Monday, March 31, 2014

Race report: Friendly Sons of St. Patrick 5K

Did you bet on a victory from me at the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick 5K? I hope not, because I came up short on every goal.

That's not to say I didn't even manage to have fun — before and after the race, I did enjoy myself. (And during the race, when a tiny dog who lived on the race route totally bandited it, I grinned.) So let's focus on that.

It was Annah's first 5K ever, though funnily enough she's done a half marathon, and it went great for her.

All of the advice she sought from me over the weekend was either right or not-wrong, because she ran the whole way and finished in about 42 minutes, much faster than her goal/prediction of 45:00.

I spotted her during the out-and-back course, as well as Cory and book clubber Stephanie, and she looked strong. She still looked good as she crossed the finish line — less smiley than in our pre-race selfie, but much more determined:

Three friends who had planned to run actually weren't able to, but they showed up in surprise support.

Pam and Marco fought through a flu bug to cheer on Annah (Cory and I had finished by the time they arrived), and Joel woke up obscenely early to drive back from a college-friend reunion weeked in Columbia, Mo., in time for Annah's big finish.

As we stood around enjoying the free beer afterwards, we happened to notice that 5K times had already been posted, so we meandered over to see what we'd officially done.

"What's that one next to my name mean?" Cory asked when we found his time. It means a trophy for finishing first in your age group, you speed demon! (23:14, and that includes the amount of time it took to get to the official start.)
Race trophy and trophy girlfriend. Cory had a good Sunday.
Annah rocked, Cory rocked, and Stephanie rocked, coming in just behind Cory. What about me?

I finished in 26:22, walking probably six times and finishing almost a minute off my last year's time (not to mention how far away from my PR I was). There's nothing I can blame it on but myself, not weather or terrain or training-plan gaps: I was just incredibly mentally weak.

I could analyze it and point out the positives in my splits, and of course I did those things over post-race food and beer.

But it's long over now, and I'd rather remember my genuine happiness for those who did well, the sunshine and support at the afterparty, and the summery weather we kept soaking up on our post-race bike ride.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Scoping out the competition

It's been quite some time since Cory and I ran together — months, possibly — so I was very interested to see how well he was moving at last Sunday's run date.

After all, we've been trash-talking about who's going to win this weekend's 5K since probably the last time we ran a competitive race together.

The good news is, I now know another way to sabotage his race experience, in addition to having him run an extremely fast mile at a race the day before, then filling him up with beer: Push a huge, rich breakfast on him.

The bad news: Huge, rich breakfasts also don't do me any favors, and he got to see that Sunday. So it'll be hard to trick him into having one while I stick with something safer.

Based on our four-miler, I think it'll be a fair matchup. Though my training hasn't gone like I'd hoped, I've seen how friendly competition and pleasant weather can pull me out of a slump.

I don't have to break my personal record, set during half-marathon training in perfect conditions — I just have to keep ahead of Cory.

(Also, not that I'm superstitious, but I *did* just lay out my luckiest gear for race day.)

Cory, meanwhile, has the edge on natural athletic ability and, given that he commutes from downtown Des Moines to Johnston every day on a bike, overall fitness.

The first 1.5 miles of that run were hilly and he hadn't found his stride, but he never held me back, nor did he make us stop to walk.

Last year's race was on roads, not a trail like the Remembrance Run, so assuming that hasn't changed, spotting each other should be easier.

I'm not sure whether that will benefit or bother me; not knowing how close Cory was kept me pushing hard last fall, but if his neon-yellow sneakers taunt me from well into the distance, I might get discouraged and back off instead of waiting for any signs of weakness.

Check back Monday to see who triumphed! "Only" pride is on the line.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Conflicting emotions about tapering

It's taper week, and I can't make up my mind how I feel about it.

On one hand, running has been a mental and physical struggle these past three months.

So I don't mind not planning my day, often around the "best" window of weather, and talking myself out the door, sometimes coming back frustrated or disappointed (or just plain uncomfortable!).

My tempering of 5K hopes probably hasn't helped, either. I suspect I'm already looking past this race to ones where I have no expectations or where I have higher hopes for better training conditions.

On the other hand, once I'm done running, I feel better mentally and physically.

There's a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment, no matter how poorly I performed, and everything that follows the run is that much more pleasurable: stretching, sitting, showering, sleeping and eating. Emphasis on eating.

