, I should come cheer you and Cory on!" she said. 

And then, that night, as fellow runner Regina and I argued over whether she would be prepared for the Living History Farms race (I say she will; she disagrees), I reminded her that with my taper week coming and a recovery week to follow, we could run together, no problem.

"When's the race again?" she said. "I should come watch you guys."

My feelings wouldn't be hurt if every single one of them thought about being awake and out of bed at 10 a.m. on a Sunday; I'm honestly just touched that anyone would toss the idea out there. 

Still, I've shared the athlete update link with all of them and mentioned the app Ken told me about that lets people track you in real time (helpful with coordinating out-of-town guests' arrival, he says).

Monday, October 14, 2013

This is how I know race day is coming

The first sign that race day is nearing is, of course, seeing it pop up in your weather forecast.

It's still in the 10-day look, which I only put stock in if the predictions are favorable, but I'm glad that being neurotic has some sort of payoff.

The second sign is the stress dream. That came last Friday night.

In the dream — yep, I'm gonna be that person that yammers on about dreams — I was waiting for the half marathon to start with my friend Ashlee, who in the real world loves biking but dislikes running.

We had to wait, because the race course was actually just laps, and the marathoners got to go first. (In fact, did I start too early with them, and have to head back?)

But bad weather struck, and the start was delayed. Just an hour. Didn't seem bad. We went our separate ways, for some reason, and kept calling a hotline to see what was up.

I decided to pass my time at a bar/restaurant while grabbing something to eat — a hamburger or something, because it was around dinner time — and watched the radar.

Everyone agreed it looked promising. The skies were clearing. It was a false positive, though; next thing I knew, a serious storm was slamming the area, and the race director was postponing the race indefinitely.

So naturally I went to work from there. The dream co-workers greeted me with a request that I work some overtime shifts (reflection of real-life work busyness), and I responded ... by slamming a fist on the desk and yelling about how I didn't even know when the rescheduled race would be, and I'd been training for two months for this, and I'd spent X dollars on it, and I JUST WAS NOT GOING TO WORK, OK?

(This is not how I behave at work in real life. I promise.)

As far as stress dreams go, it's not a bad one. No forgetting things, no showing up naked, no oversleeping. I'm sure the latter will terrorize me on the night before, keeping me tossing and turning.

It just exaggerates the very mild, very normal race-week nerves I'm developing: Oh crap, I paid to run 13.1 miles soon.


Friday, October 11, 2013

I've perfected my game face

As my friend Ken put it, I was "spotted in the wild" recently.

Co-worker Suzanne greeted me upon my arrival at work on Tuesday with: "Did you run today?"

I thought she was merely referring to the beautiful weather, or perhaps a lingering flush, but after I said yes, she continued: "Out in West Des Moines? On 50th Street?"

Yep, she definitely saw me. "I thought about waving and saying hi, because I was at a stoplight, but I didn't," she said.

Suzanne is a runner as well, so I thought perhaps she'd refrained from a honk and a shout because she too had been startled out of her zone by such noises.

Oh no. "You had this look on your face, like you were in the zone, and I thought, 'No, better leave her alone and not break her focus,'" she concluded.

That run was definitely one in which I set a (very basic) strategy and executed it flawlessly; at the point where Suzanne saw me, I had completed step one — don't burn yourself out on the long, slow incline of doom right after the first mile — so I'm not surprised that I had a grim/determined look.

In fact, it amused me that someone I know didn't want to bother me during a run: Maybe that means I've developed a good game face along with my recent physical success.

When you're petite with a penchant for wearing pink and purple, it's nice to know that once in a while, you can look intimidating.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Running wins are piling up

I had a busy, short weekend, so it wasn't until Tuesday that I made it back to reading blog posts.

One of the very last ones left unread was from Another Mother Runner, posted last Friday. It named the winners of Saucony hats and arm warmers, chosen randomly from responses to a question in a still-earlier post.

Usually by the time I comment on such posts, at least 100 people have beaten me to it, so I never think much of whether I won.

But this time, as I scrolled through, a familiar name popped out at me: Sadye.

I won! Through no real effort of my own, except to leave a sentence on how I run safely! It doesn't matter!

The hat sounds and looks cool, but I'm more excited about the arm warmers: They come with mitt cuffs.

Long ago, I'd eyed a running top/jacket with those built in, yet never got around to spending the money ... and now, thanks to Sarah and Dimity and their sponsors, I don't have to.

Pink was an option for both items, which coordinates well with the gear I did manage to purchase, so expect a running fashion show post whenever the goodies arrive.

One more victory to add to 2013's growing list. Maybe my sister and aunt are losing their corner on the good-luck market.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Upcoming race: Living History Farms Off-Road Race

I feel like I'm officially a Des Moiniac now: I'm registered for this year's Living History Farms race.

For those not familiar with it, it's a seven-mile off-road race that involves costumes, climbing, crossing creeks and apparently dodging farm animals.

Registration is limited and fills up fast; in 2012, it sold out in 36 hours. So I'm going to consider just getting a spot an accomplishment in and of itself.

When I told my boss I was attempting to register, his response was: "Good luck! Do you have clothes you can burn afterwards?"

It's not my first obstacle race, but it's safe to say it'll be the toughest one I've done so far; the Warrior Dash and Olde English Classic were both only 5K. Living History will be the coldest, too — it's Nov. 23, compared with June and early October for the others.

I'm prepared in that I can run more than seven miles and I've dealt with mud and cold water before in runs ... two to three years ago ... but not in the costume department.

