Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Miles For Music 20k, Piscataway, NJ, March 20, 2016

Sunday was the first team race of the season, the Miles for Music (M4M) 20k!

It was cold. (33 degrees, but windchill into the teens)
Despite the long flight home from London on Thursday, once I slept one night in my own bed my back pain from last week completely resolved. It was amazing. I was able to run Friday and Saturday without pain, as if nothing had hurt at all. I could walk around without pain. I was hopeful, but still not convinced that I could race actually race a 20k to the end.

Sunday, race day morning, I met Kim and we jogged a short warm up back and forth to packet pick up from our car. This was only about a mile total. Still no pain. I told Kim that I feel like a crazy person… one day I am sure my back is broken forever, the next day I am jogging a warm up for a 20k race?

Up until about 30 seconds before the start I wasn't sure what I was going to do. I could run with Kim at her race pace, try to stay with her until pain started, if it started… or maybe even pick up the pace if the pain did not come?

As I stood at the start, I still felt amazing. I see Becky and she is in such a great mood! Her jokes and her energy were contagious. It is very close to gun time, runners are seeding themselves in the starting corral. Kim finds a place and I make a decision.  Since my pain is all or nothing, whenever I can run, I am going to go for it! I want to take advantage of every chance I get to move without pain. When the pain comes, I will just walk it off, stretch if that helps, or stop if I must. I line up with Jessica and get ready to see how far I could go before pain shuts me down.

Gun Goes Off

I can't remember the last time I ran this fast. I have been taking things so easy since December to not trigger pain. I have ben cautiously building my volume. With great joy I had managed to run two marathon distances in the month leading up to this race without back pain. (This is why it was so heart breaking to have to walk during a 5k last week).

The wind is at our backs. I feel light and effortless. I know that can't sustain this pace, but it feel so liberating! I feel alive! I feel amazing! I feel the way I have not felt in a very long time! But after a few moments of joy, I settle down to a more reasonable pace. My watch beeps. I glance down. M1 - 7:15. 

I don't look at my watch for the remainder of the race. I don't need to. I don't care what the watch says. All I care about is running as fast as I can without pain for as long as I can do it. (I have the splits on my Garmin and reviewed them after the race.)

The wind made half the lap feel very hard and the half the lap feel easier. Although we had more miles with the wind at our back, I don't ever feel like running in any wind is even exchange.  In general, we are slowed by the wind, which means we are running longer into it. Then we turn and are pushed by the wind, running less time with the wind assist. We always loose more than we gain on a looped course in a strong win. But in this case, because the course was 2.5 laps, we did have almost 2 miles of assist that we did not need to give back.  That helped a lot.

M2 7:31, M3 7:46, M4 7:40

I see so many familiar faces out on the course. I am reminded why I need to race. It is not about the running, as much as it is about the people and the energy!  I enjoy M4M because it is 2.5 loops. I can see almost everyone out there!

In particular, I was very very happy to see Paulette running.  Her son has been very ill and she was not sure if she could make it. But she trained so well leading up to this that she was hoping to go.  I could not believe she made it and she looked great out there! It made me happy to see Paulette and Becky running together!

The second lap felt a little harder. The wind was catching up with me. I just kept moving at whatever pace felt very good. I was happy.  I was moving.  Nothing hurt.  It was nice.

I see Anthony on the side and he yells out cheerfully… "You are running too fast!  :)"  I know what he meant. He did not mean that he thought I needed to slow down because I was running faster than my fitness. He meant, "You made me put you on the B-Team and now you are running faster than I thought you would run!" I wanted to yell back "I am sorry, but not really!"

M5 7:35, M6 7:41, M7 7:51, M8 7:51

I see Anthony again and he asks "Do you have any clothes you want to throw at me!"

I know Anthony likes this race because it is cold at the start and when he spectates the women's team (he is the Captain) will throw him their hats and gloves at him.  Anthony likes to tell people that ladies throw their clothes at him at M4M… LOL!

I answer "Yes I do!"and hand Anthony my mittens and tell him "These are my Magic Mittens. You cannot not lose them!!!" I think I scared myself with my seriousness about my mittens!  And then I ran terrified the rest of the race that I would never see those mittens again. I think I hurried up so I could get them back safely.  I do trust Anthony (really more than I trust mostly anyone), but those mittens are the only mittens that keep my Raynaud's under control and they are not produced any more.

