Saturday, May 22, 2010

Cherokee Trail

On Wednesday I came home from work and knew that I probably should go for a run. I didn't feel particularly motivated, and I ended up heading out without any kind of plan. I thought about running down a road with a nice view of a valley and a mountain ridge beyond it, but that road does not have a shoulder or any room to step out of traffic's way, has blind curves, and is heavily traveled. I decided instead to run a familiar 4.5 mile loop. I started going that way when I was struck with the need to go exploring. A private road called Cherokee Trail was coming up on my right, so I decided to see where it went.

Cherokee Trail sounds like it should be a wide path across the American Wild West. This one wound up a mountain in the woods. As I climbed, I felt surprisingly strong, and I pushed without having any idea where I was going or for how long the ascent would continue. It actually wasn't too long. As it turns out, the hill was steep, but only about 100 feet tall. At the top was a beautiful white house that looked like an old country farmhouse. I don't know if it was just built in that style to great effect, or if it really was built in the 1800s. (I've tried to do some research using library reference tools, but I can only find tax information.) The road continued straight on for a little while, flanked by more modern-looking houses, before ending in a cul-de-sac.

My way back was downhill at first, but I soon came to a sustained uphill. I didn't attack this hill at all. In fact, at it's steepest point, I walked. But as I kept going, I felt stronger and faster, and I enjoyed the feeling. It was one of those moments where you surprise yourself and think, "Wow, I didn't know I could do this. What a great feeling." It was one of those moments that defines why I run. I later discovered that by the time I reached home, I had climbed another 185 feet.

My little expedition took me 4.1 miles, and it really has me looking forward to exploring more new places. I think that for the next adventure, I'll go to one of the state parks in the area and check out some of its single-track bike trails.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Stillwater Stampede 5K report

It had been in the back of my mind that I wanted to run a 5K this month, even though I had just tackled the half-marathon and was not trained for shorter, faster, distances. When I walked for Parkinson's in April and saw so many other people running, I knew that 5K season was upon us, and that as soon as I reached my 13.1 goal, I would like to get fast again. I figured that I'd run a 5K in May to determine my 5K pace, and then start doing some interval workouts.

I decided to run an annual local race called the Stillwater Stampede. It is put on by the same youth running club that also puts on a lot of the other races I run (the ones that give out the delicious jam to age-group winners!), so I was familiar with the course and recognized a lot of the other runners, as well.

It was a beautiful day for a race. It was sunny, but cool enough to be comfortable. I lined up at the back of the pack and started out at a fairly easy pace. The course was a double loop through the campground of a state park, and we gave the campers a lot to look at as they cooked their breakfast! Some of them set up chairs along the path and cheered us on. Others just watched from hammocks or as they unpacked their cars.

I started passing people after about a half mile. I didn't feel that I had that much in me, but I was able to move up a little bit in the pack. I reached mile 1 in 8:36 and knew that I was going to have a slow finishing time. An overall 8:30 pace would be average for me, but negative splits were not in my cards that day, so I just kept going and didn't worry too much about the time. When I reached the turnaround point, the support staff was there to cheer me on, and I headed out for the second lap. As I ran back towards the campground, a really fast runner passed me in the opposite direction as he came in for his finish. It turns out that he was the first-place finisher and shattered the course record.

I kept going, passed a few people, waved to a lot of campers, and made my way to the finish line with a time of 27:26. It was certainly not my best run, but I had a good time, and now I know what my 5K race pace is when I run some intervals. I'll probably be back for next year's stampede, and definitely for the Christmas in August 5K, which was so unbelievably wonderful for me last year.

On a different note, the support staff and I hung around for some of the activities after the 5K, which included a mile fun run. The fun runners didn't get 100 feet before one of them lost his shoe...and kept running without it! Talk about dedication! A woman picked it up and ran after him, so hopefully he was able to complete most of the race evenly shod...

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Long Branch Half Marathon race report

Distance: 13.1 M
Time: 2:48:58
Pace: 12:53

It feels like I was building up to this race forever. And once it came, the race itself felt like it took forever, but now I can proudly say that I did it! I am now a half-marathon finisher.

My dad and support staff came with me, and on Saturday we drove down to the sunny, sandy Jersey shore to the expo and packet pick-up. This was my first race expo, and unfortunately it was so crowded that I didn't get a chance to really look at each booth. I did pick up a few cards and might check out some of the company websites, though. I'd always like more running (or running-themed) gear.

