Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Race Report: 5K Redeem Team

Saturday night was the Crystal City Twilight 5k and my attempt to redeem my 5k from two weeks ago. There was some team prize money so GRC put together a small team. I was to make my debut in my new GRC singlet.

At practice last week, L volunteered to help pace myself and K. Normally she’d kick my butt, but she was coming off a layoff and was willing and eager to help us out. We talked about trying for a hair over 6 minute pace, good enough for sub-19. I was excited since that was exactly what I was aiming for, and they had independently come up the same (realistic for me!) time goal.

Saturday was a waste of a day. I haven’t raced in the evening since high school, and I didn’t really know how to take it. I basically just lounged around lazily, not knowing what to do with myself. I had to be careful what I ate and when I ate it. I watched a lame movie, sans my usual snack of chips and salsa, and just tried to relax. Of course, I couldn't entirely relax, with the race on my mind, but I wasn't actually that nervous. My race plan was simple: stay with L and K. Considering I blew up attempting the same time goal only two weeks ago, it might not have been the most brilliant of race plans. But I honestly thought I could hit that pace and I knew the added presence of teammates would help. There is strength in numbers.

The evening was surprisingly cool for mid-July. It had rained on and off all day and started misting again when the race started. The course was a little slick and had some puddles, but it was still better than scorching temperatures. During warm-ups we all talked about the wasted day and how we weren't sure what to do with ourselves or what to eat, and I felt vindicated by other people feeling the same as I did. (One of the many reasons it's great to have teammates! Read on for many more reasons.)

Mile 1 was a bit of a surprise; right at the beginning there were some extra turns we hadn’t known about, causing some bottlenecking of all the people going out fast. We hit the split a little fast, but close to our goal with L, K, and me all together. (It was faster than my first mile split from 2 weeks ago, which was the fastest of that day. Somehow that thought didn’t scare me; I was going to stay with these girls.)

Mile 2 was more confusion about the course. When we had looked at the course map, it seemed like it went straight south out-and-back, past the start/finish line, and then straight north out-and-back. Each out-and-back looked to be 1.5 miles, so when we passed the start/finish line we’d be halfway. But the course had clearly changed and we seemed to be on the south part forever. It was messing with me mentally, but we were picking off other girls and L’s pacing was perfect.

With L and K, steps from the
finish line but unaware.
Through the second mile, I had been running one step behind L and K. I tried to stay even with them, but my efforts still kept me a step behind, which was fine with me so long as I was still with them. I knew not to let a gap form. Running is such a mental game that if you let someone get a slight edge and get away from you, you feel defeated and that gap will keep growing. I knew this and was fighting it, but in the third mile I started to fall back. When we passed the start/finish (actually 2.5 miles into the race) Coach was screaming about erasing the gap, which added more fuel to my fighting. I caught back up to one step behind them, only to immediately fall back again. There was one more turn around, which took forever to get to, but after we made the turn we were heading home. I knew I could summon a kick, but I couldn't see the finish line. For one thing, it was dark, and there wasn't a banner or anything. Knowing (hoping!) we must be close, I picked it up to begin to muster a kick and caught back up with my teammates. I noticed some people stopped ahead and thought that must be the finish, but then I looked down and there was the mat and the clock and I was done. In an ironic twist, I wished the finish line was further away, so I could have kicked properly.

K and I both PRed (18:51) thanks to L’s pacing, which was dead on. Our other teammate and number one girl also did well, surprising herself by running faster than she thought she would at this point in the season. Despite some possible sabotage (our number one girl's registration was mysteriously lost) our three-girl team led by L came in 2nd place and earned some dough for the team.

Afterwards L and her husband had us over for beer and snacks (chips and salsa! My missed snacking is redeemed!) Then K and her husband showed up with Thai food for everyone! I couldn't get over how nice this team is. They drag me along to a PR and then feed and beer me. Amazing.

I'm happy I finally broke 19, but like most runners, I'm never satisfied; there are always bigger PRs to chase. But for now, it's one step a time. No more racing until the Philly half in September. Back to training, track practice, and trying not to get gapped.

