Friday, May 22, 2015

Race Report: The Wild Half

Going into the Wild Half, in my native South Jersey, I was going for a big PR. My confidence has taken a bit of a hit lately, but this was my day to recapture it. In hopes to not talk myself out of pure positivity, I didn’t check the weather pre-race, despite usually obsessing over it. (But that gig was up after the warm up. My teammate Kristin and I agreed: it was humid.)

From the gun (actually just the word “Go”), I was in a pack of guys. After about a half mile, I realized we were running slower than my goal pace, so I took the lead. It seemed like a daring move, and no one came with me. But I hit the mile split right on pace, and the next couple were pretty close to my goal.

As I ran along the boardwalk, with just the motorcycle in front of me, people were cheering wildly, shocked and excited to see a woman in front.  Some were just surprised: “Weird, I thought it’d be a man leading.” But the vast majority of cheers were more enthusiastic than I’ve ever heard from strangers. They weren’t just cheering politely for the first person to pass; most of them were really willing me to win: “Go girl! BEAT THEM ALL!”

We left the boardwalk and headed towards a bridge to a nearby island and the turnaround. My splits were slowly slightly, but, still, I was leading. The whole thing.

I saw my parents and husband at mile 5 and was excited for them to see me trailing only the motorcycle. I felt like a little kid at her first dance recital. Mommy, Daddy, see me?? I’m leading! I’m leading!
Leading at mile 5.
Along a highway, towards the bridge, I tried to maintain pace, but it was no longer the pace I wanted. I had no idea where the next person was, but knew I’d get a glimpse at the turnaround just past mile 7. I tried to listen for the cheers from people at water stops; how long after I passed did they start to cheer for someone else? It didn’t seem all that long anymore.

At the top of the bridge, there was a metal grating, which was a bit slippery. I think I pranced across it with my arms up, like the worst stereotype of girly running. (This might have given my pursuer more ammo. Nobody likes getting beat by someone running like that.)

We went through another water stop and again the cheers were wild. Almost all positive, mostly by women, cheering excitedly that a woman was leading.

But this time it wasn’t too long before I heard them cheering for number two. And distinctly, one guy screaming, “Beat that girl, C’MON!!”

Then I heard the feet coming. Dammit, dammit, dammit. The pitter-patter of getting passed.

He caught me exactly at the turnaround. I had planned to count how many seconds he was behind, how much of a lead I had. But I didn’t need to count. My lead was zero.

I tried to stick with him. Maybe I was just slowing because I was all by myself. Here’s my chance to get back into it, to find another gear. But I couldn’t… or, at least, I didn’t. By the time we were back on the bridge, prancing across the grates, I was gapped.

Back along a highway, towards the boardwalk, his gap grew. Now we were passing other racers heading towards the bridge, and they were pure positivity. They told me to chase the guy, to catch him, that I could do it. It reminded me of Charlottesville: No, you don’t understand, he just caught and passed me. (As evidence of how not positive I was being, I managed to forget that that race had turned out well. This one was not.)

I wanted to drop out. Not because I was injured or couldn’t keep moving forward, but because I was running so slowly I didn’t want to know my time. I wanted to make it back to my family and sit on the curb and just say, “Eff this day” and erase it from my memory. I didn’t want to get to the finish line and see exactly how ridiculously far off I was from my goal.

But then I thought about all those people cheering for a woman leading the first 7 miles. I wasn’t going to win overall, that was clear. But I didn’t want to drop out and give fodder to anyone who thought it was dumb to lead like that. I imagined them saying, “Oh yeah, well a woman was leading the men for a few miles, but she just went out way too hard. She couldn’t even finish the race.”

I realize the gender of the winner of the Wild Half does not have far reaching sociological implications. No one else really cared. But sometimes, even when 99% of your brain is full of doubts and reasons to quit, there’s one little morsel that gives you a reason to keep going. So even though it was a ridiculous reason, I’d finish this race. For women everywhere.
Just trying not to call it quits. Mile 10.
But I still couldn’t translate that morsel into enough fuel to pick it up. I was slowing so dramatically I couldn’t even stand to look at my splits. Then, that damn pitter-patter again. Another guy passed me. He didn’t gap me as ferociously so I tried to stay near him. Maybe I can out kick him

Back on the boardwalk, we eventually caught people running in the 8K. One of them raved loudly about how much of a beast 2nd place guy was, but didn’t seem to notice me running in his slipstream. Dammit, you guys. Why do 100 people (men and women) say amazingly positive things and I am stuck focusing on the two dudes who only praise the men?

