Weather and life can't always be perfect in Santa Barbara ... sometimes there's humidity. The week leading up to this year's July 4th long time traditional running of the Semana Nautica 15k, can best be described as goopy, sticky, heavy air. I love humidity (our version of it) most of the time but I got a little nervous during the days before the 15k. My legs and lungs lacked enthusiasm and each run was rather depleting. My confidence was up though and I wasn't going to let a little soggy air dampen my outlook. Never mind the fact that I had to take extra care to cough fluid out of my lungs every 5 miles. I rattled like I had pneumonia. Yep, humidity.
Training has been good. Somehow my body has held together and has allowed me to continue to increase my weekly mileage. I trick it by throwing in some bike training and swimming so it gets confused and forgets to get injured. See how that works? So I've been sneaking in an extra 10 a week just so I could look this 15k in the face and say, "You ain't so bad. I could waste you in like, 58 minutes and not lose any sleep over it." Yah, long miles make long races feel short.
Confidence. That's what the extra mileage has given me. Even though I wasn't feeling great the day before the race when I did my light 4 miles and strides, I trusted my body was ready. I studied my training paces, recent race paces and picked my goals for the race. I squinted a bit thinking about what it will feel like to hold a 6:11 pace. I couldn't do that in training even if I were being chased by a rabid raccoon. But I knew those mysterious systems would take over and it would be more than possible.
I lacked nervousness the morning of the race. That's an oddity. I just felt happy, calm, and resigned. I did have this dilemma which was driving me crazy. Should I wear the Hokas or the Newtons? I brought both thinking I would probably opt for the Hokas and chose them for the warm up. But I had a last minute change of heart and ditched them for my trusty, though worn-out, Newtons. I was happy because as I strided out several times prior to the start, I felt more agile in them. So the Newtons prevailed, and my dilemma was solved. Now onward to the starting line. Getting to the starting line is half the battle. From there all you have to do is finish ... which today as it turns out was going to be a losing battle for me.
I was happy to see Drea sporting the same Olympic team uniform that I was. I wore mine only once before, at last year's Semana Nautica. You must wear a red, white and blue for that race. I am proud of my Olympic uniform. It is the real deal. I bought it a few years ago because I was entered in the Master's World Track and Field Championships but failed to compete due to injury. But I'm proud of it nonetheless. I had to mention to Drea that I cut the elastic band that forms the bottom support of the running bra portion. I seem to have a larger ribcage than some and everything fits perfectly except for that tight band. It leaves little room for my lungs to expand during exertion. So I totally sliced up my Olympic team uniform just so I could breathe.
Back to the starting line. We gathered, heard last minute instructions and soon the word was given and we were off. The first 2/3 of the course can best be described as anything but flat and straight. There were false flats up, then sharp turns to the right, more false flats and then a long false flat. And then a left turn and then a hill. There is a lot of character to the course and the worst mistake is to take that first 5K too fast. I was faring well although my mile splits were all over the place: 6:09, 6:17, 6:06, 6:19 and so forth, but that was the profile of the course and I kept my effort steady. I settled into the race after the first mile and paid little attention to what other runners were doing. I had to run my own race for the moment and leave the gut wrenching part (where you pounce on your prey like you haven't eaten in a week) for the last 5K. For now I didn't want to succumb to the temptation to go too hard over the hardest part of the course. I watched those ahead of me and kept my goals in sight. My first 5K split was right on pace but I can't say it was as easy as I'd hope it would be. I blame that on the heaviness that still lingered in the air. Yes, the humidity was still a factor and needed to be considered.
I pushed onward down the slope that began the second 5K portion of the race, gaining without extra effort on the female that ran ahead of me. She had gone out too fast. Too bad. I passed her as we moved into the upward slope and focused on keeping a steady pace. I felt the pressure push against me as I strode up the slope but I reminded myself that there was not much "hill" left on this course so just get through it. Don't let the hill beat you. Up and over, and then soon, up and over the last significant rise. I grabbed a cup of water at the aid station, rinsed my mouth, took a few strides of easy motion to recover and pressed on. Mentally I began to feel the need for deeper concentration because I was feeling the pressure of my pace and wasn't gaining much on my competitors who lingered just ahead. But there was calm. I was in fact nearing the 10K mark and was collecting my confidence so that I had something left for the pouncing.
This though is where my race slipped through my fingers. There are things we can control and things we can't. As I began the slight decent back toward the bike path my body began to signal intestinal distress. For me this is one of those enemies that may show up at any time, in any race, at any point and if it decides to attack at the wrong time, I'm basically doomed. Within a couple of minutes of the first warning, and as soon as I had reasonable opportunity, I dashed off the course, down a private ravine. It was a steep ravine and I slid several feet trying to gain footing for stability. The clock was ticking and I was seemingly moving backward. It's like that bad recurring dream. You know the one I mean. I left my watch ticking the whole time and I lost over a minute in the whole process. My pit stops are not quite as efficient as Nascar. This occurred at the 6 mile mark. I dashed back to the path (more like stumbled) and I struggled to regain my stride. Miraculously I hadn't lost my placement in the race but did lose all contact with those I had been running with. I tried to keep the frustration at bay and do my best to regain as much of that minute + as I was able. My 10K split reflected the devastation to my overall pace. Minus that lost minute, the pace would have been right on.
Not much went through my mind over the next mile. I just ran and hoped everything else would stay put until the finish line, but often this enemy doesn't strike just once. And so it happened that as I neared Hollister the warning came again. I was forced off the course, dragged down into another ravine and this time I watched a group of runners pass by, two of which were females. Females that were 2 minutes behind me but were now in front of me and moving on without me. I dashed out from the grips of the enemy once more and gained my stride again but now the mental anguish was setting in. I had now lost over 2 minutes and had just over two miles to go. I had lost my place, lost my pace, an had very little hope of even breaking the hour barrier whereas I was on pace for a sub-58 minutes. And then there was the lurking reality that the enemy was probably not done with me yet. When the warning hit a third time at mile 7, I stopped my watch, stopped running and left the course. I took a few steps the other direction, turned around, started my watch again and rejoined the race for about 10 steps and then stopped for good.
I was done for the day. I lingered and watch other runners go by. I would have cheered for them but my heart was downcast and all I could do was watch them go by. I wouldn't be celebrating at the finish line today and they would be. I waited until John ran by and then I started my slow jog back through the neighborhood so I could watch many of them complete the race.
Somehow as I made my way back, I realized, other than my GI tract (which, by the way, I hate), that I felt pretty darn good. I just completed 7 tough, fast miles and had something left in the tank. That was what lingered with me for the rest of the weekend. I wasn't sad and I didn't feel devastated. It just was what it was. I have to admit though that I did punish my body a bit the next few days with a 6:52 paced 10 miler on Friday and a 44 mile bike ride followed by a 6:48 paced 5 miler on Saturday. I just wanted to make sure it was still there. And it was. I consoled myself by entering the next possible event I could, the Goleta Beach Triathlon. Take that you GI Joe enemy. You stole my 15K but you ain't getting nothing more than that.
I'm still frustrated because I have to find a way to keep that enemy away from me. This week I will be doing a food sensitivity test and will be experimenting a bit with my diet ... again. I'm pretty sure strawberries are a no no - which is a HUGE bummer.
Thank you whole heartedly for the Semana Nautica 15k organizers and volunteers. It was awesome and you are the greatest. And congratulations to all the finishers. Getting to the starting line is half the battle but getting to the finish line is the other half.