Dream big,

Friday, July 20, 2012

Science Friday: Down with Ice Baths!

I hate ice baths. You come home from a hard workout, exhausted but glad to be done. But then it hits you, you're not done: the ice bath awaits. I bundle up and make a cup of steaming hot tea, but it doesn't help. Sitting among ice cubes is agony. 

An article in Running Times is one of many to question the ice bath recently. The theory behind ice baths is that the cold water forces blood out of your legs and back to your core, taking toxins and metabolic byproducts from your workout with it. When you get out of the ice bath, the blood comes rushing back to your legs, bringing oxygen and nutrients. This should help you recover faster and reduce soreness in the following days. But research is showing that the inflammation and body's natural responses to hard exercise may actually be good for you. They help to build back the muscles stronger, which was the point of your hard workout in the first place. Sitting among the cubes may make you feel temporarily better, but not necessarily make you stronger.

The Running Times article cites a study from 2005 looking at the difference between ice-bathed and un-bathed limbs. They had subjects either bike or use handgrips and afterwards submerged one limb in cold water (5 degrees Celsius = 41 Fahrenheit for the legs; 10 C = 50 F for the arms) and left the other limb at normal room temperature. One of the most surprisingly parts of this article was how the subjects reacted. In one study they had them submerge a leg for 20 minutes, take it out for 30 minutes, and then re-submerge it. The subjects called the first dip in close to freezing water as "close to comfortable" while the second was "moderately cold." I call ice baths many colorful words, but comfortable isn't one of them. (For most of the studies, subjects only did one ice bath.) They collected data three days before and three days after the exercise and ice bath. 

Across the board, the changes were modest. The authors stressed that they had purposely chosen an easier workout, one that would not induce muscle soreness. (Although athletes can't feel the toxins leaving or oxygen returning, most of what they can feel a day or two after an ice bath is the absence of soreness. Choosing a design that doesn't invoke soreness in the first place seems a little strange to me. I'll spare you the details, but another paper specifically examined the effect of ice baths on soreness and found no difference between cold and tepid water.) Because the workouts weren't intense, the differences between pre and post measures were small. The most intriguing comparisons were between the ice-bathed and control limbs. They found endurance and VO2 max to be higher in the control limbs compared to the ice-bathed limbs. Furthermore, arterial diameter was increased (suggesting increased blood flow to muscles) after training, but only in the control limbs. The authors go on to mention a host of responses the body has to exercise and how these responses (increased numbers of certain cell types, metabolites, and proteins) may not be as harmful as we once thought. They may be actually contributing to improved performance. Ice baths, rather than helping, would prevent these improvements. (This study doesn't actually look at any of these changes in the blood, which would have been interesting.)  

The Running Times article includes insight from big name coaches (Steve Magness, who just recently left his assistant position under Alberto Salazar, and Brad Hudson) and athletes (Ryan Hall and Hendrick Ramaala.) Magness says that the recent research has led the Oregon Project to stop using ice baths so frequently. (He notes that ice baths can still be helpful during an intense racing schedule, when it is more important to be ready for the next round then to make training improvements.) Ryan Hall, claiming ice baths are "not a fun part of the job," has also stopped using them. The article does note that Molly Huddle still uses them and says she feels better afterwards, acknowledging that it doesn't matter if it's just a psychological effect.

Using my WWKD theory (Kara used to work with Magness), this means I'm free to skip the ice baths!

Dream big and leave the ice in the freezer, 

Friday, July 13, 2012

Race Report: 5k Flop

My 5k PR is not a time I'm proud of. I should be able to run faster, given my times from 10 miles up. My fastest time over a 5k distance is actually from the first 3.1 miles of an 8k, but it doesn't seem fair to count that. I rarely run them when I’m in good shape, opting instead for long tune-up races or longer training runs. I've only run one 5k in the last year; a cold and icy event that punished those few who were brave enough to leave their cozy cars with slipping and sliding on the ice-covered paths. My 5k PR remains something I wasn't very proud of when I ran it early last summer, let alone now. 

