Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Joys of a (Very) Local Race: For Kids' Sake 5K/10K race

It had been a long time since my awful first 10K (see previous entry), so it was time to put my big girl sneakers on and try the distance again. Everything that went awry the first time went right this time, and I had a great time. Thus are the joys of a very local race. This race was sponsored by a local organization, For Kids' Sake, that raises money for orphans in Bangladesh. They have done various fundraisers over the years, but this was their first race. Here are my observations from today:

1) It's great to be able to run, walk or bike to a race.
This race was headquartered in Turley Park, which I regularly pass on runs or just on walks to the grocery store. I rode over on my bike. It was raining heavily this morning, so the race organizers pushed back the original 9 am start time until the showers relented.
2) What a difference a route makes.
This route was in my neighborhood--I knew the streets well, having run them many times before. In fact, the best gift this 10K gave me was this route, which I will continue to use. It is not a hilly route, but I knew exactly where the road would have a little bit of incline/decline.
3)For a first-time race, this was pretty sweet.
Lots of volunteers on the course (which was a little confusing, seeing that there were two races going on, each with slightly different routes), water stations (just water though, no Gatorade), pre-race yoga, pre and post-race massages, raffles for prizes, and treats for the runners (cookies and trail mix). They had a fun run for the kids--I love seeing young boys and girls run up to get their awards after fun runs).
4) Love the little victories.
I won my age group, got a PR, and finished in under 57 minutes (56:??--I didn't get the seconds exactly when I came through the finish chute) [update: 55:54 for the race]. At a local race, it's fun to hang around after for the award ceremony. I had a suspicion I had either come in first or second in my age group. I got one of those ribbons like the kind you get in third grade for winning the class spelling bee. I don't care--it's going in my running memorabilia book just the same.
5)Charity races rule.
I don't usually look to see whether a race I'm doing is for charity or not. But when one of the race organizers told today's crowd what a difference our entry fees and pledges would make in the lives of orphans in Bangladesh, I felt a surge of community pride and was happy to have just been a small part of it.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Facebook Note Repost: How Not to Run a 10K

Since my next race is a 10K, I'm reposting this note from my Facebook page. Here's hoping my 10K (For Kids' Sake Race, Sept 24) goes better this time!

Notes on my first 10K: April 2, 2011

1) Make sure you show up ahead of time. This may seem obvious. I made the error of assuming that my 10K starting line was at the same place as my half-marathon starting line, since they were both in the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge. It was not. I forgot to bring a copy of our local running club magazine, which had the directions to the starting line in it, complete with GPS coordinates. I almost missed the start of the race because we took for granted that we knew where it was. The Refuge is huge though, and the miracle was that we found it just in time for Jon to drop me off and for me to run to the start/finish line.

2) Distractions are better left at home. During training runs, you have the leisure of thinking through problems and finding solutions. During a race though, you need focus and concentration. I was distracted by something that could have been huge--neither Jon nor I could find our checkbook, and neither of us could remember seeing it. I had visions of identify theft in my head. Turns out it was just misplaced. Turns out I could have concentrated better if I hadn't been distracted by that possible urgent situation.

3) A 10K is 6.2 miles. Your 10K race might be 6.3 or 6.4 miles. The source of my initial disappointment was seeing what I thought was an awful finish time (57:33) and thinking that was my time for 6.2. Turns out the race course was a bit off (I did not have my Garmin GPS watch turned on, but runners who did told me that the race course was a bit overlong. It makes a difference when you are expecting certain numbers and you get numbers that don't meet that expectation. Just to clarify, I'm not racing anyone but myself, and I was disappointed that this finish time was slower than my own practice runs. But my practice runs were on point at 6.2.

4) Decide if you are going to use music or not. Don't waffle. I waffled. I had my trusty SANSA Clip+ (product placement--hello! Sansa, send me free stuff) and headphones. But I was so discombobulated by showing up so close to race start time that I didn't turn it on. So the headphones (I use the over-the-head kind) became a liability, and I ended up carrying them in my right hand for the last two miles.

5) Expect hills. Unless the ad for the race/race flyer says "fast and flat," expect hills. Since this was partially the same course as the half-marathon I did in February, I don't know why I didn't remember that. The killer hill was the crest of mile 5 (during the half, I believe that same hill was between mile 7 and 8).