After the expo, we took a walk on the boardwalk where people were setting up the finish line columns and timing mat. It was a beautiful, sunny day, and the boardwalk was filled with people enjoying the beach. We even saw a bridal party taking pictures under a gazebo.

After hanging out for a while, we decided to go to Long Beach Island to get the best New England clam chowder in the Mid-Atlantic region from Country Kettle Chowda. My dad had never been to the Country Kettle before, and he was not disappointed. I savored my soup and thought that I had to do well in the race if I was going to be powered by the best chowder (ok, chowda) ever. For our main dinner we went out to another restaurant, where I had spaghetti with clam sauce, which also happened to be really good.

Here I am with my support staff by the bay on LBI after enjoying chowda.

We stayed at a hotel in Long Branch. On Sunday morning, I got up around 5:50 and prepared my feet with moleskin and BodyGlide, then went to the fitness room to get loosened up a little. I spent a few minutes on the elliptical trainer, then the stationary bike, and then a few minutes on the treadmill. I went back to the room to stretch a little, trying not to pay too much attention to my hip, which was already showing some resistance to exercise, and then headed to breakfast.

Then it was off to the shuttle. We were so relieved at how efficient the shuttle service was. We got there around 7:15, were guided to a parking spot, walked to a line of buses that extended almost all the way down the road, and climbed on board. In minutes, we were dropped off a few blocks from the starting line. It really helped my nerves for everything in the morning to go so smoothly.

I dropped off my bag and warmed up by jogging around the parking lot near the starting line. For some reason, I did not see one other person warming up before this race. There were plenty of people stretching, but not warming up before doing so. Is it me, or is something weird about that?

Here's the crowd hanging out before we started lining up. The very strange thing is that when I began walking to get in line, I recognized a woman who I often see running on the trail. I wasn't positive that it was her until I noticed a woman standing next to her who I also recognized. I introduced myself, and it turns out that the first woman lives only a few miles from me and often runs on my road, as well as the trail. I couldn't believe that I ran into them when there were so many other people around. They were both running the marathon. Congrats to Kim and Wendy!

I lined up behind the 5-hour pace group, thinking that with the heat, that was a safe pace to start with. I stood in line for a while and couldn't believe that the race was finally happening. We were lined up on the boardwalk, and I looked out at the ocean and felt really excited and happy. After a few announcements and the national anthem, the clock started, they played Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run", and the first wave of runners took off. We barely moved for about 5 minutes, then the second wave was let out, and we started inching forward a little. It was very crowded, and before I knew it, the pace group was gone. I could see the orange flag bobbing up and down ahead of me. Oh well. After a few more minutes, I crossed the starting line. The sun broke out from behind the clouds, and we ran along the boardwalk for about a half mile before turning onto the street. It was on!

Once we left the water's edge, the temperature rose about 20 degrees from around 60 to 80 degrees. Bad. I haven't trained in hot or humid weather, and this was both. I locked onto a pace and just focused on keeping a rhythm while enjoying all of the sights.

There was a lot to see, since I hadn't seen most of the course before, and there were tons of spectators. The miles definitely dragged on, though. I looked at my watch after about 10 minutes, expecting to see that 30 minutes had gone by. I was already dripping with sweat, so I made sure to drink some Gatorade from my hand-held water bottle. Thank God I brought it!

I kept up a steady, easy pace. Unfortunately, my hip started bothering me at mile 3. That was really discouraging. How could I possibly run 10 more miles in that heat with it hurting with each step? Luckily some of the spectators had an answer: sprinklers and hoses. They stood out on the sidewalks with music playing and their hoses misting or showering us with cold, clear, beautiful water. To every resident of Long Branch, Oceanport, and any other town the course went through, thank you so much for the sprinklers and hoses! I really don't know how I would have made it through the race without your help.

A lot of other spectators were out just watching or cheering. I was really entertained by an elderly couple sitting on the steps outside of a beautiful house playing some drums for us. There was even someone blowing a conch shell to cheer us on.

I ran without walking or stopping at a water station until about the 6-mile mark. By then my hip was really bothering me, and I didn't know if I'd be able to finish. So I walked through a water station and kept walking for a few minutes. This period was pretty difficult for me. I wasn't even half-way, and I didn't know if I could do it. I thought about how my running talent is in sprinting, and I wondered what brought me to a 13.1-mile long course when I should really be flying down the straightaway of a track for 12 seconds instead of languishing in this misery.