Last week I ran a 4th of July 5k. I thought I'd certainly break my PR. I'm not in the middle of any intense training, but I've been doing some speed here and there, including two practices with my new team, at paces I couldn't sustain alone. (Update on those workouts: The first workout wasn't as embarrassing as I thought it would be. But that may have been beginner's luck: the second and third workouts (the third was this week, after the 5k) were more what I predicted, with me getting left in the dust on the last few reps. But as you’ll see, it's exactly what I need.) Considering how far I've come in the last year and the paces I've been hitting in workouts, it seemed logical to hope for a PR. Also, I've run the race the past three years now; I know the logistics and the course well.

It didn't happen. The start was really cramped as the race has grown in size every year. In all the pictures from the start I look like I'm running crooked; I'm not sure if I can blame the tight quarters and the desire to avoid stepping on or crashing into someone (there were some face-planting incidents) or if I need to work on my start. (I say the latter, jokingly, as if I'm Usain Bolt and this is a 100 meter sprint. More on that later.) The first mile went well, right on target pace. (As per usual, my target pace was not just to break my PR by a few seconds, but to knock a good 30+ seconds off.) The second mile I slowed a bit, but not terribly. I knew the second mile of a 5k is the worst. On the first you are eager and ready to go and by the third you're almost done. The middle part sucks. I thought I'd get it together by the third (last!) mile, but I just kept falling off. Right around the start of the third mile some girls passed me, and I just didn't have it in me to stick with them. One girl looked like someone I ran with in high school; I tried to stay with her to see if I was right and stay hi. As soon as I realized it wasn't her, I dropped back. Involuntarily, of course. When my brain no longer had the incentive to see if it was her, it handed the reigns back to my legs, which didn’t feel like moving any faster. I wish I hadn't figured it out; maybe I would have stayed at her pace longer. 

My normal hit-the-watch finishing pose.
Someday I'll learn to finish "camera strong."
At the turn for home, I put down a surge, passed at least one girl back (the high school look-a-like, if I remember correctly) but I finished way off my goal time. (In actuality, only a few seconds slower than my PR, but like I said, I had hoped to crush it.) The fact that I still had enough left for a good sprint makes me feel like I should have given more, especially in the last mile. I don't know why I couldn't get my legs to go.

I caught my breath, grabbed some water, and left for a cool down, during which I felt surprisingly, perfectly, fine. Fast even. Not fast like 5k PR pace, but faster than I should have felt had I just run a solid 5k effort. I told FiancĂ©e this and he said that the 5k is like a 100 meter sprint; you can run hard but recover quickly. But I think I treat it too much like a longer distance. It's a different kind of pain than a marathon, but my marathoning legs just want to cruise at a slower pace. They can't handle moving quickly for a few minutes, because they are so used to having to move for a few hours. 

I honestly think I can do better than my 5k times suggest. And I've just begun my season of shorter races (no marathons) in an attempt to prove it. Fortunately, I have another shot at a 5k next week, in my GRC debut. I hope I can get it right, and push hard the whole way for a PR. 

Dream big, 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Summertime, and the Livin's Sweaty

It's been a record-breaking, hot, humid mess on the East Coast lately. The Washington Post had an article this past weekend (when temperatures hit the triple digits) where half the people complained incessantly and half the people told everyone to suck it up and deal with it. The latter people even eschewed air conditioning. A fair warning: if you are one of the latter people, you can skip this post, because I consider myself strongly in the former category. I will admit I've gotten better over the years, but I hate being hot. It's the old standby, you can always put more clothes on, but you can't keep stripping layers off. Of course there are some good things about summer that I try my hardest to remember, because I'm sure I'll miss them when winter rolls around.

Pros and Cons of Summer Running:

1. Sunlight. Extra hours of sunlight makes running before work or after work so much more pleasant in the summer. Winter mornings are miserable and dark, and force you to wear ridiculous things like headlamps.

2. Cold water. It's obviously available year-round, but it's so much more delicious in the summer. There is absolutely nothing better than cold water after a hot workout. Splashed on your face, poured down your throat, it's simple and amazing. In that moment it's the best thing ever created. (Even better than Diet Coke.)

