Sunday, October 27, 2013

Avocados and Foxes

The signs of Fall are upon us!  The shadows get longer, the days get shorter, the air just a bit cooler and drier, football has begun, and you can just feel the change.  Like we've just rounded a corner into the next season.  Fall also means there's a slight shift in racing, from roads and tri's, to cross-country.  Last year John and I did a full set of cross-country races, just for a change of pace.  This year we did just two cross-country races so that we could take a bit of a break before training hard for a big target race coming up in February.

The hot, dry air hit us in early October with some out-of-the-blue sweltering days with low humidity.  Running hard in those conditions usually spells disaster for me.  In hot, dry air (even cold, dry air) my lungs seem to have an adverse reaction which resembles asthma.  I often will wheeze my way through a race in such conditions and deal with painful breathing for the week to follow.  I was a little nervous as the Big Avocado 5K off-road race approached and temps were in the 90's.  But what are you going to do?  You have to deal with what's dealt and I rather resigned myself to what I thought would be a painful race and lingering lung inflammation.

Ricky Ho with Ollie, Cindy with shoes, and John just looking awesome!
The morning of the race, as we feared, was clear, sunny, warming very quickly and drier than beef jerky.  But I was going to be racing in a brand new pair of flats (Adidas Adios Boost) so that gave me a spark of hope (brand new as in, "I bought them the evening before the race and didn't put them on until the warm-up" brand new).  Just as a point of sound advice, never run a race in a brand new pair of shoes that you have not broken in.  Lucky for me the shoes fit great, felt great, more importantly looked great, and became my new best friends.  The Avocado course is not a fast course.  It is fully on dirt (packed and loose) or grass, has many awkward turns, some hills and poor footing.  But since I had run the course before (2 or 3 years earlier) I had a fair gage for what time to shoot for.  It would be one of those races in which my GPS watch was more of a fashion statement than a useful tool.  This one needed to be by feel.

Our morning began with a warm up jog, covering most of the course and I felt great.  How I feel on any given morning prior to a race makes no sense to me.  It's unpredictable and uncontrollable so I just go with what I've got.  When it's good it's like something has aligned in the stars and I just marvel and enjoy.  Even though it was 0% humidity or something like that, I was not only not wheezing, I was breathing easy.  This made me happy because when the gun went off a few minutes later, I had a fun first mile.  The narrow course is crowded at first.  Crowded mostly by folks going out too fast so there ends up being a lot of dodging and having to work your way around those ahead of you.  Within 1/2 mile things cleared out a bit and I could see the small group of speedy dudes up ahead and my race buddies around me, making up the chase pack.  I rounded one of the sharp, loose-dirt turns and breathed in and out easily and thought, "wow, I'm almost 1/3 of the way through this race and I'm not even breathing hard."  This was so weird.  I knew there were tough parts ahead so it wasn't like I picked up the pace at that point, but I was very pleased when I came through the first mile in 5:45.  Since I was able to breath, the hill back up from there went well, felt strong and I was happy to be hanging with Geof Gray.  I could tell by his persistent pace and watch-watching that he had some goals and was going to be running hard all the way to the finish.  Across the top of the course then back down the other side we went and as we were well into the 2nd mile, the downhill section was perfect timing for a good recovery before hitting a hard final mile.  Mile number two was a bit slower, 5:51, but that was understandable as it contained a harder section.  The final mile would be the hardest as it was 3/4 hill and 1/4 "kill your legs" grass.  We turned into the final hill and air was definitely becoming scarce now but my feet were still happy in the Adios boosts and I leaned into the angle of the slope and pushed the pace.  I was very happy to crest the top and make the sharp left toward the finish.  But there was still that dreaded circle around the grass that teases you to near death.  You look at the finish line the whole time but it takes FOREVER to get to it.  I was set in my pace though and just kept up the effort, thankful that I didn't have to fight to the end against a close competitor.  That is until I heard foot falls and heavy breathing approach from behind within about 10 meters of the finish.  I was passed by a puppy (20 year old dude) and we ended up clocking the same time - he passed me as we crossed ... whatever. 

It was a fun race.  I definitely slowed down in the final mile but finished in 18:45 which was an 8 second improvement over my last race on this course.  I was happy with that ... real happy!  My lungs did end up giving me trouble afterwards but they recovered by the end of the day.  John was only about 1 minute behind.  A great race for him as well.  We picked up our succulent and fresh cut flowers from the race directors (they have one for everyone!), hung around with some great running buddies, cooled down and were off to the Avocado Festival for some avocado sorbet.

Cross-country race #2 was two weeks later.  The Fall Fox XC Classic held on a beautiful course around Lake Los Carneros.  Carneros always reminds me of beef, but the theme of the event is Oktoberfest - Brats and beer.  I don't drink alcohol but hmmm, brats and ... how could I forget, Chocolate Chip pumpkin bread baked fresh be Drea.  The morning of the Fox XC race was the exact opposite of the Avo.  It was foggy and soggy.  That just happens to be the other weather condition that can make breathing a bit difficult - soggy air.  I often wheeze in these conditions too but for different reasons.  In soggy air water can collect in my lungs and create wheezing and difficulty breathing because of fluid collection.  This again caused some uncertainty in my expectations of how this one would go.  This course was more technical, and quite narrow, very sharp turns, unexpected rocks and roots all over the place, and it was a 5 mile course.  This called for shoes that were slightly more rugged, so no Adios Boosts today. 
Follow the BIG arrow Cindy!

I wanted to have fun on this course but I still needed to race it.  I wanted to relieve myself of some pressure and the atmosphere among the other runners, and race volunteers was helpful.  There were a lot of smiles and encouragement.  The course was fabulously marked and there was really no way to get lost - that was nice because it allowed the runners to enjoy it that much more.  Just follow the white arrows and Tim Strand issued one reassuring remark before starting us, "If you get lost out there just run around for about 5 miles and come back."  Sounded good to me.

Off we went and I found myself racing too seriously at first.  There were a bunch of puppies in the race (again this means guys in their 20's) and I wanted to run with the puppies.  I held my girl among puppies place (4th overall) and stocked the one non-puppy who lurked just ahead.  He looked to be more my age and darn it, I wanted to catch him.  But as the race and course bore into my body and psyche I made the conscious decision to pull back and keep it fun.  So miles 1 and 2 were about equal in pace (6:11 and 6:10) but the next two slowed a bit.  I was close to catching the non-puppy but in the process of slowing, I was passed by another puppy.  Where were these guys coming from?  It was all good though.  I truly enjoyed the race and held my slower but still respectable pace all the way into the finish, completing it just behind 3 puppies and a non-puppy for 5th overall and just at 31:00 minutes (31:03 on my watch) which wasn't too bad considering the course, the day, and my mental lack of effort.  I then enjoyed watching the others come in all seemingly with some semblance of a smile on their faces.  They were probably smelling the brats cooking.

Cindy can you JUST BE SERIOUS?
We looped back through the course for our cool-down and arrived back to receive awards of fresh baked Chocolate chip pumpkin bread (which lasted about 5 minutes after we got home).  I wish I could have managed a brat but I just can't seem to eat after that type of exertion.  So I didn't end up participating in the Oktoberfest part but it was festive none-the-less and such a fun race.

With these two final races, John and I are taking a bit of a break (except Thanksgiving - there has to be a Turkey Trot) as we will begin prepping for the USATF Cross-Country Championships to be held in Boulder, CO in February.  It's been a good year of racing and although I completed about 12 running races and 3 triathlons, I feel far from burned out, but for sure happy for a mental break.

Happy Fall to you and Happy Fall running!

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