Monday, January 3, 2011

A Race to Remember

Since I obviously don't have any new race reports for you, I figured I'd post up some more older stories. In chronological order, my top three races:

2001 PIAA District II Cross-Country Championship - Scranton, PA
I started running freshman year of high school, but it wasn't until my junior year that I began to see real results. That year, I was running #2 for Bishop Hafey High School, behind #1 Kira. For me, Districts was the most important race of the season, since it determined who qualified for the PIAA State Championship. Kira had qualified for States as an individual in 2000 and had a good chance of going again in '01. For me, it would be more of a stretch. I had my goals though. For the first time, Districts was to be held on the Scranton Municipal Golf Course, a course that no runners had been allowed on earlier in the season, so no one had any idea what the course was going to look like. To further complicate things, Districts also fell on an unseasonably hot day, quite a change from the cool to cold conditions we had been practicing in and from the League meet a week earlier that had been in the  high 30's and rainy. No one in Northeastern Pennsylvania had run in these kind of conditions since the early season.

In high school, I had more of a frontrunner mentality than someone my speed had any right to have, and, true to form, when the gun went off, I shot off the line into a pack of girls who ran times well faster than I. However, that day was different, and when the time came to make that choice, the choice between going with the pack or staying where it's comfortable, I went. I knew I was in well over my head, but I figured if I could just hold on, I just might be able to make it to States. Well I held on for nearly 3 miles....of a 3.1 mile race. The course was a two loop course with a single hill that you hit twice near the end of the loop, and on the second loop, as I came off the downhill and hit the final straightaway, I died, and died hard. I remember weaving a bit, not entirely sure where the finish line was, but knowing that if I kept following the stream of girls who I was helpless to stop from passing me, I'd get there. I'm not sure when I crossed the finish, but I do remember an official telling me that I wasn't allowed to sit in the chute, and if I wanted to sit down, I had to do it outside the chute. I opted to crawl under the rope. I had never been that sick after a race before, and though I've dry-heaved and puked and collapsed after races since then, I still think that day at Districts may have been the worst. I sat there until the entire A team had finished the race and one of my teammates forced me to get up and try to walk back to the team tent (key words being "try to"). After several standing still breaks, I was able to slowly make my way back to the tent where I found out that Kira had medaled and qualified for States. As for my own fate, I'd have to wait to find out how many of the girls who finished ahead of me were part of one of the qualifying teams, and therefore didn't count as an individual qualifier. Thankfully, I was so destroyed from the race that I didn't have the energy to stress out too much. After what seemed like an eternity, my coach returned with news: I was headed to States!
I wish I could figure out where I pulled the guts from that day. While I went on to run much faster than I did that day, 2001 Districts was hands down the ballsiest race I ran in my life. It will be 10 years this fall since I ran that race. Time for a repeat performance.

