Sunday, December 4, 2011

"Never let your head hang down. Never give up and sit down and grieve. Find another way." -Satchel Paige

Spartan Shape-Up, Day 137:

It was RACE DAY, BlogLand! Today, I ran in Burlington, VT's inaugural Santa 5K, for Make-A-Wish. In short, 1200 people in (mandatory!) Santa suits ran through 5K around downtown.

As for me, it was a weird experience. Good, bad and everything in between. I was really apprehensive about this last night, and nerved up, as my last few runs haven't been stellar. I've been feeling really frustrated that I can't seem to get over the hump and run the whole 5K non-stop. And by "really" frustrated, I mean like seriously starting to beat myself up about it. Am I not doing enough? Am I not working hard enough? Am I not pushing as much as I could be? Can I even do it? .... You know, the really awesome stuff that creeps in when things get difficult. I have been fighting it, and continuing to work, and getting reassurance from my gurus along the way, but I was feeling a little insecure about running the 5K.

To add insult to injury, I was going to have to go it alone. I had many friends that would've signed up, but no one expected the event to sell out as fast as it did. I was the only one who got successfully registered. It still sounded like fun, in a way, and I wanted to keep pushing and challenging myself and having these goals to push forward to, so I resolved to do it - alone, as necessary. For anyone that knows me, this may have been one of the biggest evolutions in my Spartan Shape Up. Confident Independence. I am, by nature, a social butterfly. I want people around me, I gather people to me. Doing things alone is counter-intuitive... Instinctively, I want to share these events with people that matter to me. "Alone" is not something I typically enjoy, or do well. However, in Spartan Shape-Up Land, I've found that there is a real shortage of people that want to keep up with me, or do what I need to do, etc. so I'm learning to go forth on my path, whether or not I have company.

However, this does not make it easy. I went last night to pick up my Santa suit. I have instinctive Fat-Chick-Syndrome every time something says "one-size fits all" or something to that effect. Although, apparently, in cheap Santa-suit land, if you were over like 5'6" you got a Mens. Period.  I got this suit home, and with mild trepidation, opened it up. Oh it fit. Like it fit to the point where me and my roommate and probably another friend could've gotten in the pants, if need be. Thank God for drawstrings, and some creative tucking.

More difficult was getting out the door this morning, and knowing that there would be no cheering section, at any point. I donned my Spartan hoodie, laced up my favorite Inov-8's and resolved that it didn't matter; I was going to take the advice of all the running gurus, and "run my own race" anyway... What did it matter if I had a cheering section? It was just like doing any other Sunday run, aside from the fact that I was doing it in another town... and in a Santa suit.

The only time I felt really awkward was the down time between parking my car and beginning the race. All the waiting Santas (1200 of them!!) were milling in clusters, chatting with friends... and there I was. I stretched a bit and reminded myself that it was irrelevant. This was a good time to get my head in the right space and remind my legs what we were here to do. The goals I was working towards were to finish in less than 35 minutes, and ideally, run the whole thing with no walk breaks. To help motivate myself and prep, I reviewed some recent inspirational posts on FB and smiled at the "you got this!" comments from my far-away friends (who I am eternally grateful for!).

As Start Time got closer, we started to cluster more outside... there was the college a capella group doing some great tunes (as a former musical theatre, show choir and chorale veteran, I have a real soft spot for a capella music), spectators gathering and a general buzz of festiveness in the air. The sponsoring restaurant had people running giant vats of post-race breakfast to a few different spots in preparation.. and let me tell you, it is an awful tease when a HUGE pan of sausage goes wafting by you at 9am.

Suddenly, it was time. The Make-A-Wish guy gave us a festive motivational speech and the clock was off. The one thing I'd never experienced before, that I'm sure you race veterans will identify with, was the slow, annoying start. It was hard to carve out an appropriately paced spot for myself for the first block and a half or so. With 1200 people needing to settle into their paces, I suppose that's just bound to happen though. I was working hard to cut through the crowd though, as I was really trying to at least match my previous 5K race time. As I got stuck in the slow-moving mass in the first bit of the race, I could FEEL the seconds ticking away. Did I mention I have an eternally competitive drive?