My legs were running out of strength. I forget to take the gel that I brought for the 7 mile mark.  I take it at 9.5 instead. Better late than never.  It didn't make running feel better, but my fatigue did not get worse.  Even as I tired and I knew I could finish!

M9 7:51, M10 7:55, M11 7:54, M12 7:57

I tried to give a little kick at the end. I just wanted to finish.
Last .47 3:30 (7:28 pace)

A few minutes later, Kim finished very strong. She surpassed her goal with a killer kick as usual!

Time: 1:36:21 (7:46) Gun Time, no start mat
OA: 131/327
Gender: 24th
AG: 5th

Sunday, March 20, 2016

My First Parkrun, London,UK, 3/12/16

Last week, Sidney and I went to London. It was our 6 year wedding anniversary and he wanted to see his girlfriend. I am pretty accommodating, but I had one requirement. If I went to see Natalie Merchant with him, he had to run a race with me.  (Yes, Natalie Merchant is "his girlfriend." It is no secret he is infatuated with her.)

At first, I had Sidney convinced to travel to the Lydd (a remote coastal town) to run a 20 miler. I also had him convinced, briefly, that he really wanted to run a marathon in March so this would be perfect!  But once Sid returned to full time military orders his ability to train was reduced from 8-10 milers with me to 3 milers with the dogs. We both realized that a marathon for Sid was not happening. There was no reason to spend 2 days of our vacation trekking out to the middle of nowhere for a 20 miler he would not be prepared for or interested in running.

I found a 10 miler about 45 minutes away. Sid was willing to do this.  This would likely be he longest run I would get but we did not plan on renting a car so I wasn't sure if this would work for us.

However, as luck would have it I recently began coaching a wonderful man (Alan) from the UK.  In his assessment he mentioned that he enjoyes weekly "Parkruns".  I asked what that was. He sent me a few very informative links and I learned just how wonderful these Parkruns are.

Each Saturday all over the UK, and other parts of the world, there are Free 5k races.  I googled the events map and found that there was a parkrun schedule 2 miles from our hotel.  Sid agreed to run with me to the race, race the 5k, and then run home!  I was so excited to run my first overseas race, even if it was just a 5k!

The way a Parkrun works is amazing. Once you register for free and you are set up with a barcode.  You print this out (and if you are smart, you laminate it).  You bring this barcode to the race.  After a brief meeting, everyone is sent off.  Volunteers line the course directing runners. When you finish you are give a token with a barcode on it as well.  As soon as you catch your breath, you walk over to a volunteer who scans your Parkrun barcode and then your token.  About an hour or so later you have online race results.

The event was so efficiently organized. We ran over to the race, arriving just 5 minutes before the start, found the pre-race meeting, ran the event, handed in our token, sat for a few minutes and by 45 minutes later the event was over and the park was cleared out.  It was if nothing had happened.  It was like a flash mob of 5k runners just converged and took over the park for less than an hour and then suddenly were gone.  I just loved this!

So how did my first 5k overseas go, you ask? Well, not so good.

I have not had back pain since January.  I was so happy.  I had run two marathons pain free and countless training runs without needing to stop.  I had not pushed my pace in training, but I had almost forgotten what the pain felt like. I was not sitting as much for work and making sure to stretch and find time for some crunches (not as much as I should, but it was working nonetheless).

Saturday morning, after the first night of sleep in the hotel bed, I woke up unable to stand. I could not walk without pain. I could not stand long enough to make a cup of coffee from the Krups machine.  I still wanted to try to run.

I hoped that the muscles would relax during the jog over.  We took our time making our way to the park. I needed so many breaks on the way that we almost missed the race completely.  If we did not find it so easily we would have been too late.  We arrived at 8:55 for a 9:00 race!

As we stood at the start, I turned to Sid and said "These next 3 miles are going to feel like 100!"

He asked what I planned to do. I said "Run hard. Maybe if I move fast it won't be as bad as the slow run here? This will be the only chance I have all week to run sub-8 pace or better? I have to try!"