2006 Patriot League Indoor Track and Field Championships (5000m) - Annapolis, MD
I had an awesome junior year cross-country season. While I was just outside the top 7 for Bucknell, I would have been top 5 on any other Patriot League team except Army, where I would have been #6. Additionally, I had run an 18:58 5K split on Lehigh's 6K cross-country course, which would have been a 5K PR had it actually been a 5K race. However, indoor track, thus far, had been a failure. I was still floating right above 19 flat for 5000m, and though my 3000m times were slightly less miserable, they still did not match the promise I had shown in the fall.  Thankfully, my coach hadn't given up on me yet, and sent me to Leagues off my performances during cross. Off to the US Naval Academy I went.
There were enough athletes entered in the 5000m that it had to be split up into two heats. Unfortunately, my poor performances during the season didn't give me a very good seed time, and the slow heat was small, consisting of only myself and teammates Mollie and Gillian from Bucknell (neither of whom were happy they got stuck in the slow heat), a girl from Army, and two girls from other schools who admitted to having little indoor 5K experience. From the start, Gillian and Army took an early lead, while by now, I had finally taken an oath of patience and situated myself behind pacing machine Mollie. I also somehow got stuck behind the other two girls, and found myself at the back of a four girl train, led by Mollie, with Gillian and Army well ahead. I could feel the pace was slow, but I wasn't able to tell exactly how slow. Slow enough for both Coach Donner and assistant coach Coach Rob to stop giving us splits, apparently. That was a bad sign. We hit the first mile in 6:05. Ouch. Slightly worried, I surged past the two girls, who were beginning to fall off pace anyway, and pulled up near Mollie. I asked her if she wanted me to take pace and she waved me ahead. In a lap, we went from 46's to 42's...5:36 pace. Whoops, too fast. I bet Mollie was regretting letting me take pace now! After that mad dash lap, I settled in to 43-44 pace. Both coaches had gotten excited and started giving us splits again. Before long, Mollie and I had caught up to Gillian and Army. Army saw us and took off. As I went by Gillian, I yelled at her to come with me and go after Army. I'm not sure whether or not she responded, since I went right back into focusing on my own race. I got up on Army's tail, relaxed for a lap to get some energy back, and then dropped my arms, did my best to make my form look effortless, and threw in a surge that I hoped was one of those soul-crushing heartbreaking surges that very few are able to respond to. By two miles, Army was gone, and Mollie and I were right around 11:50ish, meaning we had split around 5:45 for the second mile. Also around the two mile point, Mollie used the same technique on me that I had just used on Army and surged past me. I was dying too, as that second mile had really taken it out of me, and I had no response. She had a 50m lead in no time. That doesn't sound like much, but it's an entire straightaway on an indoor track, which is damn scary looking. Suddenly, the gravity of what I had just done hit me, and with two laps to go, I forced myself to go after Mollie. Unfortunately, 400m is not a lot of distance to make up a 50m gap, and while I was able to cut down her lead to 2 seconds, I wasn't able to catch her (which actually means I made up a substantial amount of time, come to think of it). However, there was no time to be too upset about not catching Mollie, since I had just gone 18:30 for a 28 second PR (35 if you don't count the 18:58 from XC)! Mollie was also ecstatic, since 18:28 was a pretty big PR for her too. While neither of our times were good enough to score, they had put us something like 15th or 16th in the League (can't remember the exact place). In retrospect, it was a good thing we were in the slow heat, because there's no way we would have gotten away with opening the race that slow in the fast heat.
Since I ran the steeplechase outdoors, I only ran the 5K once in the spring (a race I was sick for), and I had a miserable senior year (I'm 99% sure I was anemic since my serum ferritin was measured at 7 the year after), so 18:30 still stands as my 5K PR. Kind of annoying since whenever I tell people, they think I'm rounding, but really, if I ran 18:29, you better believe I'd say I ran 18:29 (and if I went 18:31, I'm an honest enough person to say so). I sometimes wonder what would happen if Mollie and I trained together again. I figure we'd either both run amazing times or totally just run each other into the ground (the first time I hit 85 miles per week was a contest between Mollie and I, to see who could hit the highest mileage for a 3 week period in March. I won...her body broke and I went 85-85-85, and no, it did not completely destroy my outdoor season, thank you).

