Sunday, December 19, 2010

Beach Party

Every December there are some crazy people who come to the Beach Blast 5K and run it in their swim suits. I have not attained that level of insanity yet, but I had a blast at the race today and had one of my fastest times ever!

It's surprising that today went so well, because I almost decided not to go. I wasn't feeling the greatest (as in: would rather be curled on the couch in the fetal position with a heating pad on my lower abdomen), but I knew that there aren't many opportunities for races in the winter, and I wanted to show my support for this small, local race, and I figured that I'd go and give it what I could. It turned out to be my best 5K time of the year by far, and I brought home some delicious homemade jam as a prize for being 2nd in my age group!

The race was at a local state park, where I've been running various races for years, but today's course was new. It was a triple loop through the parking lot and campground. I've heard some scuttlebutt that it was a little short of the full 3.1 miles. I plugged the route into Gmaps Pedometer, and according to that, it was either 3.07 or 3.08 miles, so I can't really boast a new PR. If I factor in my pace for that distance, however, I was still over a minute faster than any other 5K I've run so far this year, so I am very pleased with the result.

The three-loops gave us a lot of opportunity to pass spectators in the parking lot, and the crowd support was encouraging, but I have to say, it almost broke my spirit to have to do the loop 3 times. My favorite courses are there-and-back routes. For some reason I just find them psychologically easier to run. I guess that I was lucky this time, though, because I had forgotten my watch at home, and passing by the clock twice during the race let me know how I was doing with my pace.

There wasn't much excitement to report as far as trying to pass people or racing someone to the finish. I was shocked though when I came down the final stretch and saw that the clock read 24:5x. I tried to put a little more into my kick to try and come in under 25:00, but it wasn't enough. I ended with a time of about 25:05 or 25:06, I think. Times will be posted by the end of the week, so I'll have to find out for sure then.

Unfortunately, my weekend has been a whirlwind of activity, and the race seems to have been the final blow to my immune system. My nose was a little runny during and after the race, as it usually is after running in the cold, but by the time I started heading home, the floodgates unleashed and I've been glued to a tissue box ever since. I can't say that I regret doing all that I did this weekend, which included a holiday party hosted by one of my college friends on Friday night and then going into New York with her yesterday to see the King Tut exhibit. If anyone has the opportunity to see the exhibit before it closes (or when it moves to a new location), it was absolutely amazing, and I highly recommend it. I learned so much and was awed by the beauty of the artifacts and the fact that they were so well preserved after thousands of years.

Well, right now it's time to curl up on the couch with some tissues and that heating pad. I hope that after some rest I'll feel better and that later this week I can get back to running.

Oh, and here's a video for the song that I was rocking out to before the race to get pumped up and then after to celebrate. It was a beach theme, so I couldn't help it! ;-)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Race report: NJ Winter Trail Series: Race 1

I started off yesterday thinking "So this is the meaning of an epic fail." It must not have been that epic, though, because in spite of some very fail-worthy moments on my part, the Winter Trail Series 5K was amazing.

The weather was great, the trail conditions were perfect, everyone was courteous on the course, I felt great, and there was soup and hot chocolate waiting for us at the end (among other much-appreciated refreshments). If there are any pictures of me out on the course, I'm probably unnaturally smile-ly in them, because I was having a blast.

Who would have known that just 2 hours before, I was cursing my unbelievable stupidity and trying to find some sufficiently-angry music to listen to for the remainder of my drive. Actually, it wasn't that bad, but I was pretty annoyed at myself. Even though I had laid out all of my gear the night before, I forgot my wallet at home. I was alone and driving about an hour away with no driver's license, personal identification, or money of any kind. When I went home to get it, I set myself behind by about half an hour. Then I remembered that there would probably be twice as many people at this race as there had been at the one I ran last year, and all of the parking lots within half a mile of the start would be taken. Then, I realized that I really had to go to the bathroom. I started weighing options like "Will it be better to be late for packet pick-up or the beginning of the race?" to determine when to go to the bathroom, and my spirit was almost crushed.

The gods smiled down on me, though, because -- even after one of the roads I needed to use was closed and I had to take a detour -- I ended up not being the only one running late. There were so many people waiting to register/pick up their packets at the time registration was supposed to close that the organizer decided to push the start time back a little! (Cue "Hallelujah Chorus".) So I parked in Timbuktu, ran to pick up my packet, received my bib and a fleece blanket (which is an awesome give-away for a winter race), ran back to Timbuktu, drove to Antarctica where I knew that there was an unoccupied porta-potty, drove back to Timbuktu, and ran to the start, where I was actually able to get some stretching in before the race began.

The fleece blankets came in neat little bundles with the event logo printed on them.

I did not have any time goals or expectations for this race, so I started at the back of the pack and took it fairly easy while everyone was bumping and jostling for position. I knocked elbows with a girl in a red sweatshirt and NY Giants hat, and after running near her for a little, thought that I'd try and pace myself off of her for a while. Then my next fail moment came when I noticed that my shoes weren't laced tightly enough. They were securely double-knotted, but my heel lifted too much out of them, and they were uncomfortable. I don't know how I hadn't noticed that when I was running to and from my car. I didn't really want to stop and re-lace them, so I kept going as we followed a dirt road around a pond. On the other end of the pond, the course turned onto a single-track trail, and when I saw how bottled up it was from 300 runners trying to squeeze on one-at-a-time, I figured that I might as well stop to fix my shoes. By the time I finished and hopped onto the trail, I was almost dead last. Honestly. Out of 300 runners in the 5K and 10K combined, I was probably 296th. And so I started passing people.

