Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Vicki's 3000 Race Report

This post is coming hopefully better late than never.  Over a week ago I participated in a local track 3000.  Although I spent many high school and college years running track, I'm pretty sure this is the first time I actually ran a 3000, so I was assured a PR. 

The Vicki's 3000 is yet another special Santa Barbara race.  In the spirit of true and pure competition and fund raising for something more worthwhile than collecting a trophy, Vicki's was all about the cause.  All proceeds benefited the Special Olympics, a beneficiary rooted deep in the history of the race.

The race location couldn't have been better.  The Westmont College track is one of the best in the area and is nestled in the Santa Barbara/Montecito foothills, in a quiet, secluded, peaceful nook.  The overcast sky and low lying clouds muted the setting even more, and but for the jovial chatter from the folks who came out to run the track, a subdued hush rested over us.

It was a sweet day, Saturday June 9th, and the moist air registered a perfect temperature and little air movement.  The race went off in 3 waves, so between warming up and stretching, I was able to watch the first two waves go round and round.  Seven and a half laps isn't all that much unless you're red lining it the whole way.  In that case 7 1/2 laps is forever.  As I watched my fellow runners suffer around the oval, that old familiar intimidation rose within me.  It's interesting that a race can intimidate me.  It's not so much about the competitors I will face, but my own limitations that I will challenge.  There's no way to get around the fact that a 3000 hurts ... the whole way.  There really isn't a time of comfort or relaxation though the want for that increases with every passing lap. 

I try to set a realistic goal when I approach a race.  At this point, it is difficult to really know what I realistically can do as I am still fighting back from injury and striving for ideal fitness, but I have to have some goal for pacing purposes.  My goal for this race had a broad range and I based it, as I often do, on recent races and the McMillan Running Calculator.  For me the McMillan calculator is spooky accurate.  According to McMillan, if I look at my most recent strong efforts, I might be capable of around a 10:20 to 10:30 3000.  So I set my pacing goal firmly within this range.  The best way to ruin a race is to set too high of a goal and try to hold onto too fast of a pace until finally you break and trickle in like a wilted piece of lettuce.  Been there, done that ... many times.  This race needed to be paced properly.

So the goal pace was to be approximately in the 82 - 83 seconds per lap range.  Ouch!  This is why a race can intimidate me.  I knew it was going to hurt.

There was an excellent turn out of fast runners toeing the starting line in the third wave.  The field was mostly men, but there were four of us braves girls ready to keep up with the big boys.  I am proud of my fellow female runners.  All of them work hard every day and are being rewarded by the joy that comes from strong running.  I was honored to race with them knowing that we would push one another toward our best.  That day a proverb reverberated in my mind during and after the race: "Like iron sharpens iron, so one man (woman) sharpens another."

So off we went in light hearted competition but each one with a goal and a determination to fight through the pain long enough to cross the finish line with dignity.  The first lap was just a bit on the fast side in 78 but I expected this.  The adjustment often comes naturally as I settle into a pace.  The next lap was better in 81, and then the next several laps stayed consistent at around 82 (approximately - my Garmin was beeping a bit inaccurately).  A race on the oval is so vulnerable.  Spectators can see everything and knowing this I found it hard to let go mentally.  Also, we were responsible for counting our laps and I needed to keep my head in it so as to always to be aware of what's been done, and what's left to be done.  As the laps went on, I came across the mile in 5:31 and I noted that this is really right on ... but can I hold onto it.  Only 3 1/2 laps to go, but in perspective, that was a long way.  With 800 to go, I finally came to a point where I mentally decided to slow the pace.  I was in that desperate place and I just needed a reprieve.  That was my slowest lap in 83, and then with one lap to go I focused fully on the finish line.  Oh, that last lap.  This is where you push yourself beyond yourself.  You cannot will that much pain upon your body.  It's like something else takes hold and wills you on.  It wasn't so much about catching the person in front of me, or staying ahead of the person behind me.  It was more about just wanting to stop running and suck in ample oxygen.  I wanted the oxygen.  With 200 to go I was somewhat aware that my friend Joy was approaching me from behind.  Joy is amazing, really amazing.  She is one of those really fast and talented runners who began running later in life.  She has been improving by mighty leaps and bounds over the past two years, and she has such a sweet and humble attitude.  I have loved seeing her achieve so many personal records.  It's funny.  I am a fierce competitor but I also have this inner battle as I approach a finish line in close proximity to a fellow runner.  Although I hate to be beat at the line, I also hate to beat another female at the line (unless I am unacquainted with her).  Today was no different.  But my greatest desire today was to hold on it.  I wanted to be able to respond instead of letting it go.  The end result was that Joy and I both ran seconds faster than we otherwise would have.  Precious seconds.  My final time was 10:25 (10:24 on my watch).  After enough oxygen entered my body to begin thinking again, I realized that I met the goal.  Yes, there's always that hope that I could have smashed my goal and ran a 10:15, but it was yet confirmation that I am on the upswing and I was grateful. 

