Sunday, June 8, 2014

April Running Brings May or May Not

Spring has come and gone quickly this year.  We had such a beautiful warm Winter, I hardly remember Spring coming at all and we have now moved into the marine layer months of June, with Summer fast approaching.  Running has just been one blessing after another throughout this time, with some of the big races done and in the past, a big ones to come in the near future.  The middle weeks have been a time of regrouping and deciding what my ragged body can handle moving forward.

In April I tried to back off a bit, at least mentally.  I decided I wanted to do the Wine Country Half Marathon in May so while I was hoping to get a bit of a reprieve from the stresses of racing hard, I also found myself needing to add a bit of mileage in preparation. Was this a good idea?  The half marathon was to be followed by the State Street Mile and Vicki's 3000.  As much as I'd like to believe a runner can excel at varying distances, this posed a dilemma for me.  I had been racing 5K's (with an occasional longer one thrown in) so all of my training was quite specific to shorter road racing.  So to jump up to the half marathon and then straight back down to the mile meant some changes in my training pattern.

I was very excited to do the Wine Country half marathon.  I had heard for years how amazing the race and the course was and often I had considered it but never quite got my mind and heart into it until this year.  I blame it on Desa.  She has such a positive flow so when she describes something that she really loves, everyone just gets sucked right in.  One day on a track workout cool-down she begins describing the atmosphere, the excitement, the beauty of the course, on and on.  I tend to be impulsive with some types of decisions and on that cool-down I resolutely exclaimed, "I'm in!"  And if I decide it, it happens.  Thankfully my race times and running resume qualified me for an elite entry.  I quickly applied for the entry, was excepted, and BAM, I'm super-glued in.

Now that the half marathon was on the schedule, the remainder of April meant prepping specifically for it.  I squeezed in one more late April race for "fun", the Gaucho Gallop 5K in near hurricane force winds, and trialed a pair of compressive De Soto tri-shorts that I planned to wear in the half.  I increased my long run to 15 miles but with a short few weeks before the race, I only did one or two at that distance and that was less than ideal.  My overall mileage was good (just about as much as I could handle physically) but to really do well at the half-marathon, the single long run of the week really needs to be consistently and considerably longer than race distance.  This was one of the challenges in transitioning race distances.  But I did what I could do and that was that.

The week before the race, I modified my diet so that it was very low fiber.  I focused on BRAT (bananas, rice, apple sauce, toast) for several days because I tend to have GI issues when I race and the longer the race, the worse it is.  I was determined to avoid that this time. 

This was the first race I'd done where I was able to enjoy the perks of qualifying as an elite.  Destination Races, who organize this and several other Wine Country half marathons, provide amazing services for the athletes.  I felt a tinge of guilt slipping into the athlete warming room while everyone else was outside freezing in the early morning fog but I did it for one reason!  To get access to my very own toilet.  That's all I wanted because toilet timing is crucial and there were lines for meters standing at the porta-potties.  Inside the athlete warming room (it was a really nice warm place) there was also a table full of energy food and scattered about on the floor, were very thin and fit runners stretching.  I saw the speedy ladies I'd be racing against, and a lot of folks from the Newton racing team.  Newton was the title sponsor so thus these Boulder runners abounded. 

Wow, I was enjoying this race already.  I felt very little nerves (I have no idea why) and was so excited.  I had trained a bit on the course the few weeks prior and it was almost perfect for me.  Well at least miles 7-13.1 were perfect for me.  Miles 1-7 were basically all up a "false flat" so that was kind of a bummer but at least those were going to be the fresher miles.  Cool, perfect air, some wind but not as bad as I'd thought considering there was a wind advisory in effect.  Lots of familiar faces and many unfamiliar ones too.  I had on my De Soto tri-shorts, my Oiselle/SBRunCo pinky top and a pair of amazing Hoka's I was wear-testing.  Everything in the outfit was purposefully planned and represented excellent companies.  The Hoka's are a new model designed more for racing and running at faster paces and I had been wearing them for about a week or two up to that point.  I loved them and for some reason I was just SO excited to be racing in them!

