Monday, August 31, 2009

Hood to Coast: a Good, Good Time

Call me loony tunes, but I believe my iPod sends me subliminal messages. As in, the first song it plays tells me something about my upcoming run.

Thus I took it as a very good omen when the first song rocking in my ears on my first leg of the Hood to Coast was the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling.” You know, that inane new ditty repeating over and over again, “I gotta feeling that tonight’s gonna be a good night.”

And indeed it was! This was my ninth Hood to Coast relay, my fourth with my kickin’ all-women’s team called See Jane Run. A creature of habit, I had chosen to run leg 7, maybe my 5th or even 6th time running that leg, which is the first one in van 2. (Since becoming a mom who breastfed her kiddos, I now find I’m hardwired to get up and be ready for action!) My first two legs are hilly, and I had prepped by doing a lot of hill training, especially in the last few weeks. Those training runs did their job strengthening my legs—and my mind. When the inclines started getting me down, I reminded myself of all the hills I’d cruised up recently. I ran the first leg, a 5.65-mile, hilly one, at an 8:14 pace, fine-tuning a balance between giving it my all and saving some for the rest of the race. (The photo, above, is me waving as I left the transition area. I'm the blur in teal lululemon shirt and black skirt.)

My second leg got off to a rocky start. Long story, but our van was 24 minutes late to the transition area. Guilt weighed me down as I ran off into the darkness at 4:44 a.m. Then part of my earbud got stuck in my ear (another long story). Rather than fight it the whole time, I asked a volunteer to shine his flashlight into my ear and fish it out. I lost about 30 seconds doing that, but I told myself I’d hit “reset” after that hiccup. And I did: While the hills still slowed me down, I set off with a new attitude. I ran the 5.89-mile leg, one of only five of the entire relay that earn the toughest label of “Very Hard,” in 52:24 (8:53/miles). Given that was my marathon pace on an Iowa-flat marathon course, I felt pretty good about that time.

Then I cranked on my final leg, a 4-miler that is flat to downhill until the final quarter-mile, when it takes an evil climb. Even on less than four hours of patchy sleep and almost 12 miles behind me, I cranked out 7:30s, outsprinting a much-younger runner at the finish. By then, it was almost 2:00 in the afternoon, but it still felt like part of a good, good night.

Even losing approximately 27 minutes to missed handoffs, my team finished 7th in the women’s submasters division in a time of 27 hours, 1 minute.

Monday, August 17, 2009

10K PR

I can only dream of running as fast as Usain Bolt in the 100-meters or Paula Radcliffe in the half-marathon, but I set my own record in a race this weekend--and I'm super-proud of myself! I raced a 10K on Saturday, doing it in 47:37 (7:39-minute miles). I finished 14th overall, and I was the 5th place woman. I was elated--and stunned. Me, an athletic late-bloomer, near the front of the pack?

Granted, it was a small field...but as a friend on Facebook wrote, "There are no small races, only small runners." Obviously she was making a joke, but to this 5' 11", 162-pound runner, there was a grain of truth in it. I'm not built for running at fast speeds yet I've set four PRs this year. (5K, 10K, half, and marathon) My commitment to speedwork over the past two years plays an important role in these great-for-me times. On the track and during tempo runs, I taught my legs and arms to move more efficiently and trained my system to use oxygen more effectively. And along the way, somewhere between 4 x 1200s and five miles at 8:00-tempo, I also developed mental toughness.

Now, in races, instead of shying away from the lactic acid and the burning lungs, I push toward them, knowing I can handle both capably. When a slice of my brain tells me to let up on the pace, a bigger part tells me to keep pressing on the accelerator. While I enjoyed the beauty of the riverside course at Saturday’s 10K, I didn’t allow myself to be distracted from the task I set out for myself. As soon as I felt my mind drift, my pace dropped. I’d re-focused by looking at the few runners in front of me and trying to rein them in.

One of the biggest thrills in the race was when I passed a buff, shaved-head guy about a mile from the finish. (Is it just me, or does bald head say, "serious jock" to you, too?) I’d had my sights set on him since the halfway turnaround point. He looked like the consummate runner, with lithe, sinewy muscles and a relaxed-yet-strong stride. I was amazed when I realized I was gaining on him. It became obvious he was running out of gas, but my Garmin Forerunner also told me my pace was accelerating in mile 5 and 6 rather than slowing down.

Needless to say, I now can’t wait to race, not run, the Hood to Coast Relay next week!


Monday, August 10, 2009

I'm Set to PR This Weekend

I often can go months and months without running a race, but this year is different: Thanks to a commitment to speedwork, I'm primed to PR. I figure I better strike while the iron is hot. So little more than a month after setting a new personal best in a 5K, I'm going to toe the line in a 10K. I'm doing the Pace of Courage Run here in Portland, which supports a family in their fight against cancer and their goal to promote cancer awareness.

It's a heartbreaking story involving two types of cancer--the mother has a recurrence of ovarian cancer and the three-year-old son recently succumbed a rare form of brain cancer. I know I will be wiping away many tears along with sweat as I run.

I debated whether it was crass to try to run my fastest at such a meaningful, heartfelt fundraiser, but I decided I'd be showing a passion and commitment to life by doing so. I've stepped up my speedwork with make-me-proud results: On Friday, I did a tempo run. Before going to bed on Thursday night, I told myself I'd run 5 miles at tempo, but in the early light of day, that goal seemed daunting so I told myself I "only" had to go 40 minutes. Silly me: I ran so fast (7:55/mile, on average), I ended up covering slighly more than my original assignment. Proving, once again, it's all in the mindset. Sometimes it's better to approach a hurdle from a different direction to make it seem less daunting.

Then this morning I hit the track for a final pre-race session. I did 4 x 1200, telling myself anything under 6:00 was great (yet knowing, full well, I really wanted to run 5:30s). I did 5:32, 5:29, 5:33, and 5:26. Woo-hoo. I urge all of you Portland runners to join me on Saturday morning. Let's race!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Acorn Doesn't Fall far from the Tree

I am forever wondering how experiences and exposure are influencing my children. Just when I start to think the only thing that really sticks with them are snippets of "Spongebob Squarepants" episodes, I get a glimmer of something more meaningful that restores my faith. Like last week: Phoebe went to Girl Scout camp all week up in the mountains west of Portland. We were having a heat wave, so it had the making for a miserable week. Instead, she had a fantastic time. During dinner on Friday, she announced, "I love being outside." I was ecstastic as my love of being outside is one of the main reasons I run. I asked her what she liked about being outside. She replied, "I like being close to trees."
Her answer warmed me even more than the 106-degree temps had.