Saturday, November 26, 2011

2011 Year in Review: Races, Places and People

2011 was my first full year of doing races as a runner. I did several races in 2010, but in 2011, I really started to run races frequently: 19 races in total. Here's the good, bad, and ugly of my race year.

2011 Race Records:

5K Races (6)

Snowman Shuffle 1/18/11 25:24
SIU Run From the Law 3/27/11 24:36
Nutrition 5K 4/9/11 26:47
Grace Race 11 6/3/11 28:52
iRun Homecoming 10/15/11 26:56
Women Together 11/12/11 26:04

Two Mile Races

Grand Avenue
Pumpkin Run 10/30/11 16:17

10K Races

Southern IL 10K 4/2/11 57:33
For Kids' Sake 9/24/11 55:54
SIUC Army 10K 10/29/11 54:03

10 Mile Races

Great River Road
Run 11/26/11 1:34:35

Half Marathons

Fly with the Eagles 2/12/11 2:09:58
YMCA CMT 5/22/11 2:04:56
Madison WI Half 5/29/11 2:08:56
Paducah Iron Mom 6/18/11 2:12:11
Bearcat McKendree 9/10/11 2:10:45*
City of Roses 9/18/11 2:10:25
Evansville Half 10/9/11 2:06:36
STL Track Club 11/6/11 2:04:14

*race was 13.25 miles rather than standard 13.1 half length

Favorite Race(s): St. Louis Track Club, Evansville Half, Great River Road Run
Least Favorite: Reveal Turkey Trot (the 15K I didn't finish due to getting lost on course)
Hardest Races: Bearcat McKendree, City of Roses--aka halfs with hills
Race with Finish Time I Still Don't Believe I Accomplished: SIU Run from the Law (was the course short?)
Most Fun Race: Madison Half (Madison is a great town to run in and a great place to eat! Viva cheese!)

Many thanks must go to my lovely husband Jon, who is not a runner and has not asked for a divorce in the wake of all these races and the hours I spend on training runs. I do not drive, so Jon has sacrificed to get me to races, has taken my finish line photos, has listened to me as I try on new words like "gel" and "chip time."

Also want to give props to my friends on Daily Mile--total strangers who have decided to invest in the athletic lives of other total strangers. It is so nice to post an average day's run and have folks give me compliments about getting it done. Folks on DM are often much kinder to my running self than I am.

Speaking of a running self, it's taken a while to develop one. But I've gone from "Oh, I'm not a runner, I just do the treadmill for cardio," to "Well, I've done some 5Ks, but I'd never do a half marathon," to a woman who has done 8 half marathons. I've learned to stretch myself, to go beyond what I thought I was capable of and love that I can do that, to listen to my body (and not my mind, which can be much lazier), and to take the advice I hear and read and decide which of it works for me. I read Runner's World, Running Times, Women's Running and practically all the fitness magazines (Health, Prevention, Shape, Women's Health, Fitness). They all have great advice, but not all of it appeals to me or works for me. I've learned to take what I need and leave the rest behind.

In 2012, I hope to continue to run safely and without injury. I haven't had any significant injuries. My worst problem is a really messed up toenail on my right foot (what color is that?!?). I think I've been lucky regarding injuries, but I also am not fast. I always conjecture that my lack of speed makes me more durable!

Will I ever do a full marathon? I don't know. I feel like I've accomplished plenty without doing one. I have yet to do a training run over 13.1 miles. My current goal isn't really to do a marathon; it's to do a single run of 14 miles or longer. My other goal is to do 13 half marathons before I even think about 26.2. I'm very much satisfied doing half marathon races, and don't think of myself as half a runner under any circumstances.

Redemption Song: 52nd Annual Great River Road Run

Today I ran the 52nd Annual Great River Road Run (Alton, IL) ten mile race. My chip time was 1:34:35. Here are my observations from the day.

1) After my failed 15K last week (Reveal Turkey Trot, Herrin, IL), I wanted to redeem myself and end my first full year of doing races on a better note. Several of the runners at that race mentioned this one--a 10 mile race in Alton, IL (about two and half hours from where I live). They said there's no way I could get lost on the the fast, flat course: five miles out, five miles back with the Mississippi River for scenery. I signed up and looked forward to getting a re-do with a race that's about the same length (15K is 9.33 miles).

2) Runners warm up for a race in all sorts of different ways. Some do sprints and drills and all sorts of stretchy acrobatics; some drink coffee; and some line up for the portable toilets. Jon (husband and runner support) dropped me off early, so I had no problem with lines at the toilets. I warm up by dancing: yes, dancing. I figure I'm about to run 10 miles, so why do I need to run right now? So I put on my headphones and shook my booty right on the corner of State and Broadway. I had some super tunes too--Marvin Gaye, Rick James, Chaka Khan, and Jermaine Jackson's epic "Let's Get Serious," with Stevie Wonder bringing the funk on backup vocal. Runners often get way serious before a race--but I want to have fun before any difficulties start! I figure the race will be tough enough.