Still, it wasn’t enough fuel. We headed off the boardwalk for the finish, and I couldn’t muster a kick. I wanted to beat the second guy, but not enough. My feelings about how abysmal the time would be were coming at me too fast.

The one redeeming thing was I finally got to break the tape. I’ve won just two races in my life (a local 10K and Charlottesville) and neither had tape for the women. I know it seems like a minor thing, but when you watch enough professional races and dream of what winning must feel like, you envision the tape breaking, too. They had a tape—they had to hurry and squeeze it between 2nd guy and me—so that was a win. (Literally and metaphorically.)
Didn't manage to capture the definitive Breaking-the-Tape Photo.
But, hey, it was my first time.
Post-race, I sat down on the ground and became the most ungrateful winner, ever. Tears, mumbled curses, the whole pathetic shebang. I hoped no one was paying attention, but I couldn’t help it; I was a wreck. Kristin came in 2nd, but also ran a time she was hugely disappointed by. We are in better shape than what we showed (or we have to tell ourselves that, anyway), and although it’s nice to go 1-2, that’s not what we cared about. It was humid, but blaming the weather doesn't boost your confidence. We wanted times to prove our goals for Grandma’s are reachable. For my part, I ran slower than I did at CIM, for half the distance.

Also, although I can’t complain about a win, I really did want to beat the guys. I don’t want people thinking I was only leading because I went out at a suicidal pace, that I was some dumb girl who just got ahead of herself and fell apart in the end. Yes, I did fall apart in the end, but I had reason to think that pace was possible.

I know plenty of women have won races outright before; winning the Wild Half wasn’t going to make the news or spark an inspirational movement for little girls everywhere. I know that no one else really cares. But in that race, I felt the competition was really against the guys and against myself, and I lost to both.

I don’t want to seem like a total brat: I’m incredibly blessed to be healthy, running as fast as I am, and winning races, but I also want to keep this blog completely honest. And completely honestly, this race was a discouraging disappointment. Part of me wants to re-run it, to have another shot to do it right. But obviously that’s not how these things go.

And now I don’t know what to think about Grandma’s. I have just one hard workout left. If I nail it, maybe I can redeem this season and my hopes. But that’s what I thought going into this half. Clearly, it didn’t work.

Dream big,

Friday, May 15, 2015

Whether it’s the Weather...? Doubts and Dubious Excuses

Oh, the humidity. It’s back. And it brought with it a whole mess of doubts.

Some of my training (track workouts, ten milers, tempo runs) has gone well, better than ever. But the workouts most specific to the marathon—from which I get 99% of my confidence—have been abysmal.

I blame the weather.

The first marathon pace workout was a disaster, but I told myself it was the first one, and I just needed to re-callus myself to the hurt of those workouts. But then the second was the Exact. Same. Pace. What?! No. I’m in better shape than that. It was a little warm (emphasis on a little) and a little humid (again, emphasis on little), but I was melting. I had to reroute to find a water fountain so I could dunk my head in it. I vowed to go earlier next time.

And next time came. It was going to be a hot day, so I got up before the crack of dawn to get out the door as early as possible. And I ran the Exact. Same. (Way too slow) pace. Again. What the hell? This time it was a lot humid, but early wake up calls don’t help there. (In fact, it’s often more humid earlier, but hotter later: what to do??) I tried to tell myself it wasn’t that humid, because I know that you can go faster if you trick your brain into believing the temperature is more ideal than it really is. (Although I’m not sure this has been tested for humidity.)

But it didn’t work, and the workout was abysmal.

If you passed by me during this run, I was the girl in only a sports bra and shorts, who looked like she just jumped in the Potomac. Within a few miles, I could wring out my shorts. (Too much sweaty detail?) For comparison, some other people running in the same weather were wearing long-sleeve shirts* (!!!) or pants. (Mostly Capri pants, but still pants.)