The course was largely how I remember it, but my experience feels so different this year. Last January, when I ran this race for the first time, it felt like the hills would never end. I remember being exhausted and needing to walk to get through the first half of the race. This year I was focused on regaining lost ground and carefully balancing the amount of energy I used. I'd wait until my breathing was even and I felt that I had a lot of energy and that the footing was secure to pass as many people as I could. Then I'd tuck in for a little while until it was time to move up again. I usually tried to announce myself with an "on your left" before passing. I slowed down on the hills but kept jogging, which in itself let me pick off a lot of people, and I was rewarded when we finally reached the downhills. I was pretty winded at that point and used some time to coast and get my breath back before passing anyone. I ended up getting my breath back at a kind of flat section where I saw some spaces where I could pass, and I took off. I abandoned a rhythmic running cadence and hurdled over the rocks and roots as quickly as possible, landing wherever had the best footing. This was so much fun! The trails I've been running on my own are so rocky that I rarely have the opportunity to open up like that and get a lot of speed. I eventually caught up with someone and got stuck behind her as the trail moved very steeply downhill. I followed her for a while until the next opportunity to pass, and I took off again and was pretty much alone from that point until the end of the race.

If I've ever experienced runner's high, today was it. In the car on the way home, I was singing made-up lyrics along the lines of "I feel amazing" to the tune Josh Kelley's "Amazing" and was in a great mood for the rest of the day. I had such a good time running this race, both with how I felt physically and mentally, since moving up as far as I did was a big confidence booster.

So, thank you to the gracious gods above and to the planets for aligning in order to turn my bad day into such an amazingly great race. I'd also like to give a big thank you to the volunteer who was ladling hot water for the soup and hot chocolate. It didn't seem like a fun job, but we all appreciated it!

Time: 35:51
Place Overall: 72/128
Age Group: 9/21

Lexie approves of the new blanket and has already tried to make a puppy nest with it on the couch.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Winter Trail Series Race Goals

Ok, so I lied. This is not a post about race goals. I don't think that I have any expectations going into tomorrow's race. I just want to get out and run some trails with a lot of other people.

It will be my second time running the Winter Trail Series 5k. The first time was last January, and looking back over my recap, it's strange to see how new trail running was for me then. (That is, technical trail running - not the flat, easy rail-trails.) Since then, I've run in another race and trained several times on technical trails in three different parks, and I actually feel just as comfortable lacing up my shoes for a trail run as I do for a run on the road.

The race is put on by the NJ Trail Series, which seems to be gaining a lot of popularity and has begun putting on a lot of events in northern New Jersey that range from 5ks to ultras. I love that they're providing the opportunity to race different distances throughout the winter.

The temperature at the start should be about 32*, and I'm trying to decide what to wear. I've been running almost all of my runs lately in an Under Armour ColdGear Mock shirt that is probably the most amazing article of clothing I've ever worn. I don't know if it will be too warm, though, and I might just go with a technical tee under a cotton long-sleeve. In any case, I've been feeling really good lately, so I expect to go out and have a good race!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Running after work in the dark

The chill in the air makes my nose run a little, but it feels good after the stuffy heat of the library. The sun set about 10 minutes ago, and I can see into all of the lit business and shop windows in town as I run along the sidewalk. Concrete sidewalks make for a hard, unforgiving surface to run on, but I seem to be able to spring off the ground so much easier from it that I feel fast. There really aren't that many people out and about. I am still cautious when crossing streets, though, because even decked out in reflective gear, I can't tell if cars can see me or not.

I turn toward a more residential section of town and focus on a section of brick sidewalk ahead, which dips and rolls in bumpy waves from the tree roots beneath. The street-lamps provide just enough light for me to high-step over the bumps and cracks. I keep going straight for a few blocks and start getting into a groove. I don't feel cold anymore, and I might even be taking it a little fast for an easy run.

I turn at the church on the corner of 4th Street and enter the quietest part of the neighborhood. The houses here never seem to have much going on. Maybe the southwest-style place with the tiki hut and plastic palm trees in the backyard has some activity in the summer, but in the fall and winter, it looks sad and out of place among the old Victorian buildings around it. It is one of the only houses along my route without a sidewalk, so I hop up onto the grass to avoid a car coming my way.

I run down another block before turning again. Here I start to see a lot of houses that are decorated for Christmas. I feel a little tired now. I probably did start out too fast, so I take it down a notch and look around at the lights and glowing reindeer. A dog barks at me from one of the houses, but I don't worry about it. The houses are so close together here that people always keep their pets fenced in or leased.

The road ends, and I turn into a fairly new housing development. Here the houses are modern, and almost every single one is decked with lights and lawn ornaments. The people who live here are coming home from work. I see them as they get out of their cars or string a few extra lights on the porch. The glow from inside the windows looks warm and comfy, but my legs are fully warmed up now, and I feel good running by in the cold.

I follow this road through to the end of the development. It empties out onto one of the main roads through town, right by the high school. I wait for the traffic to clear before dashing across and starting on the last leg of tonight's run. This is a straight shot, and I push a little harder knowing that I'm almost finished. As cars come up behind me, I see my own shadow against the fence growing clearer as the headlights get nearer. It's almost strange to be running alongside this shadow me. I run faster and see the shadow looking straighter and more purposeful. It looks strong and fast. I break the cadence to leap off the curb at a road crossing and back up on the other side, but my legs feel nimble now, and I can maneuver over the curbs and uneven sidewalks without losing speed.

When I lift my eyes up from the ground, I see the library up ahead. This is very familiar territory now. How many times have I had to park my car around here because the parking lot was full? I continue just a little way past the now nearly empty lot and turn at the corner to come around the library from the front. And jogging up to the side entrance, where I will go to collect my things and head home, I end another after-work, after-dark run feeling strong and exhilerated.