6) If you can't be good, look good. At least I was styling: pink technical wicking long sleeve shirt, black compression tights with dark pink racing stripes down each leg, and my trusty Asics (the same pair I used for the half).

7) Learn to grab that water cup!! Since I got to the race with only minutes to spare, I didn't get a drink in prior to running. I grabbed a cup at the first aid station; didn't at the second one. The second one was right before the killer mile 5 hill and I knew if I stopped to drink I would stop running. So I didn't get a second drink in. The first water cup I pretty much spilled on myself and only got a small sip of.

8) Make friends. I am still somewhat intimidated by the long-established runners in my community and get a little shy around them. But they are beginning to recognize me from these races, and they are always polite and interested in me as a runner.

9) Feel the disappointment and let it pass. That's what I'm working on right now, as I type this. I was convinced this was a horrible run (so many people passed me by; I couldn't figure out my "race pace;" I was thirsty, etc, etc). But later on I learned from a friend that I did get third in my age group. Since the race results have not been posted yet, I don't know how many were in that age group. I have to be proud of myself for getting a handle on my emotions (when we couldn't find the starting line, I was so upset I almost cried in the car), but I buckled down and ran the race. I could have bagged the whole thing, seeing that I was distracted and upset. But I'm working through it, and I'm looking forward to next week's 5K race. And because this was my first 10K, it's automatically my personal record (PR) at this distance.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Notes on Sixth Half Marathon: City of Roses Half Marathon, Cape Girardeau, MO

My sixth half marathon took place in Cape Girardeau, MO, a small city about an hour from where I live in Illinois. There's a certain comfort factor in running a race close to home, and I might have underestimated its challenge. Here are my notes from today:

1) More hills, more hills!: The race description said "moderate hills." Moderate hills, my ass. And it was my ass--butt, rear, glutes--that kept me going during this half. It was hilly at the the start, flat during some lovely scenery on the Cape La Croix bike trail and in the Cape Woods, and hilly at the end. There were four hills in the last four miles.

2) Race headquarters was the Health Point Fitness facility on Independence Street. If I lived in Cape, I'd definitely be a member of this gym: it was light, bright and welcoming inside. Because this was not a big race, I had plenty of pre-race bathroom access.

3) This may be a small race in a small city, but the Cape Road Runners have done it a lot: this was the 31st running of this half marathon. Everyone received a finisher's medal and there was a very nice wicking T-shirt to those who pre-registered (baby blue so I'll actually wear it). There were lots of race volunteers and I had no trouble getting water and/or gatorade while on the course. They did not give out GU however.

4) Hills are a physical and a spiritual test. I got towards the end of the race, mile 9 or so, and I'm thinking, "I'm just going to breeze on in to the finish line." So so wrong. If I had looked at the course map elevation before the race, I would have known that the last four miles had four significant hills in them. I observed a lot of different hill strategies: the walk to the top then run, the charge up and hope for the best, the steady swim. I am a proponent of the steady swim, even if on one of the last hills I had to really pick up my feet to keep going. I don't ever stop to walk during a half because I fear I won't start running again!

5) During the section in the lovely Cape Woods, we went over several picturesque wooden bridges. So nice to look at, so treacherous when wet. I tried to step lightly and prayed not to slip. On the bike trail, we encountered folks on wheels who looked startled to see a half marathon in progress. No collisions ensued.

6) Serendipity is a great and funny thing. One of the last songs my SANSA played was Billy Idol's cover of "Mony Mony," originally made famous by Tommy James and the Shondells. There's a great part of that song where Billy yell-sings "C'mon"--and he yell-sings it a lot. It was perversely encouraging. Also funny: there was some incidental construction right prior to the finishing area back at Health Point where there was a big temporary sign that read "Be prepared to stop." I said out loud "I love that sign" and a male runner in front of me pretended to hug it.

7) Chip time vs. gun time. Fleet Feet STL did the timing and they are quick and precise. My chip time for this race was 2:10:28 and my gun time was 2:10:44. The difference is that my chip time is my individual time for the race as determined by my own timing chip; and the gun time is the time from the gun going off to my crossing the finish line. The time in between meant there were folks in front of me before I crossed the starting line.

8) Some folks will cool down by running back over the course. Try not to hate these people. They will look relieved and relaxed, with a "my work here is done" expression on their faces. You will still be finishing. Like I said, try not to hate these people.

