Sunday, April 13, 2014

Carlsbad 5000: Mastering the Masters

There's a respectful reason why runner's over 40 are referred to as Masters.  It's not a term used to place them into a "lesser" category, but is a term used to define their honed skill, experience and grit.  They are Masters of running!  There are tough gritty runners in every age category, but the concentration of these qualities seem higher among Masters runners.  I assume part of it is because the less gutsy runners quit when they're still young and what remains in the Master's category is the cream.  A company of "the survival of the fittest."

So it was, once again at this year's Carlsbad 5000.  An amazing group of Master's runners toed the starting line.  Strong, competitive, survivors with experience.  Carlsbad has many unique and special qualities and one of them is that it presents an opportunity for Master's women to run in their own separate race (with the exception of a few guys who are running the "All Day 20 K") which means the winner gets to experience that true feeling of winning - breaking the line first.  It also provides the opportunity to be a spectator for much of the morning as there are 4 different 5K races, a wheelchair race and the two world-class elite races at the end of the morning.  It's an action packed day with a lot of speed and the hope of watching a world record be accomplished!

This year our Carlsbad experience began on the Friday before as we drove down two days in advance of the event.  We wanted a less stressful experience this year so opted for the extra day.  Having survived the apparent earthquake that evening (we didn't feel it but others did), we were able to do our workouts on the course in preparation.  The Carlsbad 5000 course:  some say it is a fast course and indeed it has some fast features, but I've not found it to be a particularly fast course for me.  There are two hairpin turns, lots of ways to mess up the tangents, and depending on how a person runs on false flats, it could actually be a bit of a challenge.  The race is fast, yes, but not necessarily because the course is fast.  It's a fast race because those who come to run it are fast and because the competition is so high level, it draws something a little extra out of each competitor.  That's why I love this race.

In preparing my race plan and determining my goals, I knew that if I were to be competitive enough to place in the top 3 overall Masters (that was where the money was) I would have to run a bit faster than my PR.  I set my PR of 17:46 just a few months ago so it wasn't a completely far-fetched goal, but again, I had to take into consideration how I run on this particular course.  For me, the course was not as fast as the one on which I set my PR.  But top three in the women's race were predictably always around 17:35 or faster.  It's tough setting up that type of goal without feeling a great deal of pressure and quite a bit of doubt.  My time on the course last year, a mediocre race, was 18:19 and I had little doubt I could go faster than that, but to dip down as far as I needed was going to take another "race of a lifetime."  So a PR of 17:35 was my upper goal, and my lower goal was to at least break the 18 minute barrier.  I felt like that would be fully realistic and in line with my other recent accomplishments.  If I could at least do that I'd consider it a good race.  Besides the time/place goals, I also had people goals.  There were a number of exceptional masters women entered as always and there were a few particular ones I really wanted to beat. 

Moving along in this little story, race day arrived on Sunday, March 30th and we arose very early to get John warmed up for his race (I used his warm-up as my pre-warm up).  The Master's men's race goes off first, at a very early 7:00 am so we warmed up on the course in the dark, taking deep breaths of sea air, trying to keep the nerves under control.  We were joined by Nash in the warm-up and we plodded along quietly and silently in the dark, feeling the contour of the first and second miles before heading back over toward the start line.  The weather was hard to predict.  Cloudy with a chance of rain, but was expected to clear.  As the sun rose, the clouds were heavy and we began to feel a few sprinkles.  Rain and moisture weren't too difficult to deal with.  I was just hoping the wind would stay calm.

The men's race went off right on time, with a damp road under their feet, but otherwise perfect conditions.  It was hard to really enjoy watching their race because I often came close to being overwhelmed with nerves as I had heaped quite a lot of pressure on myself for my race.  I couldn't quite keep my mind present for the men's race and continued to think through my race plan, and prepare my mind for the stress of the pain I was going to ask my body to endure.  But in between my mental hemorrages I cheered for the guys who were out there doing their thing and doing it very well.  The front end of the Master's men's race was blazing fast and included a bit of a pack.  A little farther back were our guys, including Joe DeVreese, Nash, John, Larry Brooks and John Brennand, with Dave Odell doing the full 20K.

I watched the guys finish, which was a super fast 16:44 by Joe, 18:03 by Nash, and 18:26 by John.  Gulp, now it was time for the girls and the men just left us a lot to live up to.  Nash and I run very much the same speed and I was trying to decide what his 18:03 meant for me.

Our Santa Barbara running ladies fielded a team for Carlsbad this year so I was thrilled to be there with some great friends, Monica and DeAnna.  I caught sight of them hanging out near the starting line just after I finished my second warm-up.  Just behind them I saw the competition doing strides and drills and I had to take another deep breath and suck in rich strength and confidence.  At some point in the past I used to look at these women and wish I could run as fast.  I would see them not so much as competition as just a privilege to run with them.  I have begun to alter that thought process just a bit and it has come about as a natural response to my better running.  I now see them as viable targets and I see myself equally as capable as they.  It's an important shift and it isn't a "thing" I try to tell myself, it is how I actually see it now.  I am one of them, they are one of me.  If someone is going to win, why not me just as much as they.  I feel finally that I've earned my place on that starting line and I know that they see me and feel a sting of nerves just like I do when I see them.  This was going to be a fun race.

My race strategy was still a bit unsure.  It really depended upon how it played out.  I often try to hold back on the first mile but this time I wanted to push it a bit if it meant staying tucked in with the leaders, so I would have to see how fast they go out.  I learned from past experiences on this course that if you want to be in the running for the prize, you can't hang back at any point.

