Sunday, April 29, 2012

The 2012 Gaucho Gallop Race Report

Like so many things in life, the experience of a race is bitter-sweet.  In some intellectual recesses of my mind, I can take my finished race, roll it around my head like a piece of clay, and look at it ... objectively.  In the end, every part of the experience, bitter or sweet, is a positive.  I love to race.

Saturday I toed a starting line free of any pain or injury for the first time in well over a year.  I was lacking in race fitness perhaps, but other than that, and maybe the beginnings of some kind of developing cold virus, I was ready to make a go of it.  I had been looking forward to the Gaucho Gallop 10K since the doctor gave me the OK to do a race.  It was my first opportunity to jump in with both feet so rather than my usual build up of nervousness and tension, it was all excitement.  Perhaps I had forgotten how painful a 10K can be.  Well, I was soon reminded.

About 6 weeks ago, after a 6 week total lay-off from running, after a year of pain, attempts at running, breaks from running, mental anguish, my doctor who has been working with me to overcome injury, gave me the green light to begin SLOWLY re-introducing running back into my training regimen.  He was strict in his instruction and warned me gravely that if I am not careful, my injury could be career-ending.  Diligently I followed his rules and slowly came back toward my old form.  Each running workout gave me hope and I prayed the pain would stay at bay and that the healing would solidly take hold.  The slow runs on the track soon gave way to short tempo runs, and as the healing continued and the therapy worked, the tempo runs gave birth to harder intervals.  My 2 runs per week led into 3 runs per week, nothing real long, but each week being able to run harder.  Finally I was able to officially join in the tri-club track workouts on Tuesdays and have done that now for three weeks.  So was I really fitness ready to run a 10K ... no, but I was ready to test myself, test my Achilles, test my mind.  That's what the Gallop was for me ... a test.

The weather on the morning of the Gaucho Gallop was so much improved compared to the previous days of wind and rain.  For me it ended up being a bit on the warm side (I am not a good warm/hot weather runner), and was a bit breezy out on the course, but certainly nothing to complain about.  There were many smiles on the faces of runners as chatting and joking ensued while we waited for the start.  It was a nice non-pressure crowd of happy runners.

The Gaucho Gallop course is ... well how shall I put this ... not a PR type course to say the least.  It loops through the UCSB campus in ways that I couldn't even begin to describe, and although it was well marked and had ample volunteers pointing the way, it would have been easy to go off course and therefore it was impossible to let your mind go to that "happy place" of race concentration for even a moment.  Unfortunately there was a group somewhere behind me that indeed went off course and added about a mile to their race.  I, however, thankfully found my way to the finish line.  Not only was finding your way a challenge, as well there were many turns, some of them sharp, some subtle ups and downs, some areas of wind in your face, some times of confusion before a volunteer gave me confidence that I was on course, and there was the challenge of having to run the race ... alone.  For much of the time I couldn't see the runners ahead, and heard no one behind me.  It was just me and my watch.  And after a while I wanted to throw my watch in the trash and just sort of crawl through the final miles without the reminder that I was running too slow.

10 K races hurt.  I've never run one that didn't.  After running this one I decided that I hate 10K's.  That is a looooong time to flirt with that red line.  At least in a 5K you can talk yourself through it by saying " can.....make more.....mile."  But in a 10K, at least this 10K, the statement that most often entered my mind was "what the.....are you kidding me.....I no.....way."  Even though I hadn't put in the miles to build back my endurance (a fact that also often played in my mind throughout), I still went in with some goals.  Goals?  Well maybe they were hopes.  I didn't know the course ahead of time, and had no idea how I would feel, so, yah, I'll call them "hopes."  I hoped I could maintain close to a 6 to 6:05 minute per mile pace.  I also hoped that I would feel somewhat in control of my race rather than let the race control me.  I hoped I could at least break 38 minutes.  All my hopes were dashed and replaced with, "oh my goodness, I hope I can just finish this thing with some semblance of dignity."

The first mile felt lovely and right on pace, 6:05 and was a bit uphill to start.  The structure of each mile was inconsistent so keeping an exact pace was not possible, however, I though a second mile of 6:26 was a bit ... off.  Ah, but that third mile redeemed my hope, a 6:03.  This is where my lack of endurance reared it's ugly head.  As the 5K runners peeled off into the stadium to finish, us 10K'ers turned the other way for our second loop of pain.  I twisted and turned with heavy, labored heaves of breath through the next miles, following the campus bike paths and pedestrian paths which too closely resembled the Universal Studios Revenge of the Mummy roller coaster, looking desperately for the next mile marker.  My pace fell off and I didn't care (the race was in control, not me).  There was really nothing I could do about it except to keep going.  When I hit the 5th mile marker I had an ever so slight second wind.  There were no women ahead of me and I was fairly certain that whoever was behind me was far enough back that they weren't going to catch me, so I settled into the idea that I could win.  Since I was so far off my intended pace, winning was the next ideal to hold onto.  To be honest, I'd rather lose a race to other women but run a PR, than to win the race but run poorly, but the worst thing of all is to run poorly AND lose.  So I wanted to at least have the win.

Finally came the last few hundred meters, the journey through the tunnel onto the Harder Stadium Soccer field and into the finishing chute.  Ah, at last I get to stop ... and lean over ... and perhaps collapse ... yah, collapsing sounds good.  I scowled at the clock as it flashed my 38:39.  Darn, my watch says the same thing.  It wasn't what I had hoped for, but it wasn't long before I began to roll it all around in my head and look at it objectively.  I just ran without pain.  I just ran a 6:14 pace on a hard course without adequate training and preparation.  I just beat all the other girls.  I just finished the race.  I stood at the finish line with other finishers, many of whom ran much slower than is typical for them.  It was a hard day for everyone.  Some talked about the course structure being a huge challenge.  Some said it was just harder this year for some reason.  Everyone was happy it was over.  I waited for a few moments and watched John finish a strong race.  His assessment of the race was consistent with everyone else and we simply enjoyed the fact that we raced, gave it our all, and finished.