The initial stretch was a nice warm up. A lovely long down hill toward scenic Lake Champlain. It was a beautiful sunny, brisk (high temp, 37 degrees *before* the stiff wind-chill) morning, and it did feel good to stretch my legs. The downhill definitely did allow me to separate from the mass a bit - it certainly helps to be just -that- much taller than your average woman. It means your strides are just -that- much longer a lot of the time, allowing you to just find yourself some space. Although, I should've known, any time you enjoy a down hill in Vermont, that means a killer uphill is sure to follow. This time was certainly no exception. As we ended our downhill at the lake, we turned to truck up a long, slow, moderate hill. At this point, we really began to separate the people there for the fun of the Santa spectacle, and those that were there to run. Interestingly enough, I found myself solidly in the latter group, as I plowed up that hill (leaving many a dude in my dust. I smiled and thought to myself, as I passed each one, "You've been chicked... and YOU've been chicked... and YOU...."). I may not be fast, but there's a lot of muscle on these tree-trunk legs and it can push me slow and steady up a hill like that.

Oddly, I found myself grateful for that hill after a while, just because it really gave everyone more room to move. The mass had really stretched out, the Hill had claimed many a runner and changed them into a walker, and you could finally extend your arms without feeling like you were going to poke someone in the eye. I did crest the hill at a run, and rounded on to the flat... but was feeling the exertion from the hill (it was an evil hill, people.). I pushed on running more than I wanted to, but finally allowed myself to recover and drop into a walk for 15 seconds. That's all. Count to 15, back to a run.

We ran through some nice scenic, mostly flat-ish areas of downtown, working up a couple smaller inclines, which I felt I handled really well in stride. I had found a pace that I was able to pretty evenly maintain, and a runner in front of me that I had my eye on to catch. I find, for me, this is a key element. It helps me to have someone to mentally chase down. Even if I never catch them, it helps me to have a sort of pace car to keep me going at a better clip.

Right around mid-run there was another evil hill, and I admit, I walked *at the top* of this one for another 15-20 seconds. I did NOT however, walk on the hill, as many people did. Waha. Small victories.

Refreshingly, as we got to the end of the coarse, we headed down a long, steep incline - Cliff Street (why are they ALWAYS "Cliff Street"??). I was tired at this point, but I remembered that I wanted to use downhills for recovery time, so I let my strides lengthen a bit and make up some time, as I enjoyed the slightly less taxing effort of the downhill. We rounded the last flat, and I suddenly recognized where we were again... ALMOST there. I was tired. I wanted to walk. Then I heard a spectator say that we had less than half a mile to go. Well, damn. Can't walk in the last half mile. Turned another corner and I could almost see the finish line down the hill and around the corner. YES. DOWN THE HILL. I figured this was time. If I was going to make up the time from the slow beginning, here would be it. I opened up on the long downhill and whizzed by many tired Santas. I embraced gravity, and (maybe slightly recklessly, as I did ponder what would happen if I tripped...) let fly. If you're not going to go guns blazing, what's the point, right?

I came whipping down that hill (I was somewhere in the neighborhood of a 9 min/mile at this point), and rounded the last corner. It was a short sprint (maybe 400m?) to the finish. People were cheering. There was a dude pacing with me at our fast clip, there were jingle bells. I could see the clock. My mind knew where I needed to be to beat my previous time, and my legs felt nothing at this point. I dug a sprint reserve out of somewhere and hauled ass (pardon my expression, but it seems to more clearly express the point) to the finish line, with half an eye on the clock, half an eye on the dude trying to beat me (he must need someone to chase down, too), and one full eye on the imminent SLOW MASS in front of me, before the finish line. I thought a really bad string of obscenities at this point. I was not hauling ass here, just to have my time-beating efforts thwarted by these lollygaggers!

Now. Yes. They were being festive and group oriented. They had linked arms - 8 PEOPLE ACROSS - and were *skipping* to the finish as a group. I appreciate the spirit there. I'm sure the news camera loved it. I KNOW this is not a *serious* run. But I was taking it seriously. So was the dude who was hauling ass up the other side, in my periphery. Suddenly it dawned on me - THIS WAS CLOCK BLOCKING. Dear Carrie Adams, I now comprehend. I feel your rage on this phenomenon.

How does the story end, you ask? Well. I said the fastest tiny prayer to whatever deity would listen, begging that this blockade get the eff out of the way, so I could continue my line drive. Magically, the seas parted. Well, ONE person let go of arms, leaving me *just* enough room to do some sort of high-speed crazy-person dance maneuver and get through to the finish line. For perspective, I crossed the finishing line at just over a 6 min/mile pace.  My normal pace is around an 11 min/mile. For me, I was cruising.