Somehow, I kept going. Mile 7 went over a bridge that we had first crossed at mile 3 or so, then went into Long Branch, and I knew that my cheering section was waiting for me. I was in a lot of pain at that point, but I kept running just so I could get to mile 9.5. I stopped for one of the longest periods around mile 9. I walked for a while and stopped and stretched. After that I felt a little better, and when I got to a section with lots of spectators, I kept my eyes out for my support staff and dad. I saw them as I was coming up to a turn and felt really invigorated. I waved as they took pictures, and I may have given them a thumbs up. Then I headed into the center of Long Branch for the final 3.6 miles.

After about a mile, I lost some steam, but I kept running. I walked through the last water station and poured some water down my back. (There was no risk of chafing, because the water dried so quickly in the heat.)

At this point, I had begun to pass a lot of runners who had collapsed with heat exhaustion or dehydration. They were whisked away in ambulances or surrounded by medics. I hope that everyone who had trouble finishing the race that day has recovered.

I had stayed well-hydrated, but just before mile 12 I thought that I felt dizzy. I still don't know if I really was on the verge of passing out or if my sunglasses were just bouncing a little. I honestly couldn't tell, though, so I sipped the last of my Gatorade and focused on staying steady and easy. By this time, we had turned back onto the boardwalk, and there was a blissful, cool ocean breeze. Finally an end to the stagnant heat and humidity!

I began running with a girl in a purple shirt. We had made a few comments to each other and were running about the same pace, so we stuck together for the last mile. When we were just about a half-mile from the finish, I heard some women talk excitedly about using one of the beach-side "comfort stations" (nice way to say bathroom or changing room!), and I realized that it was Kim and Wendy! I had no idea that they were running near me! I wished them luck and made my way to the finish with the girl in the purple shirt.

When I saw the finish line, I got pretty excited. The half-marathoners were directed to the left, while the marathoners going for their second loop stayed to the right. I told the girl with the purple shirt that I was going to push it now that we were so close, so we picked up the pace. It was hard staying together because a lot of people ahead of us were going slowly. Finally, with about a hundred yards to go, I broke through into a hard sprint.

Whoa, look out. I don't know where all of that energy came from, but I was going so fast that I felt I didn't even have control of my legs. I flew by everyone else like a Toyota Prius with a faulty accelerator.

Then I stepped under the banner and .... there was no timing mat. WHAT?! Then it hit me: that wasn't the finish line. Ahead of me was an identical banner, but that one had the clock and timing mat. I'm still mystified about why they would do that, especially because it wasn't there at the start of the race. I had slowed down, but I started to sprint again. The clock read 2:58 something, and I thought, "No, I cannot possibly come in over 3 hours...must run faster!" And with that, I crossed the finish line.

I received my finisher's medal and a hat, and the support staff and my dad found me. Here I am right after the race. Don't you love the little kid on the right sticking out his tongue?

After I sat down and rested and re-fueled, we headed back to the shuttle. Unfortunately, when we got there, there was a line wrapping the full square around the block. We had to wait for over an hour in the hot sun to get on a bus. This was me hiding out next to the line at the beginning of the wait, when there was shade, which is why I was still smiling.

Dear race directors, in the future, I have 2 requests: #1, Please do not make anything except the finish line resemble the finish line. #2, Please fix the after-race shuttle service so that it is not torturous to people who are already hot and sore. Thank you.

So now I've finished my first half-marathon. If anything, I am proud that I was able to push myself through it. It wasn't as much fun as I had hoped it would be. I enjoyed my training runs so much, but the hip pain and the heat made this race too uncomfortable to have fun. It was important to me, though. I ran farther than I ever had before, even when miles back I thought I couldn't run another step. I will run other half-marathons in the future, and someday, I'm sure that I will run a full marathon as well. This was just the beginning.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Last-minute preparations before 13.1!

In a little while I'll be heading to the Jersey Shore with my dad and support staff for the race expo and packet pick up. We'll stay overnight in a hotel just down the road from the shuttle pick-up, and then I'll run 13.1 miles.

I'm pretty excited. My right leg has not hurt for a couple of days, so I'm not as scared as I had been about it. Hopefully the rest I gave it is just what it needed.

I picked out my outfit for the race. It consists of the lightest technical shirt I have, since it is supposed to be very hot and humid, as well as my most comfortable shorts. They don't ride up or chafe, and they have a key-pocket with a zipper so I can stash a baggie of raisins.

I decided to carry a hand-held waterbottle with me, because the weather is going to be so warm. I'd probably be fine with the water stations, but I'll take it just to be sure.

Well, I've got to get going and finish up my last-minute preparations. Stay tuned for the recap!