Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Happy Hobbit Day!

Go for a hike (or run) in the woods today and enjoy the outdoors in celebration of Hobbit Day!

If you don't know what I'm talking about, here's a previous post that explains it.

My celebration will consist of running through town after work trying to guess the course of the 5k on Saturday. I hope that everyone else will have a chance to get outside and enjoy the sun and trees!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Official results

I just checked the official results from today's 5k, and it looks like my sprint to the finish put me in 4th place in my age group and 43rd among female runners. Not too bad! Full race report (with these statistical corrections) in this post.

100-Meter Darling

If I can't do anything else, I can sprint fast. That doesn't help that much in distance running, but at the end of a race, when the finish is in sight, and when there's someone in your age group you want to pass, it can come in handy.

As I've mentioned before, I'd been anticipating today's Spirit Run 5K for a long time. I've never run it before because I knew I wouldn't be very fast and didn't want to embarrass myself in front of former track teammates, and I hoped that this would be the year to not only run it, but also do really well. As it turns out, I ran it and did moderately well and feel really good about it.

I made an effort not to start out too fast. I knew what kind of hills were coming up, and I wanted to have enough energy to not only get up them, but to also stay strong for the second half of the race. I stayed behind an older man who looked like he was keeping a steady, reasonable pace. I forgot my watch at home, so I didn't have many other options for pacing myself. When the hills started, I continued to follow him, but he started to lag behind as it got steeper, and I pulled out in front of him to take on the monster. The hill on Alpine Trail was very steep and not very forgiving. It didn't seem as long to me as it had when I ran it on Labor Day, though. When I got to the top, I was so pleased to know that the worst was over, and I still had energy to keep going. From there the hills were slightly rolling, and I was soon directed onto the flat, paved path to the Alpine School. Note: This was definitely not the path I took when I tried to run the course on my own. Oops. It completely skirted the scary marsh and did not have any rocks or tree branches littering the path. Well, I know for next time. My apologies to whoever's yard I ran through the first time.

This race benefited the county's Catholic school association, so many of the participants were students from those schools, ranging from elementary to high school. I liked seeing all of the kids out there running, but I have to admit that it also made the race a little more difficult. For about 2 miles I was in the middle of a pack of 8-year-old boys who liked to speed up to pass me, hang right in front just enough to be in the way, and then speed up when I tried to pass them. So as not to interfere with traffic, we were made to run along the narrow area to the right of the white line on the side of the road, so I was stuck with them at the time I really needed to move ahead and make up time.

When I finally pulled ahead of one of them for the last time, I thought about saying something encouraging. He was talking to one of his friends, though, and it was on the last major hill, and I didn't have much breath to spare. A second later, though, a girl behind me told him that he was doing a good job. She breezed by me, and I realized with a jolt of annoyance at myself that she was probably in my age group.

Exit quiet, run-for-fun me and enter ruthless competitor me. What if I just gave up an age group prize? I told myself that I could not let her get too far in front of me. I pushed it a little to the top of the hill and tried to get as much as I could out of the downhill, which wasn't much, because I was pretty tired. We probably had less than a quarter of a mile left. I had no idea how much gas I had left in the tank, but I looked ahead at her ponytail and thought that she looked like someone who had been on the track team with me - someone whom I had run in a race with - someone I had beaten. I pushed myself into the school driveway and up to the entrance to the track. I tried to squeeze through the gate with too many other people and was slowed up. Then I was on the track and started my kick. The finish line was at the end of the straightaway - the same straightaway that I had run my single high school track race on. She was far ahead of me but wasn't sprinting. I could catch her. I had to catch her. There was nothing else in the world except her white shirt and ponytail getting closer to the finish line. If I had any stored energy left before I got to the straightaway, I burned it all in that final sprint. I don't even want to know what the race pictures look like, because I'm sure that my face was contorted into some horrible expression of agony from lack of oxygen.

And at the last possible second, I caught up to her and passed her.

I crossed the finish line alongside someone wearing the school mascot outfit (go lions!) and willed myself to stay upright and walk around the track until I caught my breath. I hadn't been paying attention to the clock, and didn't have a watch, so I didn't know my time until it was posted. It turns out that I was 4th out of 11 in the female 20-29 year age group, coming in one second before the girl in the white shirt (who was, indeed the girl I had been on the track team with). My time was 29:42.7, with a pace of 9:34 per mile. I came in 127th place overall and 43rd female.

The time is obviously not my best, but I did give it a lot of effort and had a good experience. I'm even more motivated now to do more hill work so I can tackle the monster of Alpine Trail again without slowing down so much. (And now that I won't get lost finding the Alpine School path, it will be easier running the course on my own).