Soon we were on the starting line, listening to the singing of the National Anthem, smelling the moisture in the air and taking deep breathes.  My last thoughts before the gun went off were of hopes that my body would be totally "on" for me today and my second thought was, "why am I standing behind this weird girl with long ugly socks.  If she slows me down I'm going to trip her."  Boom the gun went off ... deep breath and go hard, go legs, run hard and smooth.  The first thing that happened was the ugly sock girl cut in to the left, right across my path, and I clipped both her feet.  No actual tripping occurred but I was annoyed.  She then proceeded to run out ahead of everyone else and took an unnecessary lead far ahead of the pack.  That was impressive.  It takes very little time for the pack to thin out and by the time we round the corner onto Carlsbad Blvd, we were free of the crowd and the positioning began.  I was disappointed to find that a pack never really formed and instead we began to string out several feet apart.  I had my eye on those I knew ahead of me and I knew a few fast ones were just behind me.  The first mile is always a bit stressful and it is here that you are able to get a sense of how you feel, whether you can maintain, how hard others are working.  A lot of thinking is going on while the blood is still somewhat oxygenated and all the while, the crowd is loud and everywhere.  I felt good at this point although I also was keenly aware that we were going really fast.  I feared going through the first mile too fast and paying for it later but I really had no options.  It was either stay in there now, or kiss all my goals and hopes goodbye.  This is a race that simply hurts from start to finish.  The first mile is marked by a huge inflated arch so you can see it from way back.  As I was descending toward it, I saw the ugly sock girl still way out in front, and back a bit was the race winner from last year, and a few of the ladies I was targeting.  On my shoulder and pacing off of me was another one of my targets.  Interspersed were a few who didn't quite belong and they began to fade out.  By the first mile (which oops was a way too fast 5:30) I was positioned about right, probably in 5th but not far back of those I was pursuing.  We took the first hairpin turn (I cut it a bit close and knocked over a cone) and then we headed back up the not so "false" false flat.  It was around this time that I was passed by my shoulder buddy (I'm purposefully omitting names).  By the way, my shoulder buddy was the most popular runner in the race and the whole time, I mean the WHOLE time, all I heard was her name being cheered and announced.  I tried to convince myself that was cool, but it actually wasn't.  She had this amazing home field advantage and I didn't like it.  Hmmmm, anyway, she passed me and I therefore got onto her shoulder.  This is where having a bit of mental toughness and self-confidence comes into play.  I had to KNOW I could run with her in order to do this.  If I doubted myself at that moment, I would have simply let her pass and then faded away.  When she passed me I actually thought, "excellent, now she can block the wind for me and I'll use her to go get my other targets."  So we ran back up the hill to mile 2 (sub-11:30) and we were inching closer to the girl ahead.  I also noticed though that one of the other girls I had hoped to beat just wasn't slowing down at all.  She had a large lead on me and this was a bit distressing.  The final mile is a bit of up and down, plus another hairpin turn so it really isn't the fastest section and of course lots of pain was setting in.  I hung with my shoulder buddy, and rounded the hairpin which left maybe 3/4 of a mile to go.  It was here that I passed her back up because she was clearly having a bit of trouble negotiating the slight uphill.  I passed her with attitude and focused hard on the girl ahead.  I had beaten the girl ahead just a few weeks earlier in the 8K by about 1 minute.  I knew she was having a great race today and she was so gutsy and strong but I wanted to catch her
in a bad way.  I was not planning on settling.  She was right there ahead of me.  Up over the little hill crest, past Grand Avenue and to the final left hand turn onto Carlsbad Village Drive for the final 400 meters.  This part of the race is a little fuzzy in my memory.  I had several thoughts but little control.  I remember feeling my legs tie up a bit.  I'm pretty sure I did everything I could to finish well.  I crossed the railroad track and then the finish line, hit my watch to stop my time and doubled over.  I didn't catch the girl ahead (she beat me by 2 seconds) and I felt a bit of disappointment.  I looked at my watch time - it showed 18:00 flat.  I wasn't sure whether to feel disappointed by that.  I did NOT get beaten by my popular shoulder buddy (I beat her by 3 seconds) but I still heard her name being announced as if no one else existed.  Deep breath, deep relief that it was over, a walk though the chute pouring water down my pants to clean up a bit, and feeling in the end - satisfied.  I was satisfied with my 2014 Carlsbad 5000.  I placed 5th overall and was 3rd in my age group (first time ever placing in my age group) and most importantly, I beat Nash by 2 seconds, LOL.  Just kidding Nash.  That was only of second importance.  My official time was 18:01.  I still have something more and better inside me.  There were two women ahead of me that are older than me - one ran 17:35 and placed 3rd overall.  I can do that.  I'm going to do that.  I love this so much!

My teammates Monica and DeAnna ran most of their race together and finished extremely strong within 2 seconds of one another solidifying a very strong team finish.  We placed 2nd as a team and we are very proud of that.

I enjoyed the rest of the morning immensely.  We watched the remaining open races and then settled into the best viewing spots to watch Bernard Lagat go for an American records and for a title.  As hard as I ran, it is beyond mind-blowing to think that these world-class men went almost 5 minutes faster and the world-class women almost 3 minutes faster.  And to watch them run is to watch poetry in motion.  Fluid, smooth, focused.  And they were pushing themselves to the very end.  What an amazing finale.  Bernard did in fact capture the American record - I have pictures of it!