One thing's for sure, though. This is the least-fatigued I've ever been going into taper week, which is probably why I'm confused — all of my other tapers have come during half-marathon plans, not 5K ones.

We'll see what all this means for race day.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Let the obsessing over race-day-weather begin!

Today's a big day for my race-day prep ... March 30 popped up in the 10-day weather outlook!

Often this milestone creeps up on me, but because this year so far has been a series of prolonged cold stretches sandwiching tiny pockets of pleasant weather, I'd been peeking at the longer-term outlook quite a bit already.

And while I've been trying to keep a stiff upper lip — "guys, 40s aren't that bad!" — I have to admit that my spirits and running motivation have been rising and falling with the temperatures.

So thank God that it's 10-day-outlook-checking time, because while the next few days look rather chilly, March 30 is currently forecast to be a balmy 66 degrees.

I must find comfort in worrying about what I can't control — and what's not even all that certain, to boot! — because I've been doing this with all my races in the past few years.

To be fair, the (few) ups and (many) downs of 2014's temperatures have prepared me for most of what a Midwest spring can throw my way, and it's only a 5K for which I have a pretty generous range of personal goals.

I'll keep checking back, though, if only to eagerly anticipate springlike temperatures.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

It *is* just like riding a bike

I went on my first bike ride of 2014 on Monday, and appropriately enough, given that it was St. Patrick's Day, it was a little bit of an adventure.

Mostly it was a cinch, making the inspiration for the cliche obvious. And when it wasn't ... as Regina pointed out, maybe I was just getting my snafus out of the way early on.

For instance, I was nervous about using a bike lane for the first few miles of my first ride of the season. Fortunately, traffic was fairly light and didn't scare me onto the trails forever.

But while on a trail, I got too distracted by a huge chunk of glass in an intersection with the road and forgot to watch turning traffic. The car that I headed obliviously toward was going slowly enough — or cautiously enough — that we had more of an awkward standoff than a close call, thankfully.

Maybe it just served to startle me straight, so that hours later, I was fully expecting a pickup truck to completely blow a red light and just waited on my side of the intersection.

Sharing the road on St. Patrick's Day might not have been the best idea, in retrospect. But it saved us about three or four miles on the return.
During the stop-and-start portion of the ride, I was pleasantly surprised at how smoothly I was able to slide my feet in and out of the pedal cages. Normally it seems to take a few weeks before I pick that skill back up.

One thing I didn't count on, though, was how the still-early-spring temperatures would affect my toes. I wound up falling into a crosswalk light post because my slightly numb feet couldn't catch the ground fast enough.

It turns out I still have some strength, because I didn't whine too much about the small hills we encountered, the time flew, and I barely noticed any soreness the next day.

What I don't have, though, is the proper equipment for riding at night anymore. My taillight was sacrificed to RAGBRAI, and the miner's headlamp I wear around my waist could use help lighting the way in front of me, too.

All in all, it was a great way to celebrate safely and break the ice on getting back into biking.

Monday, March 17, 2014

My latest creation: Race bib display

The second of my three race-related craft projects has been completed: the race bib display plaque.

While I'm not convinced that my assertion of "DIY will be more cost-effective" held true, I am sure that  I found more satisfaction in making it than buying it.

If I were to do it again, I might've just upcycled a clipboard, because I ended up taking the clip off of one to hold the bibs anyway.

That would've saved both the chunk of my skin that got scraped off in the disassembly process, as well as the couple of dollars I spent on an actual wooden plaque and a nail to tack on the clipboard's clip.

Maybe next time I take things apart, I'll wait for someone with more knowledge of leverage and more muscles. Or I'll just skip the pre-crafting glasses of wine.
Those dollars could have then been put to use on a whole pack of paint markers instead of paint and a brush. The stores I went to only sold individual markers in black or metallics, while I wanted purple (not sold separately).

Lessons learned! I'm still happy with the end result, and now I know just how versatile Q-tips and toothpicks can be in correcting paint smudges.

Here is the great reveal:

Hung on the front door, which is highly visible from the couch.
Clutter conversion complete!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Magical Monday

Like everyone else in the Midwest, I took so much heart from the conditions on Monday.

There was, of course, the sheer relief that the polar vortex isn't a permanent fixture.

And the luxuriating in how good sun and 68 degrees felt on my my skin as Regina and I ran in T-shirts and shorts/capris. (I actually came close to too-warm. When was the last time that happened?)

