Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Race report: Friendly Sons of St. Patrick 5K

When I woke up Sunday, there was no sign of rain to come; there was, however, a weather alert on my phone: "wind advisory."

Great, I thought. But without that wind, I don't know that I'd be able to say the 2015 Friendly Sons of St. Patrick 5K was one of my best races yet.

Not because I notched a personal record (which I did — 23:35!) or because I got an age group award (third place among ladies 20-29), but because it wasn't necessarily an easy day and yet I did not give up.

Toasting our victories: We both finished in under 24:00 and in third place in our respective age groups. 
The first half of the race was the worst part, in terms of the wind. I knew it would give me back what it had taken once we hit the turnaround, so I gritted my teeth and pushed through.

Sure enough, when we hit that turnaround, my pace went from feeling awkward and challenging to smooth ... and still a little challenging, given how much energy had already been used up.

Despite that, I had enough energy and optimism to thank the police at intersections, smile for a photographer and respond to cheering spectators. (Speaking of which: Check me out in this gallery!)

I was more tempted to slow down or stop to catch my breath during the final mile than I was during the first, but I did not yield. Thank God!

As I charged toward the finish line, I had no idea how well or poorly I was doing — I almost immediately had bumped the MapMyRun record-workout screen to an ad and also the friends page, and fiddling with my smartphone hadn't seemed worth it.

So when I saw 23:30 on the race clock, with steps left to go, I couldn't help gasping "oh my God" out of shock as well as fatigue.

It sure felt good to finish seconds after Cory instead of literally minutes. And to know that I focused on what I could control (my own effort) versus what I couldn't (the weather conditions).

The splits: first mile 7:20; second mile 7:36; third mile 7:30; final stretch, at a 6:36 pace (hello, downhill with a tailwind!).

What else can we conclude from this race performance? That every race day must begin with my sister sending photos of our family's tortie cat, Allie, and that my own cats are obligated to repeat this every race-day morning.

OK, so I imposed myself on Dusty, but he didn't flee!

Friday, March 27, 2015

5K forecast: Beating the rain, maybe not the PR

This weekend is the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick 5K, which is once again a race I signed up for in hopes of beating a personal record. (24:09, as I'll tell anyone, as evidenced by my beery boasting in a taproom in Gulfport, Miss.)

Going into last year's attempts, I had a lot of thoughts about whether I'd achieve it or whether I'd come up short. The thoughts varied from day to day, but the ones that were right were those that predicted I'd flunk my test.

I haven't thought very hard about it at all this year, however. The race crept up on me a little bit, mostly because I decided to train for a half marathon and hope for a bonus of a 5K PR, a strategy that's worked better than my one 5K-specific training plan.

In fact, I haven't done any practice 5Ks. I'm not sure what effect that will have on my race, but I know it's had a positive effect on my psyche: I spent a lot of last year's practice 5Ks scolding and berating myself.

All of this is to say, I'm not sure what to expect out of myself on Sunday.

After a 40-minute tempo run on Wednesday, I feel more confident that I can start strong and not run out of gas midway through (like last year).

But is that strong start enough to break my PR? I don't know, because I've done all tempo runs and some of my intervals by feel, instead of by MapMyRun.

This year, though, I don't think it matters. I'll go on a slow, easy shakeout run today; stay off my feet for most of tomorrow (and probably hydrate well, because I'll actually be working during prime boozing hours); and head out to a flat course that ends in free beer on Sunday.

There, if nothing else, it looks like I'll beat the rain, which is forecast to arrive in the afternoon, justifying a lazy Sunday twofold.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Other people suffer on the stairs, too

More days than not, I take the stairs, from ground floor up to the fifth, to get to my workplace.

I don't know exactly how long I've been doing this, but it's been long enough where I feel like it should be getting easier. You probably inferred, correctly, that it does not feel easier yet.

Every day, I trudge into the reception area out of breath, hopefully not sweating too hard, and need a minute before speaking in full sentences to co-workers. And because I think too much, I worry about what these co-workers think.

If someone sees me entering or exiting the stairwell, I worry they think I'm a smug athlete quietly judging their elevator usage. If they see me just a few steps away at the top, I worry they think something is creepily wrong with me, to make my cheeks flushed/my breathing so heavy.

