Sunday, January 30, 2011

Romeo 4 Miler and 2 x 2 Couples Relay

The weather could not have been more perfect for my first race(s) of 2011.  The Romeo 4 Miler is a two loop course around the UCSB Lagoon, and I would easily put it in the category of cross-country running.  It is the first of the three race UCSB series.  Following the 4 miler, with a bit of time for recovery, was the 2 x 2 mile couples relay.  John and I did both races.

The UCSB race series is so awesome.  They have some components which are really fun such as the "yellow jersey" which gets awarded to the top male and female finishers.  The yellow jersey will be worn by the recipient for subsequent races until they are dethrowned.  Additionally, each of the races feature a sprint finish in the final 400 meters.  There is a whole separate competition related to those sprint finishes.  Also, each race finish represents a certain amount of points depending on finishing place.  Points are accumulated throughout all three events and culminate with a series winner.

The course featured rough asphalt (with a lot of potholes and ankle twisting possibilities) and trail, with two short steep climbs (that's two per loop for a total of 4), additional ups and downs, a bit of loose sand and water hazards along the lagoon (you had to run around or jump the puddles).  It was not a fast course, but was a lot of fun ... a lot of fun.

Putting the quest for personal records aside, a tough, varied course has to be my favorite type.  It makes it a true race against other runners rather than a race against the clock.  I went into this first race of the year knowing I wouldn't be running my fastest 4 miler, and knowing I would have to somehow conserve something in the tank for the couple relay to follow.  Mentally then, I kept telling myself, "Don't leave it all out on the course."  I actually never even referenced my Garmin for pace.  I just glanced at the mile times to monitor whether I was keeping it steady (I wasn't), which was my goal.

The plan was to run the first loop more layed back, and then try to push it a bit on the second loop.  Then I would leave the "all out" effort for the final loop during the relay.  Good plan, but poorly executed.  The race unfolded thusly:  First mile felt relaxed and I held back reasonably well.  Never the less, with the rough surfaces and hills, it still hurt to some extent.  It was a happy 6:01.  The second and third miles dropped way off pace as I attempted to slow up and conserve.  They were something like 6:14 and 6:17, clearly a substantial slow down.  The fourth mile was in 6:04 for a final time of 24:42.  A strong enough effort to earn the yellow jersey, and still have something in the tank.

The course was strenuous for sure, but also allowed for periods of recovery.  With 4 miles completed, all that was left was my leg of the couple's relay.  I used to love running track, and having multiple events per day, but I was not loving the idea of multiple cross-country loops.  Ugh!  I tried to stay loose during the 30 minutes prior to the relay, but when I jogged a bit to loosen up I realized I did NOT want to run another hard loop.  Such a weenie, I know.  I have grown accustomed to doing my little race and then relaxing for the remainder.

But both John and I rallied.  He had run a solid 4 miler too, but was up for the challenge of running the first leg.  The prize for the winning couple was a romantic dinner for two, so we were both motivated and focused.  We strategized that he should go first and get us into position, and that I would have the job of trying to pick people off in the final leg.  I do like to have a target rather than run from the front.

Our strategy paid off and our legs held out.  We got that awesome dinner for two and will save it for Valentine's Day.  So much fun.

We finished off the active morning with a burrito from Freebird's and a Starbucks and are looking forward to the Super Bowl 4 Miler next week.  After a rough, hilly course, a fast flat race will be nice.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Running Through Pain is Like a Menstrual Cramp

Boy and how ... these blogs are coming along at a slow trickle.  I have been doing a lot of article writing and have neglected the lonely blog. 

As the heading of my blog suggests, I am a masters runner (not at all meaning that I've "mastered" anything, but rather woefully referring to my over 40 age), and I am learning that pain during and after a run is kind of a more normal event than it used to be.  I remember, in my younger days, how I would puzzle over discussions of running surface and how concrete was supposed to be worse to run on than asphalt.  Back then I didn't get it because nothing hurt regardless of the running surface.  Well .... today I puzzle less over this discussion.  In fact I now begin such discussions as I massage my broken feet after a 10 mile run on concrete.  For the record, concrete is less forgiving than asphalt.

The issue for a masters runner then is to try to determine which pain is "normal" and benign, and which pain is acute and ... bad.  I recently struggled with an Achilles tendon injury which was undeniably a bad kind of pain.  But this week I'm dealing with the worst of low back spasms.  So what do I do with the back spasms?  Do I take time off and let my conditioning whittle away like an ice sculpture in Death Valley?

No.  This is my philosophy, which I do not recommend anyone else follow.  Unless it is a clear and identifiable soft tissue or bone injury, on which I can put a label and for which I can research recovery options, I run through the pain ... if I can.  That kind of makes it cut and dry for me.

So the low back pain (which I diagnosed as a muscle spasm) is something I've experienced before, so I am not totally freaked out about it.  This time it came on subtly as a general discomfort and I was able to run.  In fact, running made it feel better (endorphins, natural pain killers ... excellent).  But, last Friday during my interval workout on the track, I noted that my back got worse with every lap around the track.  By the time I finished, it hurt to take a deep breath (can't figure that one out - this is my low back not my upper back).  So I did the big IGNORE and followed up the track work with 1500 meters of 50's in the pool.