Try as I might, I can never fully capture just how sweaty I am.
These pictures don't do it justice.
Obviously, people’s bodies vary a lot when it comes to dealing with different elements: heat, humidity, cold, wind. If there were one thing I’d change about my body, it’d be how it deals with heat and humidity. Or doesn’t deal, rather. If you asked me that question years ago, I’d have a different—and more superficial—answer. Running has changed my mindset about my body substantially: there’s nothing like running marathons to make you proud of what your body is capable of. (I may have itty bitty arms and a disproportionately big butt, but that combo can get me to the Olympic Trials starting line, so I don’t give a damn.) But running has also made me not appreciate whatever it is about my body that makes it melt in moderately high (or really just moderate) temps and humidity. Whatever the people wearing long sleeves have, I want it. Whatever the people who ran 2014’s Boston and called the weather ideal have, I want it. Whatever the people who do well in Chicago’s hot years have, I want it. (I did run pretty well there in 2011—after melting in 2010—where did that Teal go?)

Of course, part of me wonders whether it’s the weather. Maybe there’s something about my training (physiologically or psychologically) that is off. Maybe I’m just making excuses. Maybe I’m a wuss who can no longer handle the hardest workouts. Maybe the long-sleeve wearers are just tougher than me. It’s easier to blame the weather than to barrel down this doubt spiral, but even cursing the weather incessantly (for an entire blog post!) doesn’t push these doubts away.

I’m telling myself running in warmer weather will make me a better runner, whether race day is warm or cool. (Please, God, let it be cool!) But the damage to my confidence seems irreparable. How can I tell myself I’ll hit paces on race day that I can’t hit in practice?

Yes, the other workouts are going well; that should tell me something. But the most marathon-specific workouts have flopped, so my marathon-specific confidence has flopped as well. (For the record, this is the time in training I often start doubting everything, but without the big workouts to back me up, it’s worse than usual.)

This weekend I’m running the Wildwood Half, my last race before the marathon. Part of me thinks my early season goal for this half is completely crazy, as proven by my marathon pace disasters. But another part of me hopes I can live up to those expectations, silence the doubts, and get back to believing my marathon goal is possible.

Here’s hoping the weather’s nice.

(It’s actually not going to be that nice, so I’ve decided to stop checking on it in an attempt to not discourage myself. No Negative Self Talk is becoming No Negative Weather Reports.)

Dream big,

*Some people wear long-sleeve shirts to block the sun, which is completely reasonable. In super sunny conditions (like Badwater), long sleeves are the best bet. But it was cloudy on the day in question, so that wasn’t their reasoning. It just really wasn’t hot to anyone but me.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Race Report: Family Duel II/Broad Street Run 2015

As I’m sure you know by now, last weekend was one of the biggest weekends in sports, highlighted by the Fight of the Century: the Family Duel down Philadelphia’s Broad Street.
My strategy was to run 5:55 pace. Everyone kept talking about breaking 60, but I was telling myself I already had, so it was on to bigger goals. If I could manage 5:55 pace for most of it (59:10 for ten miles), maybe I could kick it up a notch at the end and squeeze under 59. In actuality, the goal I set at the beginning of the season was even faster, but seemed a little too crazy of late. My new plan still sounded crazy, but I’m nothing if not overly ambitious. At least I had reined it in a little.

I figured Brother would assume I’d go for 6:00 pace, so a couple miles at 5:55 might take the wind out of his sails. Then I’d be free to coast to a big PR and the family title.

The first mile was right on target: 5:55. Bam. Perfectly according to plan.

Then I noticed Brother wasn’t right next to me, in our bunch that included some teammates and Cousin. He was actually a stride or two ahead. Brother is leading at this pace? Hmmm. That wasn’t the plan.

So I tried to catch up to him, to plant myself right beside him. But every time I did that, he seemed to pick it up to stay one stride ahead. Suddenly we were running 5:52 pace, which was decidedly not my plan. This is fast, too fast for so early in the race. Surely Brother can’t keep this up. Can I keep this up? (I realize three seconds fast may seem like nothing, but when it's a few seconds faster than your intended pace, which was already faster than you've ever run for two miles back-to-back, let alone ten, it's quite intimidating. Which was exactly Brother's intention.)

Being smarter racers, with less family feuding and no championship on the line, the teammates and Cousin dropped back.