As we looped Gray's Lake, the effort seemed minimal and the pace surprisingly fast. We chatted without struggle, always coming back to "but seriously, is today real?" because of just how demoralizing the endless stretches of deep cold had been for everyone.

"Pretty much you were the only one who didn't just give up on running," Regina observed.

Wait, what? "Oh, I definitely was miserable."

"Yeah, but you still got out there."

It was something I've told myself periodically all winter (along with variations on that theme). Unsurprisingly, though, it actually sinks in when people like Regina or Karla say it — they've been on the same strugglebus.

I hope I attain several of my 5K goals beyond "have fun." But if that's the only one I manage, I hope I remember and believe what fellow runners have said.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The spectrum of race-day goals has been established

We're three weeks out from the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick Day 5K, and having done a sort-of trial run for it recently, I've been able to draft some goals for it.

They are, in descending order of probability:

* Have fun. Spring could very well stick around until then, so what's not to like about running on a nice day with friends and beer?

And if the weather stinks, well, at least there will be a group of other people ready to grouse about it with me over beer. It'll be the Drake Relays half all over again!

* Resist the temptation to walk, even if -- especially if -- no other goals look plausible. If race day just isn't my day, then at the very least I can point to this minor victory. And if race day is my day, then nothing further down the list will happen.

Furthermore, while I can recite reasons why I'm not at peak physical shape until I'm blue in the face, I shouldn't have excuses for not being mentally strong: Sure, the winter made running outdoors tough, but I managed to actually get out there.

* Break 25:30. That's about how fast I did this race last year, and it's how fast I did the recent speedy three-miler. Race-day adrenaline should help me knock out that extra 0.1 without extra time.

* Beat my gentleman friend again. He has overall fitness and natural aptitude on his side. I have more consistent and speed-specific running on mine. Which will win? Let the smack talk continue.

* Set a PR (i.e., 24:08 and faster). I'd definitely "settle" for breaking a PR by mere seconds, with it being so early in the year and such a tough winter. Especially if this is a gun-time-only race like last year.

* Sub-24:00. I highly doubt this will happen, but a girl can hope and strive, right?

Friday, March 7, 2014

Internet bloggers: They're just like us!

I didn't write the post at titled Here's My Excuse — What's Yours?, but I could have.

Everything Jason Devaney wrote was something I've done in the past few months (well, minus the part about covering the Olympics for NBC): aggressive pledges on which one falls short; complaints about the difficulties of training outdoors this winter; realizations that lowering a PR likely won't happen.

I don't follow any running bloggers I dislike — sounds obvious but there was one, a few years back, that I hate-read for a while — so when people like Jason write about how they've fallen short, I do feel bad.

And yet I also feel better about myself. Not in a smug misery-loves-company way, but in a OK-it-happens-to-the-best-of-us way. My realization that a PR might not happen wasn't throwing in the towel, but more like Karla Bruning's realistic assessment of her half marathon training situation.

These more experienced, accomplished runners take a much-less critical view of the situation. Jason plans to use his upcoming race as a baseline for the rest of the season; Karla will use hers as a training run for possible PR attempts in April and May.

So it's OK, not defeatist, that I'm opening my mind to another spring 5K, or that I'm accepting that I might have to wait until fall to go sub-24:00.

It's also the equivalent of the tabloids' "stars — they're just like us!" photo features: Oh look, it's not just recreational runners like me who make their big goals public, come up short and have only themselves to blame. Triathletes with Internet recognition do it too!

Thursday, March 6, 2014 is on my side about rest days

(Please enjoy this rather lazy post while I work on letting spring pull me out of a mild running funk and subsequent blog lethargy.)

Mental strength is a popular topic in running magazine blogs, including my own. Here it's mostly laments at how little I have of it, plus the occasional declaration to develop more of it.

This time, it's a pat on the back over one of the situations in which I've exercised it: knowing my own body.

Specifically, how much rest my legs need before a race. It seems like some training plans have pretty dramatic tapers, and I did have one co-worker gently lecture me about running too close to race day before last fall's half marathon.

She began apologizing even before I could finish explaining my theory that too-fresh legs spell trouble for me on race, and as it turns out, she was right to do so, because I was right. debunked three race-day myths yesterday, one of which was the rest day immediately before race day. It recommends a 15- or 20-minute easy run, to improve oxygen flow and the central nervous system.

Though my theory was a little less precise ("I get all rusty"), I still feel vindicated.