One of the best things that I came away with today was the exhilaration of sprinting. It feels different when you run in the lanes of a track, and today brought me back to my beginning as a runner. I feel that, physically, I'm more naturally a sprinter than a distance-runner, and the shorter the sprint, the better. Laying it all out along the 100 meter straightaway to the finish line will always be much more natural for me than endurance running, and today it was fun to do it again and feel that it is something that I can be really good at it.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Running down memory lane

I went for a walk today that got me psyched up about running. Weird? Instead of sitting in the park or on the front porch of the library reading a book, I laced up a pair of sneakers and took a walk through the residential neighborhood. In the winter, when the sun sets at 4:30 and I can't bear to run on the treadmill, I often run in town right after work, since there are sidewalks and street lamps, and this walk reminded me of those runs.

The real walk run down memory lane will be coming tomorrow morning, though, when I head back to my high school for a 5K. I'm nervous about it because, besides my reconnaissance run of the course and a few short, easy runs, I haven't done much running so far this month. I'll have to change that soon. Maybe I'll even bring my gear to work one day this week and run around town again before a 5k there next weekend. For this race, I haven't set a time goal, so we'll just see how it goes.

Wish me luck!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Always an adventure

Somehow it got to be September. The heat dragged on and on all summer, but for some reason, I was a little surprised to notice a refreshing chill in the air and to find myself behind school buses on the way to work. Fall is almost here. That means that the two 5Ks I'm intending to run this month are coming up soon.


The first race is just over a week away and will be held at my high school. I've been anticipating this race for months. My high school was/is known for its successful sports teams, and track is no exception. I was always more of a bookworm than athlete and didn't even consider joining the track team until my senior year, and at that time I had knee issues and didn't really get my chance to be a track star. Maybe it's high school insecurities coming back, but I don't want to go back to the school, see people who I haven't seen since my days of getting hit in the face with soccer balls in gym class, and come in, huffing and puffing, among the last quarter of finishers in this race. I want to go back and prove how far I've come since then. So, as I said, I've been anticipating this race for months.

My original goal was to place in the female 20-29 year age group. Honestly, I did not train enough to reach that goal. In fact, August was one of my lowest-mileage months of 2010. I'm not so insecure that I won't still run the race, though. I ran the course on Labor Day so I could see exactly what I was getting myself into, and it's tough, but I think that I'll be able to survive it and maybe even enjoy it. The first mile and a half has a 200 foot incline, which is what I had been worried about, but which isn't nearly as daunting after my recent mountain-running exploits. After that, the course follows the "Alpine Path" through the woods, and it will be interesting to see where that path is on race day, because I'm still not sure if I took the right one on my trial run. I didn't see it as I jogged up the road, so I asked someone who was out watering plants in his yard. (Entertaining note: He initially thought I was approaching him because I wanted to be sprayed with water.) He told me that I had passed by the path and gave a vague description of where it was. So I turned around and looked for it. Between two houses near where he said it would be there was a path, and it looked like it could have been separate from their properties, but I could not tell for sure. I took a few tentative steps down it. Was I trespassing? Was I going to find myself in a private section of someone's backyard? A man was in the yard of the house on the right. I called over to him and asked him if the trail led to the Alpine School, and he said it did. Just watch out for the bear. He said that the path led down to a marshy area, but I wouldn't get wet because it was covered with boards. I was relieved that it was the correct path (at least, it seemed to be), so I started on my way and quickly found myself on some pretty uneven ground, littered with tree roots, rocks, and branches. Then I got to the marshy area, where I ran into what seemed like a sea of 8-foot high corn stalks. I heard noises around me and thought about the bear, and was kind of scared, because I could not see around me, and the boards were coming up in sections. Quickly, though, I ran through it and emerged from the scary sea into the open and made my way over the rest of the course. Now that I go back and look at the course map and satellite map images, it seems like I should have ended up more to the right side of the school's grounds than I did, and I seriously think that I took a private path that just happened to lead to the same place as the one I was looking for. It's always an adventure.

As if it wasn't enough fun getting lost, I finished running the course and ended on the track at my high school, cooled down and stretched, and tried to leave, only to find that the gate to the track had been locked. Luckily the person who locked it was still around. Talk about accidentally trespassing, though!

I was pretty exhausted, but the weather was perfect for running, and I didn't want to stop, so I drove a few minutes to a state park with great single track trails. I stopped in to the park office to pick up a trail map, but the only one they had did not have the trails color-coded and was not very useful. So I set out with an idea of what trails I wanted to run and proceeded to miss a turn and get very lost. What I thought would be a fun 20-minute jaunt in the woods turned into a 45-minute quest to be reunited with civilization. I can't deny that I was having fun on the trails, but I had started off the day sore from some sprints I indulged in the day before, ran a hilly 5K course, and then had no idea how much farther I'd need to run to get back to my car. Again, it's always an adventure.

I think that the workout I got that day was really good for me. On Tuesday I was sorer than I have been since the half-marathon in May, but it was a good feeling, and Wednesday I went for an easy run during which I loosened up and just felt so good. Being outside, feeling my heart pumping, and putting one foot in front of the other was pure happiness. I can't wait for tomorrow's run to see what new adventures lie in store for me.