I'm not going to sit here and write, "What was I thinking?" I know what I was thinking. I was thinking that I was fully capable of handling the rigors of 4 hard race efforts in the span of less than two weeks. After all, my training includes at least two hard efforts each week in the form of tempo or interval work, so this compact race schedule didn't worry me too much. The races that I chose to do just fell into this schedule and I had to deal with it. So it is what it is.
I began with The Westmonster 5K (follow link to read Westmonster race report), which was a great race to start with. A challenging, hard cross-country style race on a picture perfect evening, mid-week, on Thursday. Although it was just a 5K, I have to admit that it took something out of me and my legs, leaving me ever so slightly depleted for my next race.
Race #2 would come 3 days later, the McConnell's 10K. I didn't have the luxury of tapering into this race as I still had to be mindful of my preparation for the upcoming weekend which included my final two races. On Saturday, the day prior to McConnell's, I ran a preview of the 10 mile run course of the upcoming Santa Barbara Triathlon. It had to be a regular training day for me. I couldn't afford to lose that last opportunity to run a vigorous preview of the course I would be racing on the following weekend. As I sweated along in my Saturday "long" run, I kept apologizing to the McConnell's 10K, hoping that I'd have something left the following morning to offer to it.
Sunday, race day for the McConnell's 10K, was a leisurely morning. I love that the race doesn't start until 9:30 am, while at the same time I hate that it starts at 9:30 am. It is, after all, mid-August and although the race does start on the coast, it doesn't stay there. The out-and-back course gets hotter with each mile inland, and for some unknown, freakish, inexplicable reason, it gets even hotter with each return mile. So, here's the reality. I do NOT run well in the heat unless I am fully acclimated, and at this point in my training, I am not well acclimated to high'ish temperatures. So John and I arrived at Goleta Beach, trying to feel ready to run. I knew I wouldn't be at my freshest, but I figured I'd be able to hold a decent pace and I set my goals accordingly. When I factored in the temperature, I reduced my expectations just a bit. I had a simple goal, one I was sure I could manage. I simply wanted to run slightly faster than my last McConnell's 10K effort which was two years earlier. Two years earlier I was the first female until I was passed in the last few meters of the race. As it turned out, I was passed by another master's runner who therefore nabbed the master's course record, with me a wimpy 3 seconds later. So, based on that I could only boast running the second fastest time by a master's woman on that course. And, to boot, it was a crummy race and a poor time for me, and I had been coming off of a previous dreadful Achilles injury. So this year I figured I would be able to, even on tired legs, run better and claim the master's women course record which would have required a 38:50 or better. No problem I thought. With less fitness and on a twisting, difficult course I had run faster than this a few months earlier at the Gaucho Gallop. Surely on this mostly flat out-and-back course, even on a hot day, pre-fatigued, I could manage this goal.
Well here's how this year's McConnell's played out. I felt no nervousness at the line, however I did feel this heavy blanket of ... blah, with sprinkles of .... yuck it's hot ... this is going to hurt ... do I really need to do this race, crud I paid, I should run. Not the best mindset for a race start. The "on your mark, get set, go" voice happened at some point, interrupting my complex thought process and I found my body moving forward. Eventually my brain caught up and I settled into that first mile, feeling mostly ok and happy with a 5:55 completion of that mile. As is typically the case, by the second mile I had slowed into reality and evened out the effort and was perfectly where I needed to be in my pace. What happened after mile two is a whole other story.