I'm thankful for a race that offers no award other than knowing you are running for something bigger than yourself.  I'm thankful for the strong tradition of races in this area.  I'm thankful for strong competition, for a perfect day, and for the ability to just do it.  I'm thankful for the encouragement from others and for those who cheered us on lap after lap.  I'm thankful to God for putting the capacity in my lungs, the length in my legs, the strength in my heart, and the race in my soul.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The State Street Mile Race Report

The mile is a special race.  It's not that common to run one on the road instead of the track.  The State Street Mile is even more special than the typical road mile: it is point to point on a gentle downhill slope, and there's a Starbucks at the finish line.  The State Street Mile course covers several blocks of Santa Barbara's popular and beautiful downtown area and is lined with spectators, both those who arrived to watch the race and those who were just lucky and happened to be there to watch the morning's waves of action.
Photo by Mark Polomski - 50 - 59 Race (John on the Right)

I'm not typically like this, but during the week prior to this race I spent time locating my favorite items of running clothes to wear.  Most of the time I don't give much thought to what I wear, I just make sure it is comfortable and appropriate for the conditions, but this past week in my mounting nervousness, I wanted everything the the State Street Mile to be perfect.  After all, I have waited three years to do this race, having to sit out the first two because of injury.  Finally, finally I get to run this downhill mile through paradise, end at Starbucks, kiss my husband and share a 5 shot Americano with him.  So I needed my favorite shorts, which required a load of laundry to be run.  I pulled out a very old running top the color of red because "red" signifies fire, passion, speed, determination, focus.  It was what I wore 3 years ago at my last road mile.  Lastly I needed my favorite socks.  I sifted through my over packed sock drawer and couldn't readily find them.  Hmmm.  Let's try that again.  I pulled out every pair of socks in the drawer and no fav's to be found.  Nope, not in the dirty clothes either.  Well, there's only one reasonable explanation.  John took them.  He must have thought they were his.  After all it is sometimes difficult to tell the difference.  I went through his drawer and nothing.  I looked in my backpack and in my running shoes and cycling shoes.  Not to be found.  So the night before the race, as I laid everything out for the morning, I reluctantly went through my sock drawer to find a worthy runner-up pair.  I chose some greenies to match my Newtons but was unsettled about the whereabouts of my favorite socks.

Race day was nice.  It was not an early morning rise because John's and my races were middle morning and we had merely to walk 4 blocks from our house to the start line, so it was a nice casual morning of getting ready, stretching, stretching, and more stretching.  I fretted one last time over my lost socks and then let that go in favor of focusing on the crushing competition I was likely to face.  We placed our entries weeks earlier and when I registered I had a choice I needed to make.  Was I going to enter the Open Elite race, or the Master's Elite race.  What I had noticed from looking at previous results, is the Master's Elite race lacked comparable competition.  The women who entered the Master's race were wonderful, strong, fast women, but I could see that my mile time was likely to be much faster than what had been posted by that group in the past.  If I entered the Master's race, would I run as fast if I had no one to puch me?  Then with the Open Elite race, the finishing times and participants varied greatly from year to year.  There may be a lot of super fast women or there may be a few super fast women.  But if I entered that race, knowing of course I was not likely to win, I might run faster against the competition and post a better time.  Oh the dilemma.  What was more important, to run the fastest time possible but finish well off the leaders, or to win?  I decided therefore to enter myself in the Open Elite.  It's one of those moments; you make your selection, check the box, pay the fee, hit submit and then immediately regret it.