Boom, the gun went off.  Here is a quick recap of the events that followed.  The first 5 miles felt harder than they should have considering how slow I was running but such is the nature of "false flats."  I had familiar faces of fast folks around me so I didn't worry too much but hoped the latter half would go well.  At some point in there I settled into third overall female with neither of the two ahead of me anywhere to be seen.  They were slated to run sub 1:20's which I was not capable of so I figured they were up there floating along having a good ol' time.  I was more focused on my actual time and personal performance.  We hit a hard headwind around the 5th mile, finally turned the corner and somehow still had a headwind (how does that happen), and then came the daunting Corkscrew hill.  This was the mountain we needed to get over so that we could get to the rolling hills of the vineyards.  Basically I felt like I was going to puke by the time I dragged my rear-end up that 1/2 mile switch-back laden obstacle.  I crested the top and I ran out of my tangent line to grab some water and took a few steps of walking to ensure I got the fluid into me rather than all over me, and then headed down the lovely backside and this was where I fell in love with this course.  From there (mile 7) until about mile 11, there were rolling hills which trended more down than up.  I completed one of these middle miles in 5:45 and I had a small glimmer of hope that I could take back some of the time I lost at the beginning.  Until the 11th mile I floated and enjoyed and marveled at how much I love running.  I had an odd running companion join me for a bit.  There was a dog that joined our race way back in the first or second mile and was running with us.  I assume he came from one of the homes and here he was running alongside me around mile 8 or 9.  He finally fell back but that was just fun!  Basically as much as I enjoyed the downward slope, my legs were becoming quite fatigued so that when I came to the final hills before the finish I basically felt like I hit a wall.  I have to run up THAT?  And they moved us to the right so we couldn't run the tangents on those corners.  I somehow made it up those last few hills (thank goodness for the down hills between) and finally descended into Solvang and made the turn for the finish. I had not looked at my watch in a long while so I really had no sense of what my overall time was and I have to say I was a bit disappointed when I saw the clock as I approached.  I was two minutes slower than I wanted to be.  Maybe I had set too high a goal or maybe I just hadn't spent enough time specifically preparing, or maybe it was the course or the wind conditions, but it was what it was.  I did finish 3rd overall female so that was a really nice accomplishment. Final time was 1:24:34.

The finishing chute was a blast.  Everyone lingered and cheered and met up with the other finishers and were just so happy.  We grouped up for a cool-down.  Every last one of us had extreme fatigue and jello legs, even Ricky.  Then there was the elite athlete refreshment tent, WHAT?  It was awesome.  Food, all sorts of drinks, wonderful people helping us with every possible need.  Massages!  I didn't get a massage but I could have if I wanted and that was really cool.  The awards ceremony was crazy fun because lots of people had spent lots of time in the wine-tasting area.  They did the overall awards first and so I was called up.  The nice girl mistakenly handed all of the overall winner stuff to me.  She hadn't caught the part where they said I was third.  I was like, "Wow, this is awesome."  I had a bunch of stuff and my arms full and a big smile in front of all these people.  And then I noticed that the girl who got second place only got one thing and it was sort of small.  By the time they called up the overall winner the nice girl realized she had "oops" made a mistake and she took all of my neat stuff away from me and handed me a single small thing.  Inside the small thing was a check for $200 so I soon became happy again.  The overall winner also broke the course record so she actually was award $1100 and one of those huge, over-sized, "photo-opportunity" checks.  Deep sigh.

So that was really fun.  Desa was right and I am so glad I did that half marathon.  But that led to the next training dilemma.  How to get my body ready for a fast road mile and a fast track 3000 with only a few weeks to prepare.  This is where I sort of, well not sort of, DID make a very bad decision.  Against coaches orders I dove fast and hard into the next track practice on very fatigued legs, feeling of course quite invincible until the final two intervals when I began to feel something familiar in my left Achilles tendon.  And it was done.  If there's ever a warning, I always miss it.  I go from being totally fine to being totally not fine in a matter of minutes.  The next day I ran in complete pain and I knew my race plans were about to change dramatically.  I made an emergency appointment to my awesome sports doc hoping, hoping, hoping he would say, "aw, it's not so bad.  A few days rest and you'll be fine."  That's not was he said.  He actually said a lot of things but I can't quite remember because I wasn't really listening.  I think he said "we're catching it early which is good but no running until this heals" but I'm not sure.  So therefore I rested it a few days and then ran, and ran again, and a couple of more time so that I ran myself into a downward spiral.  And to cap it off, I did one final hard race in the sand at our tri-clubs Battle in the Sand.  Ah it felt so good to race but it hurt so bad.  On my next visit to the doc I actually began listening to what he was saying.  Let me just sum it up: you can't recover from an Achilles injury while running and continually re-injuring it.  You must stop running, let it heal and let me do what I can to get you back as quickly as possible.  I think that's what he said.  I then resigned myself to no State Street Mile and no Vicki's 3000 but with some luck and a lot of discipline and the therapy of an amazing doctor, I might be back soon and possibly in time for the next big race on my schedule.

Deep breath.  I've been doing that a lot.  Taking deep breaths.  I met someone at the State Street mile as I was watching runners finish.  He approached and asked me if I was Cindy.  Yes!  As it turns out, he was a race director and although I hadn't recalled receiving it, he told me he had emailed me a while back.  He was organizing a Festival of Miles in San Diego's Balboa stadium to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Jim Ryun's first high school sub-4 mile and he had a Master's mile in which he asked me to compete.  He had also invited many of the women I race nose to nose with.  I'm sure I had a sad look on my face as with unbelieving eyes I informed him "alas, for I am injured and cannot run in your event."  Deep breath.  How many opportunities like that can one expect?  Probably not many.  In fact that one was a "once in a lifetime" opportunity because I said hopefully, "I would love to do it next year though!"  To which he replied, "oh, well this is just a one-time event."  Is there ever a good time to be injured?

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