I wasn't disappointed in my race.  If anything, I am disappointed that I hoped for something which was unrealistic.  I'll probably do the same thing next time.  So, the Gaucho Gallop is a wrap.  It was a good test.  So Monday I will be back at it.  I am finally able to add some mileage so will do some hard, faster runs but also some longer runs.  I will return to the track on Tuesday with great running partners, eager for more intervals.  Bring it on because I think I can finally take it.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Back on "the" Track

MoMo's sleeping habits have changed.  Construction near Doc's office has upset his ritual and he hangs out in the parking lot when I arrive for my appointment instead of being curled up in his matching waiting room chair.  He is a friendly feline and runs up to me, recognizing me by now, as I have been visiting the Doc twice a week for the last 7.  MoMo belongs to no one in particular but everyone in general, but Doc worries when he hasn't seen him for a while.  So up into the office I bring him.

In previous posts I detailed the introduction of running back into my workout schedule.  In its absence, I have grown to appreciate and need running that much more.  In its absence I have had to adjust to other means to achieve and maintain fitness, and thankfully I found a good formula.  But as much as I cross-train, nothing totally can replace all that running provides.  It's not necessarily all of the mental and fitness advantages that are hard to replace, but more the use and development of the "running muscles."  My most important "running muscles" are my calves.  If I'm not doing some sort of explosive push-off, I'm losing a little advantage with each passing day.  I've grown accustomed to the elliptical, Stairmaster and swimming pool, and these apparatuses have served me well, but losing my running power is a bit hard to swallow.  It's time to get back my mojo!   A Scooby-Doo allusion ... "Let's get jinky with it."

Because my Achilles tendon has been as solid and strong as ever here of late, Doc has asked me to begin really testing it.  I didn't even have to ask ... he sees it in my eyes.  He is no stranger to competitive athletes.  He knows how restrained and patient I have been, but I'm so over my 40 days of fasting.  I'm hungry.  He has added another weekly run to my schedule, bringing it up to 3 days per week.  The really big key here is that the runs are intense efforts now, no longer focused on adjustment, but rather quality. 

Over the last few weeks I have pressed the tempo runs, taking them off the track and onto roads.  The pace is creeping faster as I test my Achilles and my heart against the rigors of fast running.  So far both have held up and have done what I asked of them and my reports back to Doc have been positive.  A five mile tempo run at 6:20 pace, able to run it all fully within myself, and no ill-effects to speak of.  With all things considered, this is huge for me.

So came the day that I decided to do a 12 x 400 interval workout, not with a particular pace in mind but to see what I could do and to finally get a baseline for my fitness level.  I have discovered that confidence cannot be manufactured, rather it comes from experiencing positive results over which you have little control.  I am reminded of Tiger Woods' PGA win a few weeks ago.  His confidence grew with each putt he sunk, and with increased confidence came better results.  There was no real explanation for his performance that weekend, or that day.  It wasn't as if he simply decided to be confident, it came without his control.  That's something like what I'm looking for now.  I haven't raced, nor hardly run since November and I need something to happen that tells me it is still possible.  So I took to the track with that in mind.  What I discovered is that it is painful to shock the body like that.  The "running muscle - calves" had atrophied from cross-training so they were the first to begin protesting my effort.  Both grew fatigued and sore while I suffered through the repeats.  They couldn't even have the decency to wait until the next day, but the soreness did double by then.  The good news ... my injury was not an issue ... therefore contributing to my confidence.  More good news ... the repeats were consistent within a range of 3 seconds, all done at approximately 5 min/mile pace.  I was happy with this but stunned by the amount of effort it took.
Finishing a tough interval

With my first interval workout in a year under my belt, I decided I would join in the Santa Barbara Triathlon club track workouts which began this week.  With Doc's encouragement to intensify and build my running, along with what must be a near full recovery from a serious Achilles injury, I arrived at the San Marcos High oval to finally run with others under the tutelage of a very knowledgeable and experienced coach.  It was wonderful to be running, but I wondered how I would hold up.  I wondered if I would push myself too hard to keep up with someone I shouldn't.  The track can do that to you.  It takes discipline to remain balanced and to run YOUR workout, not unlike the way it is with racing.

Pre-workout Running Drills

We did a simple workout of 2 x 1 mile at 5 seconds faster than 5K pace, followed by 2 x 800 at a pace which was 5 seconds faster than the miles.  Simple but not easy.  Again, like last week's interval workout, I was shocked by how difficult it was, but happy with the times I was able to maintain.  I have to remind myself that I have been running only about 12 miles a week, and that only for a few weeks.  I can't come out and expect to feel like I do mid-season on healthy legs.  So tri-club track workout #1 a success as I choose to see it.  Another positive result to report to Doc.

While it is true that something like an Achilles injury can't be helped along too much in the healing process, yet there is something to be said about getting good therapy to support the healing, and even more importantly, having someone prescribe to you "no running."  These are the difference makers for me.

Because of these great weeks of sports medical care and my quick response to the therapy, Doc has OK'ed a race.  I will be racing before the month's end and all of my competitive hunger waits to finally be satiated.  Before then I hope to log a few more great running efforts, and I hope that I will toe that line with confidence.  I am ready to no longer have to say, "I'm injured." "I'm not 100%."  "I'm just coming back from an injury."  I hate these statements and how they play in the back of the mind.  I am ready to say "I feel good."  "I will give it my all today."  "Now I know how to run a PR on twelve miles a week."