I found that my perfect pace was impossible to maintain and I began to creep into that realm of discomfort way too early. I was only in mile three and I began readjusting my plan of picking up the pace on the way back. Those thoughts were replaced by, "shoot. Why couldn't this race be the McConnell's 4 mile." I really thought that. I was sucking eggs. Why was I sucking eggs? Was everybody else sucking eggs? Ricky didn't look like he was sucking eggs as he zoomed back in the other direction, several long minutes ahead of me. Joy didn't look like she was sucking eggs when she was heading back. I was sucking eggs into my lungs and they were collecting in my stomach and at some point they were going to have to pop or come back up. Finally, I made it to the turn around point, completely and fully off of my intended pace. I wondered if somehow I would begin to feel better on the way back, like maybe the wind would push me or the unchanging bike path would actually have some inconceivable downward slope that just made running hard feel better. I did not in any way begin to feel better. I had to let go of my simple goal, and replaced it with a new goal. My new goal was to finish this bad boy. Why was this course and race spanking me? Honestly I had no reason. I had been running along here for weeks, 7+ mile runs, and at this point, those 7 mile runs were just about as fast as my current race pace. Suffering along, sweating, feeling the searing heat, sucking eggs, this was mental torture, not to mention physical torture. But alas, I see the water station up ahead and I need some. But when I got to the water and grabbed a cup, I stopped and drank. I stopped running and began walking. I began walking with my water cup (I never do this in a 10K). I doubled over for a chance to get more oxygen, dumped the remainder of the water over my head, and then pushed on. How many seconds lost in that, who knows. Too many. But I only had 1 1/2 miles to go. Only that far but so many eggs in my body and now I've dropped behind my fellow running duo who had been suffering along with me. They were up there, I was back here. Anyway, need I go on with this report? I eventually did drag myself across the finish line in a time one whole minute SLOWER than I had run last time. And Kevin, the race director (thank you Kevin for your dedication to directing this race year after year) asks me how old I am. I mean, at the moment, I'm sure I looked something like Igor, humped over, dragging by body out of the chute into some shade where I would eventually crumble and contemplate why I felt I needed to do this race. Kevin was so excited when he found out I was 44. He announces to everyone that Cindy has just run the 5th fastest master's women time on this course. He shoves a list of women in my face, the list that shows the four faster times. "Do you recognize any of those names?" Yah, that one right there, #2, that's me. Different last name, but same me. I guess I've hit an age milestone because when I was called to receive my award (for which I am truly grateful despite my difficult race), he felt it necessary to tell everyone again how old I am, and again repeated that I had run the 5th fastest masters time. He could not have known my simple goal that had been defeated, crushed and squished into the asphalt back at mile 3.
But one can't dwell on the past, I had two more races ahead of me. The next race was the 10 mile run leg of the Santa Barbara Triathlon, which I was doing as a relay with two other remarkable female athletes. I had 5 days to recover and try to taper into it, which included more swimming than running. There is a different type of pressure when you're doing a relay, particularly when you are the anchor. The final fate was in my hands. So I considered this race important and more of a goal race. A complication though, was that I had a final race, a hard, competitive one, the day after the triathlon. I wanted to economize my effort in the 10 mile so that I ran only as hard as I had to, and feel good doing it, so that I had legs for the next day. So the first step to this was to spend ample time sizing up my competition, and like, trying to intimidate them. We arrived early on Saturday (this is now 9 days after the Westmonster, and 6 days after the tortured 10K. Did I mention I am mentally scarred from that 10K? I drank my Americano at 6:30 am. I wouldn't be starting my run for about 3 hours, so I felt the caffeine was a good idea. Hmmm. More on that later. I watched our amazing swimmer, Becca, go off in her wave with the likes of Gary Hall Jr. who was himself doing the swim leg of a relay. He wasn't our competition though. We were competing only against other all women teams. Becca transitioned in an excellent time to our cyclist Tiffany, with only one all women team ahead of us. I began to hang near the transition area checking out the other women relay runners. I lurked behind palm trees watching. I still had an hour and 45 minutes before my turn, so I remained outside, in dark places throwing darts with my eyes. A zone bar down the hatch, a bit of water. Finally time to warm up. It was much cooler today. Much cooler, but holy cow it was humid and heavy. The warm up was slow, slow, slow. It was time to move into the transition area and join my fellow relay competitors. Stretch, lots of time to stretch, but the pressure was building. I slipped my Newton's on and continued to size up the women around me. Soon the first relay cyclists began to arrive, all men's teams at first, but Becca and I watched in eager anticipation to see if any all women's team cyclists arrived before our Tiffany. Man #1, man #2, men #'s 3, 4, 5, hmmm, is that next one a man, no female, wait is that Tiffany. Becca yells Cindy I think that's Tiffany coming, wait, I'm not sure. Was she wearing that color? My adrenaline totally surged, I ripped off my shirt to get ready to grab the timing chip from Tiffany's ankle, and ... no, not Tiffany. It was another man. Tiffany doesn't look like a man, but from a distance with a bike helmet, it can be hard to tell. So, man #6, and oops, there's the first female and it was