Summer breakfast = delicious!
3. Fruit. This isn't entirely running related, except that I started caring a lot more about eating healthy when I started running. And one aspect of that was eating more fruit, which isn't hard because fruit is delicious. All year long, my post run breakfast is yogurt with fruit on top, but in the winter I have to settle for frozen berries. In the summer it's fruit heaven. I go to the Farmer's Market near my apartment and load up. I could eat yogurt topped with fresh fruit for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, it's so delicious.

1. Sweat. I'm a heavy sweater; you only have to go on one run with me (in any season!) and I'll prove that. When I start running, the sweat goes flying off my body in every direction. (I will say that sweating while running is much more enjoyable then just standing around sweating waiting for the bus or in line at the Farmer's Market loading up on fruit. When there's a purpose to it, and an excuse for it, it's not as bad.) I arrive home from even a relatively easy run completely soaked, and there's always a moment where I seriously wonder if I will ever cool down again.

2. Sunlight. I'm a mix of Irish, English, and Scottish ancestry, a.k.a. pale as a ghost. When summer rolls around there are three options: (1) Stay inside, (2) look like a tomato (the one fruit I don't like), or (3) apply layer after layer of sunscreen. Sunscreen and running don't mix well, but it's a must. Once the sweat starts (immediately), it mixes with the sunscreen into a pasty white (even more pasty white than my skin) goop that makes you feel even hotter and sweatier and more ready for the shower. It's completely unpleasant and makes you ache for cooler days with less punishing UV rays. (Completely unsponsored product plug: Neutrogena Wet Skin Sunblock Spray is clear and light and not as bad as other sunscreens. The one problem is I always feel like I have half a bottle left but can't get any more out. So it's a bit of a rip-off, but worth it.) 

3. Weekend mornings. To most people weekends are for sleeping in. To runners, weekends are for long runs. When really long runs get combined with really hot days, it can mean getting up and getting the miles started earlier than you would on a weekday. You wake up that early, and guess what? It's still hot. I'm not running those kind of miles at the moment (I'm skipping a fall marathon this year), so perhaps that's why I'm not complaining as much as past years. (Hey, this list could be a lot longer.)

There is one common thread between running in winter or summer. (Spring and fall, ideal running seasons, don't fit in this debate.) If you run in the extreme cold, or even moderate cold that DC feels, people think you're crazy. If you run in the extreme heat, or the humidity fest that DC feels, people think you're crazy. Even before headlamps and sunscreen goop dripping everywhere gets factored in. The thing is, hot or cold, I kind of like being a crazy runner. 

Dream big and stay cool,

Friday, July 6, 2012

Trials and Inspiration

The big stories from the track trials may be all about Galen Rupp (won both the 5k and 10k, beating Bernard Lagat for the first time) and Ashton Eaton (broke the world record in the decathlon), but there were so many more inspiring stories, besides those of the superstars. Like the guys who slowed down at the end of the 1500 so Eaton could have a clear path to the finish and his world record glory. Or the guys that dove, sometimes heartbreaking so (Bershawn Jackson), over the line to try and clinch a spot.  Or Bryshon Nellum, who was shot twice in the leg in 2009 and told he’d never be a world class sprinter (he made the 400m team.) But not surprisingly, all my favorite moments came from the distance events.

1. Dathan Ritzenhein and Amy Hastings
Both finished in the most heartbreaking spot in January’s marathon trials—fourth. They moved past their devastation and headed to the track, eager for redemption. Ritz came into the 10k trials without the A standard (to make the Olympics you must have beaten a specific time, the A standard; if more than 3 people have run the A, then the top 3 at the trials go.) He got help from his training partner Rupp and set a quick pace to make sure he not only got the top three spot, but the standard as well. 

Hastings had the A standard, and, conveniently, so did only two others (besides Shalane Flanagan, who would give up her spot to focus on the marathon.) All those girls had to do was show up and finish the race; as long as no one went out hard and got the standard, those three were the team. No one went out hard, but Hastings didn’t just settle and accept her spot. She wanted top three, saying later that she didn’t want to get on the team any other way. She fended off a late surge from Natosha Rogers (see below) and won the race, her first national championship.

