Sunday, March 22, 2015

Miles for Music 20k, Piscataway, NJ 3/22/15

Photo by Elaine Acosta, working the Aid Station. 

Today was a tough. I have not raced in a long time, mostly because I have not been feeling well.  I have been overwhelmed with fatigue, my motivation for high mileage training has been low, and I have gained weight.  I have a few medical issues to monitor that could be the cause.  Or this can simply be a product of being extra busy, a little more stressed while trying to get a lot of thing done and maybe even due to being a little older.  It is hard to tell.

Specifically, I have an autoimmune disorder that is a direct result of my cancer treatment that comes and goes when I get run down. I also had half my thyroid removed several years ago, due to a benign tumor there.  Even though the other half picked up the extra work, I feel like, periodically, my metabolism gets shaken up a bit once in a while.  In addition, once my mileage dropped, I stopped taking in supplemental protein, thinking I did not need it.  After scrutinizing my diet, I am sure I have been pretty low on protein for some time now.  I think this contributed to my sense of extreme fatigue.  I have also added the pursuit of a new Master's Degree in Kinesiology/Sports Psychology to my Bucket List. Currently I am only in the process of trying met the prerequisites to simply APPLY to the program.  I may not get accepted but at this point I need to try. Trying to get extra work done has been a source of stress for me (but this is good stress).

The most recent thing I did was to take care of the easiest thing to change: The Protein.  I am not sure if the dietary changes I made, alone, is all it took to help me feel better.  Yet, since adding more protein for just over a week, my ability and desire to train increased significantly and my fatigue has diminished.  So now I am excited to build mileage and get back to racing. 

I need to race.  It is a huge part of who I am.  Miles for Music was the first USA-TF NJ Team Race of the season. I try my best to get to every team race I can make. A few days before the race I got a little confused and thought this year this was going to be a Master's Team race only. With a sense that my performance really would not matter as much, the pressure was off. I set my personal goal to be easily achievable. I decided that all I needed to do to consider this race a success is "Show Up and Finish It." Time would be irrelevant.

As I sat in my car, getting my gear organized, Anthony and Rich pulled up next to me. Anthony clarified that today was, in fact, an Open Team race as well.  Oh boy!  Well, as much as I hate to let others down, there was really not much I could do to change my ability to run any faster than I was planning to run.  I am not trained to run fast right now.  Nothing I have done over the last few months suggested I should be able to run an amazing race today.  Being heavier than usual (I need to drop about 7 lbs to get back to my best racing weight) only adds to the slow down.  I also had planned to race in my trainers (Brooks Launch 2) rather than racing flats, which does make a difference for me.  The last race I ran was the Key West Half in mid-January.  There was no way I could expect to run faster than I did then. I even commented to Rich, that if I do end up running a faster pace than my Key West pace, I will quit coaching immediately because nothing would make any sense to me.

The weather this year was the worst it has ever been since I started racing this race.  I have raced in worse, but for this day and this race, it was colder and much much windier than it ever has been.  Often I wear shorts at Miles for Music. But this year I started in Capris, Calf Sleeves, Long Sleeve Tech Shirt, T-Shirt, Neck buff, hat, and my mittens.  The wind was horrible.  During our warm up, I felt like my arms were simply too cold whenever the bitter wind whipped by.  I contemplated getting my warm up jacket out of the gear check truck. But in the sun and calm air it was actually quite nice. While we warmed up, we hit these little "Patches of Happiness" along the course which helped me feel better. :)

Did I mention the wind? The wind was very bad the entire morning. During our cool down walk to our cars after the race, one of the large canvas canopies was lifted off the ground and tumbled towards the oncoming runners… Only to be completely stopped in its tracks by a fearless Aid Station Volunteer who threw himself inside the rolling canopy, bracing himself against it to stop it from rolling over others. This guys was impressive. I was sure it was going to knock him over, but he wasn't having it!  The other Aid Station Volunteers all quickly took control of the canopy. Good Job guys!

After a 2 mile warm up and a few peppy strides, we lined up in the giant puddle that unfortunately took up residence at the starting line.  There were only about two puddles on the course and the biggest one was covering the entire starting area, except for the first two rows.  I ended up lining up right at the line, behind Rich and Jim O.  At one point almost in unison,  Rich and  I said "I don't belong up here!" but I wasn't moving back to stand in the water. Other people did not seems to be bothered the puddle, but I did.

The weather:  It was supposed to be in the mid-30s but with the wind it was predicted to "feel like" 27 by race time, according to the weather report online when I left the house.