Crossing the finish line, I still felt good. Riding high on that adrenaline rush, I snagged my pretty awesome finisher medal (Bling! woot!) and was immersed into a crowd of finished Santas. Suddenly, a tiny wave of sadness rolled over me. My eyes flashed around the crowd looking for someone to share my exhilaration with... people that were there cheering for *me*... but I was suddenly reminded that there wasn't going to be anyone. I was pretty happy with how I had done - particularly after I milled over and checked my official time - just slightly diminished by the fact that there was no one there to share with. Then I remembered - I had you all, BlogLand! I took my ridiculous Santa suit/medal/sweat self-portrait and sent it off to FB. I texted the results to my GT. I wasn't alone in my success, I would just have to share it differently.

Santa 5K Run, Burlington, VT
I wandered back to my car to shed the hot-as-hell felt Santa suit. (Seriously, that was the worst part. Yes, it was a cold day and when the wind came up, I was happy to have it... but all things considered, it was WAY too warm.) I redonned my Spartan hoodie, so I wouldn't freeze to death with cooling sweat, and called my mom to share in my victory. She's not athletic in any way, but is supportive in anything I do. It was nice to hear her affirmations.

Mom couldn't really chat, so I was left alone with my thoughts, for the 45 minute ride home. I stopped to get the best "recovery" drink EVER (Regular Dunkin Donuts Coffee. OH yeah.), and headed out. I did come to a few breakthroughs, through this process. I thought about my fabulous sprints to the end... My legs did this easily, and they weren't tired. Surely this means I could pick up the pace a bit over the course of the course? Further, one would think that if that energy is IN there, then I should have absolute confidence in the fact that I should NOT have to take a walk break.  Plus, I again felt like a runner, crossing that finish line. My time was respectable and I know I was focused and doing everything I could to push myself to the end.

My revised goals for next week's 5K (With Colleen to meet and subsequently chase down, and my fabulous GT to flog me forward) are to a) Run the 5K in less than 34 minutes, and/or b) average less than an 11 minute mile.

Today's race shook out like this:

Place736 (Out of 1257, I think?)
Net Time34:42

I'm pretty okay with that. My placing puts me just about in the lower-middle (average), my time is ONE whole second faster than my previous 5K, and my average mile time was a new PR by a couple of seconds. A good run, particularly since I went into it feeling a little less than confident.

Interestingly enough, it seems that I did actually achieve some of what I'd hoped to - My times/paces are improving. Looking at the mile splits on my tracker:
Mile 1 pace: 10:45
Mile 2 pace: 11:30
Mile 3 pace: 10:34

I started out strong, and finished strong. Clearly, I need to work on that middle piece - and typically I find that that is where a lot of the walking wants to happen - but those breakdowns make me feel a bit more successful. If I could run my last (tired) mile in 10:34, then in theory, I should be able to run ALL of my miles that way, right? or at least sub 11 minutes? That's what I'm going for.

Now, I sit home with some achy knees... I should know that hard, fast downhills on knees that have damaged cartilage aren't great. But, what's a little soreness, anyway? And now... to bed. Crossfit is early tomorrow, and there's just no rest for the wicked... ;-)


Spartan Shape-Up, Day 138:
My internet connection died (!!?!?!!?) last night, BlogLand. It was a veritable crisis, particularly when I wanted to share about my Santa run! However, I thought I'd tack today's short-ish entry on the end.
Life got in the way today, it seems. I missed my CF class (I was actually sad!), and had to work early/late for some overtime, and there was no time to workout. I did make some excellent quinoa breakfast pudding stuff, though, in preparation for some good No-Bread breakfasts.

HOWEVER, I did want to chime in my two cents about the Zensah Calf Compression sleeves I bought (yes. Hot PINK.). I love them. A whole lot. I have some pretty chronic trouble with my calves being tight and/or cramping during runs. WELL, I ran the whole 5K in them yesterday and had zero issues with my calves. Even on the long uphills. I wore them for an hour or so post-run to help recover, and let me tell you, my calves felt fresh. WOO. If I had known all along that Compression sleeves would be the answer... Seriously, I highly recommend them. These Zensah ones are super soft, yet seem durable, and have some fancy sort of ribbing design to "pinpoint" particular parts on the muscles, as well as to help with shin splints. I don't know if they really did anything, but it made me feel like I was getting more for my money. hehe!

And with that, I'm out, BlogLand. Tomorrow's a run morning. I'm intending on donning my new lovely calf sleeves (they did add to the keeping my legs warm, perhaps that was part of the help?), and heading out for a pre-work go. 3 solid miles is what I'm aiming for. No walks!

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