2. Natosha Rogers
In what was only her 4th 10k, the Texas A&M junior fought her way through the whole race. She tripped and fell early on, but came charging back to the front, in a move the announcers thought was suicide. (She should have saved energy by slowly working her way back to the pack.) Regardless, she stayed in contention the entire race, and despite not having the A standard and not having a chance of making the team, she went for the win. She edged out Shalane Flanagan and battled with Amy Hastings, ending up second. There’s a bright future for this girl.

3. Lauren Fleshman
Fleshman has been battling an IT band injury for months and only able to run 11 (!!) miles a week. She’s been furiously cross training to stay in shape, but she lined up for the 5k semi-finals without having run an entire 5k in months. She fought through the pain and managed to get sixth, edging her way into the final in what was an exciting and excruciating moment to watch. She went on to run the final, again showing her fighting spirit, despite no real chance of making the team.

4. Kim Conley
No one expected her to be a threat to make the team in the 5k. But just before she raced her coach gave her a note with this advice: “Rely on your instincts tonight, and at the end of the race, do something heroic.” In her post-race interview she admitted thinking at 3k that she wouldn’t make it, the pace wasn’t fast enough for the A standard (which she needed.) But she kept pushing, and in the final lap saw the other girls fading and went for it. She got both 3rd place and the standard by a hair. It was heroic.

I feel like I can’t write a wrap-up of these trials without including the Tarmoh/Felix 100 meter fiasco. I don’t find it inspiring, but sad. Tarmoh was originally declared the third place finisher; she celebrated, Felix left in tears. Later, they retracted the decision, saying it was too close to call, even with photo-finish technology. The story brought track and field to mainstream sports headlines—a great thing to happen, except it didn’t put us in the best light. No one understood why there was no existing rule in place for this type of thing, but obviously this is incredibly rare—it hasn’t ever happened before! The fact that a coin flip was one option was plain ridiculous. These are runners; they should earn their spot by running. In the end, a run-off was chosen, but then avoided when Tarmoh pulled out and gave her spot to Felix. That was the sad part. Tarmoh is on the brink of her life long dream and the whole process was too overwhelming and emotionally draining for her to seize it. (She will likely run the 4x100 in London, but it is not the same as making it as an individual.) Some people ripped her apart, saying she was just too scared to lose; others sympathized with her, saying USATF screwed her over. I was selfishly disappointed; I enjoyed watching the trials so much, I was excited when they got extended an extra day for the run-off. I can’t believe that someone would give up something they have worked so hard for, which makes me realize what an incredibly difficult situation Tarmoh must have been in.

I wondered what I would have done in her spikes. Granted, I run marathons, which are slightly different than 100-meter sprints, but let’s go with this unrealistic thought experiment anyway. If I ran the trials and finished in a tie for third, I would certainly run again for a chance to make the team. It's the Olympics! Obviously, I am not even close to being an Olympic caliber athlete, so it’s easy for me to say I would run because I’ll never be in that situation. Tarmoh obviously is Olympic cailber, and hopefully she’ll have many more opportunities in her future. But just thinking through that silly analogy made me appreciate how difficult it would be to run an extra race. In a marathon, it’s obvious how painful and miserable that would be, so soon after an all-out effort. But even in sprints, there are rounds (heats, semi-finals, finals) for both the 100 and 200 meters (Tarmoh finished 5th in the 200.) Mentally, you set yourself up for those, and only those, races. You carefully ration out your energy, and in the final, you give it your all, knowing you don’t need to have anything left when it is over. Unexpectedly adding another race would be incredibly hard to wrap your head around. Particularly if you have had the emotional roller coaster of a week Tarmoh had. For now, we just have to understand that the decision she made is hers and only hers. It’s just incredibly sad that it played out that way.

The trials were so full of inspiration, drama, and awesome racing, I cannot wait for the Olympics! Only three weeks to go!

Dream big,