I have a team — the usual suspects of Cory, Emily, Zach and Regina — so with five brains, we should be able to come up with something. (My Warrior Dash companion and I totally whiffed on this part, but we were scattered across three states, in our defense.)

Ideally, it would be more run-friendly than the last one I wore in a costume race. And warm. And easily assembled at a low cost ...

This might be the toughest part of the race.

Anyway, despite the race not even being on my radar a few weeks ago, I'm pretty excited about it now.

It's reminding me of RAGBRAI — the buzz about it, the excitement from people who hear you've registered, the camaraderie, the disregard for cleanliness — and it fits perfectly with my goal to shake up my running routine.

Friday, October 4, 2013

My second-best recent running accomplishment

Last week, when I set out for my 10-mile long run, I had high hopes.

My nine-miler had gone incredibly well — a 9:16 pace, without pushing myself like I did during my speedy 10K and recent 5K PR. Such effortless speed, though, wasn't meant to be during the 10-miler.

As soon as I set out, I thought of Karla Bruning's recent post about the half marathon PR that was NOT meant to be. I was just tired. Not achy or in pain, but just heavy and sluggish.

My first-half splits weren't bad (9:04, 9:00, 8:57, 8:53 and 9:20), and my second-half ones — though much slower — weren't truly bad, either (9:56, 9:21, 9:51, 9:47 and 9:50).

By then, I'd hit a hillier portion of the run, the temperature had of course risen some, and I was carrying a bottle of water, which always seems to weigh me down. All that plus normal fatigue equaled a slowdown.

So you're confused about the title of this post: "My second-best recent running accomplishment." Clearly it's not my times from this run, nor how I felt; it's also not just that I went out there and finished.

What it is, is how I mentally managed myself. When I first suspected that it wasn't my day, I told myself to calm down and give it a while. Maybe that worked, or maybe it was just the flatness of the first five miles. Doesn't matter — I didn't freak out.

I made it a little past the halfway point and got my water bottle, which as I mentioned was about the time that the run got rough. "You've got this, it's OK," I told myself, echoing what I'd said early on, when the doubts crept in.

Funny how that works better than "you suck," "quit being a (expletive) wimp" and other drill-sergeantlike things I've wheezed during unplanned walk breaks.

Also funny: how this time, unlike the meltdown half marathons, when I told myself to make it a mile, then stop for water, then start running again ... I actually did it. And the splits were slow, but not wounded-turtle-slow.

It probably helped to also know where the hills were, as opposed to during those races, because I did hold out the carrot of "at the top of the hill, you can walk."

Still, during those races, I've been able to see how much farther "one mile" is, and where the hill ends, and I've continually failed to follow through on "if you do X, you can walk."

Is it the positive self-talk? Is confidence finally accumulating after five years of running? Is my willpower strengthening? Is my modification of the training schedule the perfect one for me?

It's probably a combination of all the factors, and given how long it's taken to develop some mental strength, I don't feel bad at all for this long-winded pat on the back.

Here's hoping I can exercise this same muscle during the IMT half, if needed!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

First-place problems

At the end of Monday's boastful post about a 5K personal record, I alluded to some Debbie Downer thoughts that came after the runner's high had dissipated.

If you don't want to roll your eyes at my melodrama, close the window now.

Recently, my 5K goals have been to beat my current PR. At first, I didn't even know what my 5K PR was, because I rarely ran that particular distance — usually only three miles, or well over it.

So it was safe to assume that my 26:22 last fall was a 5K PR, particularly given my shock at seeing splits all under 9:00.

Going into this spring's 5K, I was anxious and raced poorly but still knocked nearly a minute off that time.

And despite my nerves last weekend, I was well-prepared, physically and mentally, so shattering my spring record was almost a given as long as there were no weather curveballs.

Naturally, I want to run the next competitive 5K I enter even faster. But unlike with the past two PR attempts, in which I entered with confidence that I could do it, I'm not sure how much better I can get.

I've already surpassed the limits of what I thought I could do by so much, that I haven't left myself much margin for improvement: Consider that in a year, I've knocked more than two minutes off my PR.

Where do I go from here? Sure, I've thought several times "no way can I run faster than X pace," but 7:47 definitely falls under "comfortably hard": fluid at the beginning, heavy at the end. I'd never seen it before as a longer average, not even during the tempo runs.

So how much faster can I run? Or, worse than not beating it, what if I don't match it again?

Moving away from logic to superstition: When it comes to 5Ks, I haven't been disappointed yet. That makes me dread the other shoe.

All of these thoughts cropped up within 12 hours of finishing the race. Now that a few days have passed, and I've shared the fears with the Internet, they sound as silly as they are.

Sure, I'm likely to whiff at a 5K, but God knows I've done that several times at half marathons, and yet I'm once again believing that I can hit 2:05:00 in a few weeks.

And of course the gains will shrink with time, but there's nothing to say I can't go just a little faster. A sub-24:00 race only needs 7:43 miles, and I was nowhere near vomiting after Sunday's race.

I think what this boils down to is my weak willpower. Breaking my PR will continue to get tougher, no doubt about it, and so the logical part of me that shrieks "Hey, why are you running so fast? This feels awful!" will speak up sooner and louder.

It would be much easier to rest on my laurels, to declare myself incapable of running faster. I hope I don't succumb to the siren song of "easy way out." And trash-talking a competitor will only work if I've at least walked the walk in practice, by myself.