3) Once again, I forgot my Garmin or even any kind of watch. This is so odd, because I don't ever leave my house for even a short run without one of my many Garmins strapped to my wrist. To have forgot a device that I previously thought essential means it must not be essential at all. To keep the pace, I'd pick out runners to keep in my sights (not necessarily to pass them, but to keep them within eyesight). If I did pass my pace runner, I'd pick a new one. My pace runners are usually other women, and there were lots of women at this race. The announcer stated before we started that there were more women than men running the race.

4) This was my first 10 miler, so it was automatically a PR. I enjoyed running next to the Mississippi and the Piasa Bluffs. Alton is an old river town, so there was something very powerful about running next to the river that has influenced so much of this country's history. Since this race was an out-and-back, I had no chance of getting lost, and I got to see the really fast winners come back toward me as I was headed to the five-mile turnaround point. The male winner did it in under 50 minutes; the top woman was in at 1:03!

5) This is a race with its own set of unique rules. It's not a half-marathon (Alton now has a half-marathon which I hope to do in the future). But with this race, the age groups are huge--0-39, 40-59, 60-99. Medals are awarded to the top 50 in each age group. So it is not a race where everyone gets a medal. I certainly didn't expect to get one! Imagine my surprise when I came through the finish chute and one of the volunteers handed me a medal. I made top 50 in this super huge age grouping!

6) Speaking of volunteers, there were plenty of them. But if you are looking for a race with a lot of frills (bands on the course, free GU, lots of cheering spectators), this is not the race for you. But if you are fine without those things, this is a great race. I got the feeling that a lot of the people had done this race before (one woman I talked with said it was her fifth time). This race is not advertised in the running magazines--it relies on word of mouth. Word of mouth among runners is a powerful thing though, and I thank those wonderful folks in Herrin who told me about this race.

7) Final Stats:

486 out of 907 runners
age group place: number 48 in female masters (40-59) division
Gun Time: 1:35:13.8
Chip Time: 1:34:35.7
pace: 9:31
first five miles: 46:07.8
last five miles: 49.06.0

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Dreaded DNF: Reveal Turkey Trot

My last race of 2011, the Kevin Reveal Memorial Turkey Trot, turned out to be an utter disaster. I am now trying to calm myself in the wake of the three letters every runner hates and fears: DNF.

I finished 10K of this race in 57:09, but it was supposed to be a 15K for me. This race is actually a series of races: a 5K, a 10K, and a 15K. I was looking forward to this race immensely because I had never done 15K before. I have done 10Ks and plenty of halfs, but the 15K distance is not offered a lot where I live. So I signed up for it. It had the advantage of being close--the small town of Herrin, Illinois is not too far from Carbondale, where I live.

I should have known that today was not going to be my day when I realized I had forgotten my Garmin. I had no timing device so I really didn't have a clue as to my pacing. The race itself was three laps of the initial 5K route. Many runners did the 5K, some did the 10K, but only a handful did the 15K. I finished the 10K portion and was into the final 5K lap when I realized that the surroundings no longer looked familiar. There was no one ahead of me any longer. There were no mile marker signs for this race, so I don't know what mile I was on when this happened. The only course markings were spray-painted on the ground. I missed one set of markings and ended up lost. I knew I was lost when I looked around found myself in what's known colloquially as "the projects." Oh yeah, I thought, I'm a single black woman lost in a town that used to be a sundown town (towns where black folks were forced to leave the city limits by sundown). The projects in this town aren't black or mixed-race populated; they are white. People's dogs were chasing me at this point and I was scared. I decided to bag the race, called my husband nearly in tears, and somehow found my way back to the Herrin Civic Center, where the race was headquartered.

Back at the Civic Center, I got hugs from some runners who listened compassionately to my story, and shrugs from the race officials. Apparently I wasn't the only one who got lost--six other people got lost today. Now if it were only me, I'd chalk it up to my tremendously bad sense of direction. But since six other people got lost, I know it's not just me. If I do this race again, I'll opt to do the 10K. It simply isn't worth it getting lost or hurt for a race.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Women Together 5K Run/Walk, November 12, 2011

I have a confession to make. I hate 5Ks. Strange thing for a runner to say, but I'm not naturally gifted with speed. I'd rather run 13 miles in 2 hours and change than run 3.1 and feel like I'm not fast enough. 5Ks are fast races and I am never happy about my times. But that aside, I signed up for this local race for several reasons far more important than my own selfish need for speed.

First, this race benefits our local woman's shelter, the Women's Center of Carbondale (which serves many more counties than Jackson, the county Carbondale is in). The Women's Center has had to face a $275,000 budget cut at a time when more and more women and children are seeking its services. Knowing that we were raising money for such a great cause makes me feel that it does not matter how fast I finish.