That's when the pain became a noticeable issue and I struggle to get comfortable seated, standing or lying down.  The next day was even worse and I had difficulty moving my right leg in certain directions, not because I was unable to move it, but because it would elicit horrid pain.  I felt that a good option would be to shorten my long run for that day.  Rather than 15 miles, I ran 8.  It was not a happy 8, it was just a necessary 8.  I maintained a 7 minute pace just so I could get it over with.

Yes, the next day was even worse.  I took that day off.

No improvement the next day, but I wasn't about to take another day off, so I limped through another 8 miles, this time not so quickly.  What I noted all along is that it hurt before and it hurt during, but I would feel a great relief afterwards.

Swam the next day, but believe it or not, swimming was worse than running and making the flip turns ... hmmm painful.  Pulling was painful.  Kicking wasn't too bad.  Conclusion:  running is better, using my legs is better.

Ran 10 miles the next day and finally I could say the pain was beginning to ease up.  Swam the next day (was going to swim and run but wimped out on the run).  And today I was back on the track and was able to do all 6 of the 800's under 2:38.  And I could breathe easier.  The pain was now more like tightness.

It's like going through a menstrual cramp or labor pain.  It starts out mellow, but then increases in intensity until it peaks out at some obnoxious level, then slowly begins to let go.  So that you men can relate, it's like experiencing a leg cramp in the middle of the night.

So that is the saga of my back spasm and my philosophy of running through it if I can.  Go, and don't do likewise.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Outrunning the Arrows

How profound can a car commercial really be?  I am watching the NFL playoff game between the Eagles and Packers and I just saw a car commercial which I've seen before.  Funny how you can watch a commercial and totally miss the brand which was being advertized.  In fact I don't really get the commercial at all, at least as it pertains to cars.  So it's a car commercial and it is set in a desert or dry lake bed and a car takes off while a group of archers shoot arrows in the same direction.  I guess the cool thing is supposed to be that the car is fast enough to outrun an arrow.  Like, hopefully it will never have to do that in real life, but it's nice to know there is a car that can outrun an arrow.

However, the commercial is deeper than that to me.  I was watching the car take off, and watching the arrows fly through the air in slow motion.  It symbolized my life.  It isn't really a car commercial, it's a commercial about the life of a tormented runner, or even a non-tormented runner.

Life is full of arrows.  The arrows might be injustices, the mistakes of others, jealousy and envy, obstacles, trials, tribulations, things that try to take you out before you can get out of range.  The car is ... me, or you.  The arrows are coming and you can stand there and get speared and pierced to death, or ... you can run.  You're not really running away from the arrows, you're just getting out of range, to a safe place where the arrows can't hurt you.

So how does this work?  This is how outrunning the arrows works in my life.  Running helps me cope, makes me stronger, helps me focus, provides goals, provides health, and keeps my life in a positive place.  So while the arrows are all around me:  searching for a job, on the waiting list for nursing school, assaults from a dark hearted person, transitions ... I am out of range, and therefore I cannot be harmed.  I have chosen not to stand in one place and get pelted.  I have chosen to keep moving and to do positive things, and be a good person.  I choose to outrun the arrows.

I love NFL playoff commercials.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Finish Line

The proverbial finish line.  It can represent many things in running, and many things in life.  The finish line can symbolize completion.  It can pertain to a goal attained.  It can mean a time of rest and restoration.  It can spell victory for the first, and victory for the last.  It can even be simply the end of something very long and difficult.

For me today, the finish line means ... a horde of sweaty insane runners who had the audacity to run a 5K or a 10K on New Year's Day, the day after New Year's Eve.  Some of those mental people felt nauseated at the starting line, and relieved themselves at the finish line.  We were there to witness the finish line of the Resolution Run ... note that we didn't run at the Resolution Run.  We just got to help out a bit.

Pulling tags off of competitor's bibs and keeping them in order for the timers is a pressurized job.  Here are the lessons learned from this noble task:

1. It is best if runners take a moment to tear their own tag and hand it to the finish line tag puller people.  Know why?  Because runners put their race bibs on, hmmmm.... certain body parts, and well .... it's best if they tear it off instead of me.

2. Some people don't follow the simplest of instructions.  Did you know that there is this printed instruction on all race bibs:  Do not pin.  Yes.  This is the instruction printed on the perforated flap that gets torn off at the finish line.  Guess what happens when that instruction is not followed.  Now we've got an issue, not only with the body part, but with the complicated task of removing a safety pin or two.

3. Some people do pre-tear off their race bib tag ... and throw it away before the race starts.  Some tear it off before the race and throw it in their car ... and then retrieve it from the car and hand it to the finish line tag tearing people a half an hour after they finished.

4. People look really thrashed in the finish chute on New Year's Day.

Ultimately it was fun at the finish line and it was a blessing to help out.  Runners are among the greatest of all people and we watched many strong people fight to get to that line ... the line that means they can stop fighting now.  It was a privilege to tear off your race bib tag.