9) I saw a lot of women at this race. I would venture to guess that there were more women than men. Women seem to run in groups, men solo (though I did see couples and mixed groups). I am a solo runner, so if anyone wants to run with me, I'm game!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Fifth Half Marathon: Bearcat Harvest Half Marathon, McKendree University

I thought that my fifth half was going to be the City of Roses Half in Cape Girardeau, MO on Sept. 18, but I caught wind of this race sponsored by McKendree University, a small liberal arts school in Lebanon, IL. I'm cheap, so the $30 price tag appealed to me and I signed up. Here are my observations from today's race, which I finished 13.1 of in 2:08:50 (more on that later).

1) Sometimes you get lucky and the weather loves you.
I had feared I might be running this in the rain--not just rain, but thundershowers. It didn't happen.

2) It's a small-town race--don't expect a medal.
This race only gave medals to the top finishers in their age groups, and the age groups were huge (39-50?). If you run a race this small, don't expect a finisher's medal. Everyone who pre-registered got one of those wicking T-shirts and one of those 13.1 decals you can put on your car (even though this race was 13.25 miles, not 13.1--more on that later).

3) Okay, so there's a 5K too.
The 5K and the half started at the same time. In order for both races to share the same finish line, the half was slightly longer than 13.1. It was 13.25 miles. A volunteer was positioned at the precise spot of the race that was 13.1 shouting out times, so that's how I know my 13.1 time. I didn't note my time on the giant clock at 13.25 because I was too busy looking for Jon (husband and runner support). [Update: my time for 13.25 miles was 2:10:45]

4) Speaking of volunteers, college kids make great ones.
Lots of volunteers at this race (someone joked that there were more volunteers than runners). I don't know if that was actually true, but there were a lot of McKendree University students, faculty and staff members helping out with the water stations, calling out times, giving out GU, etc. They were sweetly enthusiastic, and many of the runners made sure to thank them as they grabbed water cups. One advantage of a small race is that you don't have to fight to get to the volunteers with the water and the gatorade. I took in water or Gatorade at every single water stop.

5) Speaking of GU, it's awful. Take it anyway.
In my race in Collinsville, IL, I didn't have enough fuel in my system and I bonked on the course at mile 12. I got a PR, but paid for it--recovery was not fast. This was not going to happen today, especially since I am running City of Roses next week. I choked down two Power Bar Energy gels pre-race (slightly less gooey than GU), and during the race, when the volunteers handed out GU, I tucked mine away and ate it during mile 12. Nasty, yes. But did I finish the race strong with no bonk. Yes.

6) This race was hilly. So glad I trained on hills.
This race had a portion called "Hill Country." It began at 8.68 miles and continued until around mile 10. I didn't attack the hills. I kept a steady pace and tried not to let my form deteriorate (small steps, minimal arm swing, and head/torso up). There was a sign that read "You are now leaving Hill Country. Congratulations!"), followed by another sign ("Actually, this is the last hill"). I read it out loud and laughed.

7) For me, doing halfs is about pacing, not racing.
I try to keep a consistent pace. When people pass me, I don't try to catch them. But I do try to keep them within sight, which generally keeps me on pace.

8) Compress me, my love.
I had on compression socks under compression tights. Maybe a little much, but my legs feel pretty good overall. I also avoided blisters with some cocoa butter on my toes.

9) Music or not?
No music. Oh I had earphones on, but didn't play my music. At the pre-race briefing, the race director reminded the runners that this was NOT a closed course. We were running on small one-lane roads, and many drivers had no idea there was a race going on. I actually yelled "CAR" at one point, which I've done during 5Ks but not during a half before. I took what the race director said to heart and didn't listen to music.

10) Halfs always seem to end coming uphill.
I no longer panic when at the end of a half the elevation rises again. Race directors have sadistic little hearts and they want you working hard at race's end. So when I felt a rise at the end of this race, I just kept on chugging.

11) I could never do a marathon and be happy.
People ask me if I'll do a marathon. A very friendly woman runner told me before I did this half that once I did a marathon I'd be hooked. I'm keeping it open as an option, but I love how I can finish a half in about two hours and change, and then go do something else (get lunch, see friends, go shopping!). My goal is to do 13 halfs before the end of 2013. After that goal is met, I will think marathon. But I know if I never do one, I'll be perfectly happy.