I was debating doing that myself. It seemed dumb to keep this up—was I sacrificing a big PR just to beat Brother in this silly duel? I should drop back and focus on running smart. But we were running closer to my crazy early season ambitions than anticipated. Maybe this will turn out better than expected. Letting Brother try to break me might be dumb, but letting him pace me might turn out to be brilliant.

I knew that was highly unlikely, that I only felt good because it was so early, but still—logic be damned—I did not want to be dropped. If I fell back a little, I feared it would turn into falling back a lot, and then who knows what would happen to my PR plans.

So along we went. Me perpetually one step behind, both of us running 5:52 pace, through 5 miles (easily a 5K and 5 mile PR). I can’t believe Brother is keeping this up. (How am I keeping this up?) Surely he has to break soon.

Around City Hall, I tried to run the tangents. (It’s the only spot running the tangents matters, since the course is otherwise a perfectly straight line.) There was a woman near us, so I focused on catching her. And suddenly I had a step or two on Brother.

I tried to solidify the move by sticking with the woman, but she quickly got ahead, and now I was in no man/woman’s land. I didn’t know how far behind Brother was (one stride, ten?) but I tried to keep to our blistering pace.

It didn’t work. You can tell on the splits when I took the lead, because the pace dropped markedly. Maybe I only got the lead because Brother was slowing, but I was slowing right with him.

We got to our family’s cheering section; everyone was so loud I couldn’t make out what they were saying. My sister-in-law tried to tell me what place I was among the women, but I misheard her. I mistakenly thought she said I was in the top ten (a shocking revelation, since I had seen the hoard of incredibly fit women in the elite tent). This race is turning out amazing! I’m beating Brother, I’m doing well in the field, I’m running super fast!

Just before mile 7.
Brother is in the white hat on the left.
Then I saw my dad, who said I was in the top twenty (not ten) and who was also screaming wildly, “BROTHER IS RIGHT ON YOUR TAIL!!!” From my family’s perspective, it looked like Brother might be catching up to me, en route to overtaking me. They had no way of knowing that I had actually just overtaken him.

But he was still right on my tail. And the 7th mile split made me realize how much I was slowing. Damn. This went from amazing to Struggle City pretty fast.  

The next two miles I continued to slow, just like I had at Cherry Blossom. But now I was alone with no one to pull me along. Brother was behind me—who knew how close—so that was pushing me slightly, but not enough. I kept looking at my watch, seeing my pace and thinking, “I need to pick it up.” But there seemed to be some disconnect between my brain and legs, and the pace stayed where it was.

A woman followed by a swarm of men passed and I tried to latch on, but it didn’t work. Where the eff was this finish? We went over a slight hill and then under the photo bridge (Why did that trick me before? It does not look like a finish line) and still I couldn’t see it. Lindsay caught me (told you she was a smarter racer) and encouraged me to go with her. I tried to muster a sprint (Brother could still be on my tail! I can’t lose it now!) and finally made it through the finish.

I finished in 59:24, slower than the pace I had hoped for, but ahead of Brother in the duel. But as I mentioned last week, if I won the duel and didn’t run the time I wanted, I’d be upset. And I was. Not hugely upset; I did run a PR and it was a great day all around. (As another cousin enthusiastically reminded me at the finish line party, “Oh my God, that was SO MUCH FUN!”) But this season’s results aren’t stacking up to my out-of-this-world ambitions, so despite PRs and family duels, I’m left to ponder that.

I think, in the end, Brother pulling me through six miles at the pace he did turned out to be a huge blessing. (Sorry, Bro, your plan backfired.) I'm not sure what pace I could have held by myself. I’ve gotten spoiled with amazing pacers and teammates, and I seem to lose focus whenever I’m alone. In the olden days of RunnerTeal (pre-GRC), I used to always run alone. I was slower then, of course, but I think I need to learn to channel some of that Grind It Out Mojo I used to have and bring it up to speed.

But still. I set a big PR, officially broke 60, and won the championship. Dare I say it? I think I’ve broken the curse.
The New Champion.
Dream big,

Despite the outlandish amount of smack talk surrounding the Family Duel, the race was actually a really great celebration of family and running. Another great celebration of family and running is the annual Father's Day 8K, an evening race along the Georgetown canal. Sign up today!