The signal to start was given and I tried to run. My pace was about 7:30.  I still felt some lingering breathing difficulty from the pneumonia and I had left my inhaler at the hotel.  Everything was just going wrong.

I didn't even make it one mile before I had to stop from pain so bad that it buckled me.  Down to my knee at .9 miles in I waited in pain for Sid to catch up. When he caught me, we walked a bit and I briefly couldn't hold back my emotions. This was the first time my back pain brought me to tears and not from the pain.

I have been managing the sadness of not being able to run well for almost a year now. But now my heart was broken.  I was pain free for almost 3 months. I was starting to believe that maybe all this distress was behind me (despite doctors telling me that I won't get better).  Butt now, in London, at a simple little 5k that I had looked so forward to, the pain was back and so much worse than ever! It just hurt my heart.  I never had pain when standing.  I never had pain when walking.  I wanted to just run 3 miles, but here I was hardly able to stand.

Sid just said "I am so sorry".  He knows how much this breaks my spirit.

After a few minutes of walking the muscles loosened some.  We jogged a very slow mile while I gathered myself and thought about realistic options.  The last mile was finished off with a run/walk. We logged a time of 32:55. I was 17th from last in a field of over 150.

The run/walk home was horrible, but we had to get there.

For the rest of my vacation, each morning I woke up in severe pain. Running was almost impossible first thing in the morning, but we did run each day when my back could handle at least one non-stop mile. Walking was easier but still painful. I needed to stop and sit often.  This was the worst my back has ever been.  I was considered ending my running streak and taking up a new sport. I could not imagine running pain-free anymore and now even walking caused pain.

Despite the back pain, London was amazing.  Because we did not have a car, I managed to still cover over 80 miles on foot during week seeing sights and being a tourist.  We took the Tube out to London Tower and ran/walked/sat on benched stopping at every tourist location on the way (Tower Bridge, London Bridge, Big Ben, the Eye, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abby, Hyde Park, etc…)  We saw a great play.  We shopped.  We walked along the Thames at night. We ate great foot. We drank great wine. We SLEPT!  Oh how I have missed sweet sweet sleep!

On the day we were supposed to see Natalie Merchant, Sid was up all night with either a stomach bug or food poisoning! (ok, maybe all the food was not so great). He could not leave the hotel for over 12 hours. But just before it was time to go to the concert, he started to improve.  He wanted to try to go, so we went.  Natalie Merchant did not disappoint. :)

The best news for me is that after just one night home, back in my own bed, my back pain disappeared. I have been able to stand, walk, and run again pain free since my return!  This is hopeful.  I am not yet ready to quit.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Caumsett 50K National Championship, Caumsett Park, NY, 3/6/16

What a day!  I shouldn't have gone to race but I am so glad I went. Most of the excitement of the day was not because of anything I accomplished, but rather it was about witnessing amazing people doing amazing things and surprising themselves!

After my wonderful experience at the Central Park Marathon on 2/21, I ended up with pneumonia by 2/23. I have no idea how I could get so sick so fast, but I can't recall the last time I was so ill.  I had 102.5 fevers on and off for three days.  My chest was so congested I could hardly function. I did not leave my house for 5 full days.  I couldn't eat.  I woke up each night soaked in sweat, too cold to get out of bed to find dry clothes. I started sleeping with a change of clothes bedside so I didn't have to go far.  My fever broke by Thursday.

While sitting home sick, I managed to design and develop a new national running club. I am quite proud of that accomplishment. I wrote to sponsors and got support in return. I got my club members discounts of races and gear in return for sharing sharing information about sponsor with my club.  Kim helped me get it all set up by letting me bounce ideas off her non-stop for days. Her endurance for my obsessiveness is impressive! People have already joined and our group has blossomed.  We have a photo contest and a race series taking place for prizes and a very supportive Facebook group of kind people united by the love of running.  More information for my new club be found here -

I did drag myself to the doctor during my illness for a chest X-ray and 10 days of antibiotics (Yes the bad kind that carries a risk of tendon rupture. I just could not bring myself to protest the prescription. If anyone looked at me or heard me speak, suggesting I might be planning to run during my illness was too ridiculous for even me to say out loud.  I still managed to run 1 mile each day, but we won't talk about how this was the only time in my 5 years of streak running that I felt foolish for running. But now that I feel better, I am glad I did run those 10 minutes each day.)