Second, this is an all-women's race (men ran the course unofficially, sometimes spotting a female runner, but they did not go through the finish chute and were not eligible for age group or overall awards). This is important since many women are still intimidated by the prospect of running, and need to feel there's a race "of one's own," to borrow a phrase from Virginia Woolf. I am not a big fan of the "Princess Half Marathons" where everything is cutesy and stereotypically pink, but this race is a home-grown community event sponsored by my local running club, so it avoids all those touches.

I ran this one in 26:04, better than my last 5K (26:56), but not better than when I ran this last year. I did win my age group, which was nice (see age group prize in photo). This is my last 5K in the 40-44 age group--the next one I do will be in 2012, most likely after my 45th birthday. I'm not looking forward to the age group change--the really fast women runners around here are 45-over 50 and they smoke me. I was talking to one woman whose daughter is on our university track team. She was elated because she'd set a PR at today's race. When I asked what it was, she smiled and said "I finally got under 22!" Wow. She's only a few years older than me, the mother of two, and she's that fast. This, my friends, is called runner's envy. It's an incurable condition, because there will always be someone faster than you. But when the race is for a cause as good as this, what does it matter? It really doesn't.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Saint Louis Track Club Half Marathon: 11/6/11

Today I ran my final half marathon of 2011, the Saint Louis Track Club 32nd Annual Half Marathon, in a new personal best of 2:04:14. Here are my observations from today.

1) It's great to walk to a race.
Jon (husband and runner support) and I had a room at the Sheraton Clayton Plaza, which turned out to be within walking distance of the Center of Clayton, where the race was headquartered. It was great to get up, shower, put on my outfit and walk through Shaw Park to get to the race start. I was there very early because I was so close.

2) This race did not have great swag.
But it had one thing everyone loved: the snazzy blue long sleeved tech shirt that every participant got. It's a tacit rule among runners that you don't wear the shirt of the race you are running during that race. You can wear last year's shirt, but some runners think it's an amateur move to wear the current shirt on race day. This race was a big exception--lots of people had that shirt on because it was a great looking shirt, especially on women.

3) This race benefited a charity, but I wouldn't call it a charity race.
Proceeds from the race will go to the Special Olympics, but they weren't a sponsor. The Saint Louis Track Club just gives them race proceeds, which is very cool of them. If I lived closer to Saint Louis, I'd join. Heck, I'll probably join anyway, since they are the closest big city running club to me, and their members get discounts. They even had me marked down on my race bib as being from "Carbondale, MO," instead of Carbondale, IL!

4) This was not the Rock-n-Roll anything.
I'm cheap, so I am not looking for a race with bands on every corner and throngs of cheering supporters. Those Rock-n-Roll races have their place, and their place is not in my pocketbook. So while there were few people cheering the runners on at this race, the ones that did were hella enthusiastic. As were the volunteers--Saint Louis Track Club members, I surmised. There were no musical acts along the route, so I had my mp3 player on.

5) This race had the great scenery of Saint Louis.
Saint Louis is a city I know well, but not on foot. I really wanted to run this race because it would take me into Forest Park (the race was an out-and-back from Shaw Park/Center of Clayton/Clayton High School to Forest Park). We also ran past Washington University at Saint Louis, and coming back on the race route in front of Wash U was the only significant elevation. It was not at all a hilly route. But since it was an out-and-back, I knew we'd be coming back at an incline, and worked my way through that mile with patience.

6) My first sighting of a true elite runner.
The winner of this race was Kenyan runner Sammy Rotich, who now lives in Iowa. Why Sammy was doing this race and not the NYC Marathon (also held today) is beyond me. But it was more than awesome to see him headed back to Center of Clayton as I was on mile five or so. All I can guess is that he really likes halfs. Here's an article about Sammy:

7) Race and running:
Runner's World just ran an article about why more African-Americans (as opposed to African-born runners from countries such as Kenya and Ethiopia) aren't doing running events. I'm still digesting that article and coming up with what I think on the topic, but I didn't see a big black presence at this race. It may be that Clayton, as a tony STL suburb, feels alien to folks not from it. St. Louis can be quite segregated, and that may have kept people from coming to this neighborhood. This isn't an expensive race, so that should not have been a barrier.

8) Gender and running:
Lots of women, though, were participating in this race. Lots of women were also doing the half marathon walk. It was a little disconcerting to run past many strolling people in the midst of so many runners (the half marathon walk started a half-hour prior to the half-marathon run). But I loved seeing racewalkers (not those out for a casual stroll, but those who walk as fast as many people run)--they were cool.

9) My final stats:

chip time: 2:04:14 (new PR for a half)
chip pace: 9:29
finishing place overall: 629 out of 1174 runners
finishing place among female runners: 222 out of 596
finishing place among female masters (over 40 women runners): 79 of 225
age division place (F 40-44): 32nd of 72

No more halfs for me this year, but I'll have some shorter length races to finish out 2011. This was a great race and I hope to do it again next year--save me a room at the Sheraton!