So it was with much excitement that I recently discovered: I'm not the only one!

I was passing the stairwell entrance on my way to the company kitchen when the door opened. A guy emerged and followed me to the kitchen, so I said to him: "Hey, did you take the stairs all the way up?"

(I seem to have forgotten how much I dislike talking right after the stairs. Either that or I subconsciously suspected he got on at floor four.)

He had indeed. Once he caught his breath, we commiserated about how horrible they were, even though we each had athletic hobbies, and how apparently you just have to train on the stupid things if you want to get any better.

What a nice discovery, that I'm not the only self-important athlete/heavy-breathing slug in my office.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Bulldog Hill

Recently I happened to notice on the Hy-Vee half website that there's a special competition attached to Bulldog Hill — a medal for fastest ascent in each age group.

At that point in 2013, I was mentally checked out, so I didn't even remember there being timing mats, but Zach said he remembered seeing them. (We both recalled spectators urging us to go hard and not walk ... and walking nevertheless ... full of irritation at these people not running ... )

Now that I live at the foot of said hill, though, I'll actually pay attention to the timing mats.

I doubt that at mile 10 or 11, I'll have much giddy-up, but if I'm in an OK mental state, it would be fun — well, OK, interesting — to use up what I've got, then see how I stack up to the elites.

Repeated exposure to the hill is definitely paying dividends. Not in increased speed after more miles before it, but in a decrease in dread/fear/loathing. I hope this pays off in fewer scowls aimed at the innocent spectators on race day.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Two steps forward, one step back

After my sports massage Wednesday, I was of course very interested to see how my hip would feel during runs.

I went on a short run Thursday, not quite 24 hours after the massage, and the hip felt much better, though I could still feel it at times. 

But Friday, even though I was working harder (it was hill day), I rarely felt the hip tenderness at all. When I did, I would shorten my stride, and it seemed to go away entirely. Woo-hoo!

On Sunday, Cory and I did a seven-mile run, starting with five mostly flat miles from our apartment up Polk Boulevard and back, then concluding with two miles along 28th Street.

Mostly I felt great during that run. The back of my right knee did have some twinges during the five-mile portion, which concerned me a little bit. 

The good news was that it went away; the bad news was that it was replaced with hip twinges during the 28th Street portion. I'm chalking that up to fatigue. 

So all in all, a very successful half-week ... which, unfortunately, I almost completely undid on Monday.

Monday was insanely nice, weatherwise: high of 84 degrees, low humidity, mostly sunny. All of that, plus the minimal soreness I had after the previous day's long run, meant I threw caution to the wind and went for a shakeout three-miler.

Wrong choice. It wasn't a bad run, but it was an unexpected challenge that I'm still feeling a little sore from. I felt worse after that three-miler than I did after Sunday's seven-miler.

I shouldn't have run at all — should've found some other way to enjoy the weather — and if I did have to run, I should've stuck to a route I knew to be flat, no matter how many times I've already run that route.

Oh well. I'll look at it from Cory's perspective: that I seized a good chance to "shock" my system with a weather change (which of course was what happened on race day in 2013).

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Report from the sports masseuse's table

So, this post is mostly to help me remember the key points of today's sports massage and to remember the long-term value of the expense.

First: the issue. Tenderness in my right hip tends to crop up during the later part of half marathon training cycles, then fades away once I cut back on running.

It's been happening for a few half marathons now, but this time it's much earlier in the training cycle. And I've got a masseuse whose prices are totally reasonable, so I figured maybe it was time to get this issue figured out.

What Jake ended up targeting most was my TFL, which goes across the hip and hooks up to the IT band.

My understanding is, when that's tight, it makes a lot of other things tight — the IT band, the outside of the quad, parts of the glutes, the knee. Its tightness could also be coming from tightness in the lower back, all of which combines to pull the right hip up instead of keeping it level with the left.

I walked out feeing much more supple in my lower body; Jake said to wait a day or two to run, which I was planning on doing anyways based on my personal sked.

Here's what I learned and need to apply at home: Roll my hip over a lacrosse ball. Keep foam rolling the IT band and quads.