I went to Caumsett because I had seven runners in one of the two events (the 50k or the 25k). I knew many were ready to race well and I had to be there to witness their hard work.

I started my race with Kim and Mark with a plan to set them off on pace to break 5 hours. This was Kim's first 50k and Mark's second. Jessica and Rich were racing their first 50ks. Rebecca was there running the 50k Nationals for the second year in a row.  Nikki and Bryan were running the 25k for training, although Nikki realized she had a shot to win and make a little bit stronger effort.  In addition to this ultra, I had Steven and Julian racing a 40 miler event in PA.  Today was an exciting day for my runners.  I get more excited for them than I do myself.

I also got to see RayK again. I realized I may not have seen him in years!  How is it possible for so much time to pass. But we talk so often it doesn't feel like we are that far apart.

As soon as we started running, we did not even get 1 mile and I knew this was not going to go well for me. Kim could just tell.  Ray took off and had a great run! Every step I took was a struggle. It was simply too soon for me to be running hard. My body was very tired. My muscles had not moved much in about 14 days by this time. This was more than a healthy taper.  It seemed closer to atrophy.

I decided to stay with Kim and Mark through Lap 5 (15.5 miles) and then I would let them go.  We were moving at about a 9:30 pace and I could hold that pace well, but I just felt miserable.  I found that if I moved a little faster, I felt better but I could not hold the pace for that long.

At one point I spent some time catching up with Trishul, who is always supportive and understanding.  We shared a little about goals and plans and I caught him up on my back problems and pneumonia.  I decided I wanted to catch back up to Kim and Mark but they had pulled ahead by quite a margin. I dropped my pace to 8:20 and felt better moving that fast. Then I felt a shocking muscle spasm to my groin.  I slowed the pace but I could feel that something was going wrong.  I continued to feel spasming, in both sides now as I tried to run.  I slowed more and could not find a pace that was comfortable. Soon I was running 10:30 pace and still feeling like I was doing damage.  The waves of spasms when I lifted my legs eventually made it clear that 21 miles was enough running for the day.

I started walking and ended up with a guy named Joe. We walked and talked about everything. Pilots and Paws, us both having pneumonia last week, running races, etc.   It was very nice to have company. I decided to walk one more lap.  Walking was not sending shock waves of spasms, but running was not possible any more. I suspect that the antibiotics, plus the complete shut down of activity for two weeks,   made my body too weak to handle the demands of running a 50k event.

As Joe and I walked my final lap, I got to see almost everyone I was training for the 50k pass by. It was wonderful to see so many on pace for great performances.  Mark set a marathon PR en route to a 32 minute 50k PR, even with the last few miles catching up with him.

Kim broke 5 hours at her first 50k!  This makes me so happy b/c she came back from a very bad stress fracture. We started over completely and now she can jump into marathons as training runs and run 31 miles nonstop at 9:27 pace!

Jessica ran a 4:25 and placed 8th OA Female and Rebecca ran a 4:07 for 6th place OA Female also taking 32 minutes off her 50k PR.  Nikki took second in the 25k and Bryan ran a perfect negative split LR ending with sub-marathon race pace.  Rich had a tough day, but had ambitious goals. We knew it was risky.  Sometimes you just have to take the risk and leave your heart out there. He had figured out things that contributed to difficulties of his run and that is what training and racing is about.

At the 40 miler, Steven PR'd but that was a gimmie b/c he never ran 40 miles before. However he did win his AG so that is something to be very pleased with.  Julian managed to master his fueling and take over an HOUR off his 40 mile race PR.

I may have not run well, but I had realistic expectation going into this race.  My back felt perfect this entire run and that to me is a Win.  I know I am ready to train again.  I just did not want a groin strain to knock me out longer.  I make a very safe choice and I am happy with that decision. My lungs are still congested but my body feels fine.  I ran today and felt stronger.  I have a lot of goals ahead of me and some weight I need to loose so I can feel better about my fitness. I need to be able to train to accomplish these plans.