The course is 2.5 laps around Johnson Park. It is only has a slight mild roll to it, only noticeable on the way out to the first lap, which we do 3 times AND which also happened to be into the wind. Otherwise the course is generally a flat and fast course.

Gun Goes Off!

In consideration of my last half being run at 7:29 pace, and the fact that I did not expect to run faster than that time today, I knew I had no business running much faster than 7:20-7:30 for the first mile. It is easy to get swept away in the crowd, but after about 3 tenths I reigned myself despite actually feeling good.  M1 - 7:20

Despite the headwind, I was feeling stronger than I expected. This is surprising since I can remember the last time I was able to run a single mile at sub-8 pace.  I wanted to try to hold 7:20-7:30 for as long as I could. We headed uphill, into the wind, and toward a turn around that would bring some relief. M2 -7:25

Starting M3, I still feel good and I am bit surprised. At this point we are headed downwind with a decline in our favor.  I enjoy this natural assist. M3 - 7:19

We eventually reach the bottom of the first loop and run loop causing us to head back towards the starting line, back into the wind. This is where the course is hardest. It will be about 2.5 miles until we can get out of the headwind and we have to do this a second time.  Things are starting to feel harder for me, but I try to hold on to that 7:20-7:30 pace.  I just don't feel beat down, but rather more like I have no leg speed to tap into. M4 - 7:23

The wind is taking its toll on me and I am not looking forward to the long inclined route to the next turn-around. I try to find comfort in the idea that I only will need to do it one more time after this second time up to the turn. I slow down to conserve some energy instead of fighting the wind. M5-7:47

The wind was nasty, but I was not suffering since I adjusted my pace.  Once we hit the 10k turnaround, I felt liberated. M6-7:44

Those last 2.5 miles really took a lot out of me.  I needed to take some time to regroup and just tried to relax. I was only half way done and I was not interested in a death march home. We had to repeat that long stretch into the wind and I wanted to feel confident I could do it.  My legs were heavy and running out of steam.  I decided here that I should take my gel. It may not help but one gel couldn't hurt much either.  I was trying very hard to run a smart race. M7-7:39

The gel seemed to help.  So did the descent and the tail wind.  I was starting to move faster than some of those around me. Trying to pick off people is very motivating. It helps me focus less on how badly I feel and gives me something external to distract me. M8 - 7:25

Unfortunately, just as I was feeling good, we hit the turn around loop at the bottom of the course. Once again we faced 2.5 miles of headwind before our next reprieve. I reminded myself that this would be the last time I would have to fight this fight so I just tried to stay focused.  M9 - 7:27 

Initially I thought if i could I would to try to pick up my pace with 5k,  but at 9.3 miles the wind was at its worst ad the course was this most inclined.  I just felt like it was smarter to try to wait it out than blow up at mile 10 of a 12.4 mile race.  I was still moving well compared to those around me, so I decided to sit back and wait for the turn around in about 2 miles.  M10 -7:50

Photo by Jessica Ramos
I can't say I was suffering because I really wasn't at all. I was just running out of steam. I had no pep.  Carrying extra weight was noticeable. Running into the wind was beating me down.  I was having trouble with fast turnover, and I felt like I was running as fast as my legs could carry me. Nothing was torturous and I was still having fun!  I just wanted to get to turn around and get out of the wind. M11 -7:55

Finally! We hit the turn around and I was ready to pick up the pace on the way in.  Once out of the wind I felt much better. I was quite happy with my overall pace so far, despite those last two miles. I did not mind running slower for 10 and 11 because I felt I had a little left to give on the way home. I felt more in control of myself and my pace and this made me happy.  I wanted to finish strong, as fast as my tired legs could move me. M12 - 7:23. 

With just about half mile to go, I attempted to open my stride and find a little more speed. I was able to open it up and move faster than I had at the start of the race. It felt good to find some turnover. Last .48 3:29 (7:15 pace)

I am so very happy to finish as fast as I did. This is not my fastest or best performance, but by setting realistic goals, leaving the ego behind and doing my best for the day, I had a great experience.  I started out by using my last race's race pace as a guide and this helped me maintain control over myself today. I am very happy with my pacing and my overall experience today.  I needed to get back out there.

Now I know how much work I need to do to run my best in the months to come.  Some improvement will come as my training volume increases. Some will come from nutrition improvements. Some will come from extra rest. Some will come as stress reduces. Some will come as I lose a few pounds.  With so many areas to work on, I do not see a set of problems, but rather I see a lot of potential for myself.  I am truly excited to get back to work! 

Distance: 20k (12.4 Miles)
Time: 1:34:14 (7:35 pace)

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