2009 Colorado Colfax Half-Marathon - Denver, CO
After college graduation, I had decided I was sick of training and was going to take some time to just have fun with running. That lasted all of three months. Then I attempted an ultramarathon on a whim, got injured, and realized what I love about running. I'm not a zen runner, nor am I "born to run." I'm a competitor and born to race. By mid-2008, I was healthy again and ready to train. I had been running decent miles since college, but I cranked it up hardcore, and by early-2009, I had gone from running 60-85 miles per week to 85-105 miles per week. I put the mountain bike and snowboard away. It was time to set my sights. I was waking up at 4:45AM every day to get in my short run before work, meeting with the Boulder Trail Runners every Tuesday to do a tempo run, doing a Daniels-style track workout every Thursday, doing a 16-20 mile long run every Saturday when I got home from a class I was taking, and lifting 4-5 days per week. And every so often, just for fun, I'd spend Sunday doing a 50 mile bike ride from my house in Boulder up to Ward, elevation 9450, before coming home and putting in an 8 mile double. The Mondays after days like those were always interesting. Suffice it to say that the Fleet Feet Boulder group run guys always knew when I had done something stupid over the weekend. I even managed to run the Colfax course on one of my long run days, going over the end a few times to make the run long enough and to really cement the course in my head. It was a very gentle uphill for the first half and very gentle downhill for the second half, and would have been a fast course had it not been situated at 5280 feet above sea level.
Three weeks before the big race, I jumped in a 5K, where I ran 19:00. While I was initially pissed that I was back to running the obnoxious "almost broke 19 but not quite" times that I ran junior year of college, I realized that I had done that at altitude, untapered and in the middle of a 90-some mile week, and not on a track. After that race, I got in one more long run, and then started my taper. I had never felt more prepared for a race. Then, three days before the race, on the day of my last speed workout, I felt my plantar fascia acting up. Panicked, I called my friend Molly (different person than Mollie above), who told me to bag the workout. I ended up bagging the run the day after too, and totally freaking out that I had just thrown away all that training to somehow hurt myself during a 40 mile week taper. By the day before the race, it seemed to be alright, and I drove out to Denver, where I picked up my number and jogged a pre-meet over the last couple miles of the course. Like many runners the night before an important race, I didn't sleep that night. I finally gave up around 2:30AM, did a 10 minute shake-out jog, had my bagel with peanut butter, and drove to the race site, where I was the first one there. Good omen, I hoped. I sat in the car and tried to settle my nerves, and then headed out for a warm-up. While I usually do a decent length warm-up (3 miles before a 5K, for example), I figured a half-marathon was slow enough that I didn't need to be that warm, and I settled for a mile. By the time I had finished warming up, dynamic stretching, and putting on my flats, other people had gotten to the race site. From that point, it was a blur until the start itself.
I opened in around 6:30. Not bad at all. The marathon runners turned off pretty early, so I was able to get a pretty good idea of where I was in the pack. At the three mile mark, I was third female in a field of over 1400 women, and the second woman was within striking distance. By mile five, I had caught her, moving into second place, though I had no idea where the first woman was. I popped a Clif Shot around the halfway mark and focused on pace since I was in that awkward spot behind the fast guys but ahead of the most of the women, and there wasn't really anyone around to race. Then, at mile 10, I saw her. Perfect. I saw my opponent and there was 5K to go. 5K! My old distance! Suddenly energized, I took off after her, caught her relatively quickly, and made it my job to put as much distance between her and me as possible, and as quickly as possible. With passing her, I also scored the cyclist that rides alongside the leader, which was a nice perk. Then with about a mile to go, my calves started cramping. I made the mistake that training cycle of doing my speedworkouts in trainers, and I had worn these particular flats only once before -- at that 5K I had done three weeks prior. The flats in question were little sub-4oz nothings of a flat, with no cushioning and no heel (the Adizero PR, if you've read my racing flat review, and while I've worn them in halves since and been alright, apparently the first half was problematic). I hung on though. No way was a little calf discomfort going to stop me now. With 400m to go, the cyclist peeled off, pointed to the line, and yelled, "She's right on your tail!" I have a terrible kick. Miserable, really. I can only run about a 77 second quarter, maybe a 76 if I'm lucky, and that's all-out when I'm fresh. It's even more embarrassing after 12.85 miles. (I know I just said I somehow made up all but 2 seconds in a 50m lead over 400m on the indoor track, but I don't even know how that happened because there's no way I should have been able to do that. Mollie must have gotten confused and stopped before the line.) However, there was no way in hell I was letting that woman pass me. So I started my kick, did my sad distance runner version of a sprint, gave a quick fist pump at the tape (which is immortalized in a Denver Post picture of me looking like a cocky jackass), and then tried to catch my breath as my calves seized up and rendered me completely unable to cool down. Oh, and for the record, the cyclist was lying to me, because the second place woman finished more than a minute behind me, so there's no way she was right on my tail. Which is fine, because the cyclist probably improved my time by two or three seconds, which is cool by me.
I've won races before Colfax, and I've won races since, but of all the races I've run, Colfax remains the race I'm most proud of.

So, I want some motivational stories. Anyone have anything for me?

1 comment:

  1. I don't have a motivational story for you, but you have the same 5k PR as me :)

    Or is that the motivational story?


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