Stretch all tight muscles by flexing the opposing muscle (oh how I hope I can remember this if I get one of my every-few-years in-the-middle-of-a-sleep-cycle charley horse).

Do the series of stretches that we ended with, during which my flexibility was praised (OK, that's not helpful to anyone else reading this, but I got to work in some self-promotion, which is nice).

And so back to the comment about remembering the long-term value of the expense. I don't mean that as, I'm broke and/or massages are absurdly expensive.

What I mean is that I should think of them as preventive care rather than treats/rewards — more like the equivalent of spending more money on healthier options (compared with cheap, processed foods) than the equivalent of splurging on dinner out instead of eating at home.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

My recurring yoga epiphany pops up again

When it comes to running, I seem to have very short mental and muscle memory.

I can at least remember that any hiatus from running generally results in complete muscle deterioration. (Generally, because being a bike commuter has changed my life in terms of how hard it is to run after time off.)

But what I can't seem to remember is that doing yoga after a run, especially long ones, actually reduces my fatigue and stiffness the next day.

I don't care whether it's placebo effect or scientific fact. I'll keep doing it.

The latest case study comes from Friday's amazing run. (It was in the 50s! And looked to stay that way for a while!)

I combined some Neal Smith Trail action with the Hy-Vee Half's loop around the state Capitol, which I remembered having a beastly hill, to hit 6.5 miles.

I felt pretty good — not like Mary Cain, but also not like The Blerch.

So that night, once I got home, I did Rebecca Pacheco's recovery yoga sequence and indulged in a lazy night in. I fully expected to walk a little funny the next day; that's just what happens after long runs.

BUT NOT THIS SATURDAY. My muscles functioned completely normally. Getting up out of my desk chair wasn't an ordeal, nor was riding my bike to and from work.

Maybe this time is the time the revelation will stick in my brain.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

You know you're an outdoor runner when ...

Yesterday I compared my work schedule and the weather forecast with my training plan, and decided that I'd better get a workout in, even though I'd done two consecutive days of (short and fairly easy) running.

It was 30 degrees when I prepared to head out. That meant I put on my slightly thicker long-sleeved T-shirt but opted for the now-infamous purple scarf because it's thinner than my fleecy headbands.

I stepped outside at the same time as one of my neighbors, who smiled at me and said: "I can't even think about running this time of year."

I gave my usual two-pronged mild self-deprecation: that I can't handle a treadmill and that I can't handle starting out warm and getting warmer.

But I did so standing still, in a single layer of clothing, and felt OK — chilly, but not freezing. And I knew, once I started moving, that it would truly feel good outside.

I must really be an outdoor runner.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Head games

In the early stages of half marathon training, the runs are short, easy and generally unnoteworthy.

So I have to write about my clothing instead — today, the items I wear to keep my head warm.

Headgear story No. 1: On Saturday, I went out midmorning, when temperatures were maybe in the low 20s. I wore a fleecy headband to keep the ears warm, which also makes for even sweatier hair.

When I got back into the apartment building, I started shedding sweaty layers — gloves, windbreaker and headband.

I expected to feel relief as warm and clean air hit my skin. Instead, I felt a tenderness along my scalp.

Huh? It turned out that a quarter-sized patch of ice had formed in my hair and fused it to the headband.

I bet I looked super-cool standing there with a headband dangling from the side of my head, while I waited for the ice to melt a little more.

Headgear story No. 2: On Wednesday, I put in my first "long run" — five miles, nothing to brag about — of the training cycle.

As I headed down Bulldog Hill, thinking excitedly about the food and shower that awaited me back home, I noticed a car slowing down alongside me.

I slowed down too, thinking the driver was going to turn left at an intersection we were approaching. But instead, its window rolled down, and a woman stuck her head out.

"HEY! Where did you get that purple scarf you're wearing?"

Yes, I have taken to dressing like a cartoon eastern European grandmother:

Unsurprisingly, the woman did not ask about my skin care routine.
Because she caught me on the downhill, not the uphill, I was able to call back: "Sorry, my uncle gave it to me when I was 10 years old."

"Well, damn, it's a beautiful scarf!"

I had no idea I was such a fast-inista. Or that my uncle was so hip circa 1996. Good for us.