I was not privy to information about who had entered the elite mile this year but not long after I arrived to watch the age groupers start, I sat and talked with a fellow elitists who began rattling off names and abilities of the elite entrants.  What????  How many are qualified for Olympic Trials? How many 22 year olds?  Or 25 year olds?  Decades younger than me?  She ran a recent sub 17, she runs a 2:16 half.  My jaw dropped and I thought, "Do I really belong in that race?"  After all, the point of having a Master's Elite mile is so the Masters can still compete at a competitive level yet against those who are at least dealing with the same age disadvantage. 

Ponder, ponder, ponder.  Should I switch my race?  I really didn't think about it for too long before I went over to the registration table and asked if I could change races.  They allowed it and I decided that I would quietly slip out of that elite category.  All things considered, I'm glad I did, but the question of whether I would have had a faster race as an elite still hangs in the air.  Who knows. 

It was time to slip on my racing flats.  With my runner-up socks already on my feet (who wants to wear runner-up socks in a race, really), I pulled out my lime green Newtons.  Ooops.  What's this, ha, my favorite socks stuck inside.  The one place I didn't check :)  With a quick switch of my socks I began my last minute preparation for my race, clad in my favorite running clothes all the way down to my feet.

Photo by Mark Polomski
There were only 4 competitors in my race and I had an immediate sense that I may be running this one alone and paced only against myself.  I would then have only my 1/4 mile splits to rely on.  I was nervous on the line and the pause between "Take your mark" and the whistle seemed an eternity.  Shoot, I don't want to false start.  Finally, off went the starters whistle and off went the masters.  I pushed into what I thought was a good pace immediately and felt nor heard anyone near me.  Focused ahead and watching for each 1/4 mile marker I prepared to gut it out as best I could.  The timers did not hear the starter's whistle so there was a bit of an issue with the splits - this is not good, and so I wasn't sure if they were reliable.  But you have to go with what you have so I simply pushed it regardless of the split.  Prior to the brain fade oxygen debt that eventually set in, I listened to the spectators' cheers and people calling out for me to run faster.  I think my eyes must have been as big as quarters as I passed a half mile in under 5 minute pace and feeling like I can surely keep this pace if not increase it.  I was feeling good about a sub-5 minute finish.  There did however come a time when I basically could no longer feel my legs.  I was pushing against nothing in particular with no one in my sites and no one on my shoulder but I could see the balloons arched over the finish line (the finish line which ended at the Starbucks) and I could still make out random voices calling out, willing me along.  It had been announced at some point as I approached the finish that the course record may be broken today.  The course record.  I hadn't even considered that.  It stood at 5:09 up to today.  When the numbers on the clock finally came into focus I saw 4:50's ticking away.  Wait, I need at least one of you to stay.  I'll even take 4:59.  But I saw 4:59 tick into 5:00 and I slipped in a moment later in 5:03.  I have to be honest.  Though I was glad to be done, glad I could take a moment to regain oxygen in my extremities, glad to have finished first, so glad for the support and the congratulations that showered out of the sky, I was yet disappointed in that finishing time.  It was then that Mike, the Newspress reporter began asking me questions about breaking the course record.  He asked if I expected to break it.  Heck, I hadn't even expected really to be in this race, so I hadn't given it any thought at all.  What began to occur to me was that a record being broken makes the race bigger than just today.  No woman over 40 had ever run the State Street Mile faster than I did, and and and, I set a mark that I and others can try to overtake in the future.  I like the idea of records.  Now I have a clear goal for next year.  I love being a master runner.
Photo by Mark Polomski
It was a great day for the Abrami family.  John surpassed his expectations and ran to a closely contested 3rd place finish among men in his age group.  His time of 5:08 (5:10 was the official time but it is inaccurate as I watched carefully as he crossed in 5:08) was only 6 seconds off the first  place finisher.  We were both happy with our races and even happier to grab a Starbucks Americano (Venti with 5 shots of espresso) and walk back home.

Santa Barbara is a great place to run and race.  It was great to get a chance to watch others run in their races and to cheer them on as they did me.  There were epic performances today.  Many age group records were surpassed on this cool, calm, overcast Sunday.  The elite races were phenomenal and there were excellent performances by local runners who ran in those elite races.  The race itself is well attended, well supported and well organized.  Thank you to all.