evident that I would have at least one to catch. But no other females appeared until our Tiffany arrived and she was on the verge of tossing her cookies. I could not let my team down. They've already gutted it out for me. It was my turn to return the favor. Timing chip exchanged, and I was off on my 10 mile out and back. Bouncy, bouncy in my Newton's and fresher legs, pink lulu, and shamelessly passing all the poor souls who were competing in the complete event. I did feel a bit guilty that I was only doing the run and they were doing the whole thing and I was passing them mercilessly, while offering the encouragement that "Don't worry. I'm on a relay. You're doing great!" Mile one, nice. I passed the team that was ahead of us. Mile two, still pretty nice but I began to pull back on my pace to save something for tomorrow. Mile three, uphill through Shoreline Park up to Mesa Park, steady, feeling decent, love passing all these people. Mile four. Where the heck is the bathroom! Now! From no where, it was the curse of the caffeine. I had to go now. Um, and it wasn't #1 that I needed to do. I was running up the hill still but was past the park and into the neighborhood. Could I duck into some one's yard? I tried to but there wasn't enough cover. But up ahead I found a slanted fence, a tree, a few bushes and an open gate and I was on it. Off the course into the bushes for my first pit stop (the key word here is "first"). Back on course, still mile four, but now I have time to make up. I began re-passing people and in some cases the conversation that ensued required me to admit I had to make a stop in the bushes. Onward toward mile five and the turn around, yes, believe it or not, I needed a bathroom again quick (it had only been a mile since the last one). This time I found refuge in a port-a-potty, but it wasn't a quick pit stop. This is crazy. Time is ticking off the clock, people are moving ahead of me, maybe one of the women's relay people, and here I sit. Finally, out of the john and back toward the finish line. As I once again re-passed people, I heard the snickers. Ah, she had to stop in the port-a-potty. Focus, but with the time lost I could no longer afford to hold off on my pace. The tempo increased significantly and soon came mile 6. Mile six brought another pit stop. This time I had to run off course to the bathroom and more time lost, lots of time lost. Panic, frustration, disbelief, pressure, and GI cramping. This was becoming a nightmare. Can I wake up now? Mile seven was ok, nice and hard, passing, passing, passing, trying to catch up to a virtual time somewhere ahead of me. Mile eight, I might make it without another stop. Mile nine, another stop was indeed required. Bathroom by the pier. That makes a grand total of 4 stops. Mile ten was the finish line, and by some miracle, a victorious finish line. Becca and Tiffany were so excited. Oh my gosh, you ran so fast. John however, was looking a little confused. I think I must have just stared at my teammates with some kind of weird crinkle in my brow. Their expectations must have been different than mine. I was at least 5 minutes off my intended time. We did however win by almost 9 minutes. Alright, so race number three was interesting but ended in victory, but unfortunately left me more tired and drained ... literally ....
Later that same afternoon it was off to Irvine. We drove down to stay the night. Race number four was the USATF Southern California Championship Road Mile. That's a mouthful. Only one mile. Straight and flat, and as fate would have it, with the wind. I was competing for prize money in the Master's Elite women division. By this time though I must admit I lacked all manner of confidence. There was no good reason why I should have a good race. I was still dehydrated, it was another stinkin' hot day, my legs were dead, and I was facing fast women. Fast women. Based on the previous year's times, I would have to run a sub 5:10 to have a chance at getting at least third. I knew I could do that, but I was fairly sure I wouldn't do that today. A long warm up later, in the growing heat of the morning, Sunday, it was time for my race. They bunched the open elite, master's elite, and senior elite (over 50) women all in the same race but not pitted against one another. So everyone knew who was who, they placed an "O", "M", and "S" on our backs to differentiate. The command would be runners take your mark, and then the gun. What the heck? These girls, there were 13 in my race, took off in an all out sprint. At least that's what it felt like to me. Are you kidding me? Some of you are as old as I am, are you really going to maintain this ridiculous pace? I was like almost last for at least 1/2 mile. The first quarter clock read 1:12 for me, ummm. Are you guys going to slow down? I did. The 1/2 mile was a more realistic 2:32, but I was thrashed and bascially still in shock by the pace. There were 3 "M"'s ahead of me running in a cute little bunch, right there. They were right there but they kept staying right there and I wasn't with them. Three "M"'s ahead of me means I get no money. Can I quit now. This has been a long two weeks. I'm hot, I'm tired, I'm thirsty, I want to cry, too dehydrated though so no tear would come out. Darn it. But there is life in the anaerobic realm of a mile. Somewhere before the 3rd quarter one of the "M"'s began to drop speed and I felt like I was gaining speed. Zip, passed her, dropped her like a bad habit, and since I could no longer feel my hands or feet (because they went numb from oxygen debt), I figured I'd just run harder. Passed a few others. I wanted that next "M." I'm gaining, I'm going faster than she is, I can do it. But alas, the stupid finish line came too soon. The first thought that swept across my mind as I crossed the finish line was "I did it." I did 4 races in 11 days. A little smidgen of money wasn't a bad thing either. My time was no where near sub 5:10. It was in fact 5:18. So there you go. Third in the master's elite women category, 2nd in my age group. And John completed his race in amazing fashion with a 5:20. It was a lovely trip. Time to rest.