2013 Run 4 the Pies
In the days before our Thanksgiving Run 4 the Pies, in which the first 900 finishers walk away with an apple pie, I had been watching the weather forecast attentively. Meteorologists predicted that in the days leading up to the race our weather would remain fairly consiststent, with highs in the upper 80s. But, the night before the race, we were expected to be hit with a sudden sharp cold front, which would make temperatures plummet into the 40s overnight. At gun time, temperatures were expected to be in the 50s.
I was excited to finally be running a race in my preferred cooler temps–I feel just about perfect running when the temperature is in the 50s–but I knew that it was far from ideal to be facing those lower temperatures for the first time on race day. Besides, with the slight wind coming at us from the north, it felt a little cooler. As I stepped out of my car on race day morning, therefore, I was interestingly dressed, wearing a skirt with high socks, a tank paired with running sleeves, a long-sleeve tech top, and a fleece over that. And I was shivering. I lost the fleece before starting a quick warm-up jog with the kids, then enjoyed watching the kids’ 100-yard dash. After the Boy’s age group–the last to run–was finished, I shucked off my pink long sleeve top, staying in my tank and running sleeves. I didn’t have a lot of time left before the race would start, but I knew I needed to find my racing pace before I got in the chute, so I went off for a quick run at race pace.
For the first time, I was happy to have lots of company at the race. Though Little G was away with family for the holiday, I had lots of my spiritual family around me–about ten of my church friends had trained for this race. Usually interested only in my own performance, on this day I was deeply invested in the running of all those who had come from so far, and invested so much, in this stretch of road. When they asked, I had told them honestly that I hoped to run the race at about eight-minute miles. That would net me a 32-minute finish, though, and I knew I wanted to come in a little under that.
We lined up as the clock edged closer to gun time, and I noticed that some of us were comfortable staying closer to the back of the pack. I started to move toward the front, and a few of our church family followed me. We stood huddled together a few rows back from the pack, shivering–we’d all shed most of our layers, knowing we’d warm up as we ran.
Mile 1. We start unceremoniously–no gun, no bullhorn. Everyone just starts moving, and we’re off. I lose sight of my church friends immediately as we work through the crowd. The first part of the course goes through the neighborhood, and as we turn I’m trying consciously watching my pace. Sub-8 pace doesn’t feel quite as easy as I had hoped it would in the cooler weather. I’m watching the people around me, trying to focus on those who are running and breathing without struggle. I find myself working up a slight incline expecting my church family to pass me at any minute. I consider my arrogance in assuming an eight-minute pace would be easy for the four-mile distance. 7:55.
Mile 2. My breathing gets easier as I settle into a rhythm. Ahead of me I spot a runner with a large turkey hat, and marvel at the ease with which he’s running about seven-minute pace. I focus on keeping an easy, steady pace, reminding myself not to pick up the pace just because this rhythm has become easy. I find people beginning to pass me, and remind myself there’s a long way to go yet. I know this course well enough to remind myself not to open up at all until I see the straightaway that leads to the second-mile marker. Once I turn onto that street, I realize I have a chance, not just to take my sleeves off (it’s getting warmer), but even, maybe, to leave them with my watching family. I begin to peel them off, which requires also taking off Garmie–a delicate operation. I’ve already lost my headband somewhere in this mile, which I didn’t bother to pick up, but if I drop my $300 GPS, I’m definitely not leaving it behind. 7:58.
Mile 3. As the mile begins I’m still dealing with a little guilt over having narrowly missed a spectator as I tossed my sleeves at the Boss. I try to put the incident out of my mind and prepare myself mentally for the single worst mile in this race, which will take us along the train tracks and abandon us runners to our own solitary company, at a place in the race when we are no good for each other, too exhausted to do much but breathe hard and run on, trying not to fall too much off pace. Though it’s not extraordinarily windy, I know if I’m going to feel the wind at all in this race, it’s going to be on this stretch, and, sure enough, as we open up onto the northbound stretch along the tracks, there it is, in my face. I look down and see my pace has slowed by about twenty seconds. I press a little and determine not to pace off those around me, who I know are also slowing down. Instead, I tell myself, I must insist on moving slowly through the crowd, remembering to save enough in the bank for that last long mile. 8:05.
Mile 4. We pass the mile marker and I tell myself I can let out a little more, but find I don’t have a lot of energy left. My finisher’s kick is all but gone. I look at Garmie, seeing my pace is 7:45 or so but feels harder, and refocus on passing people instead of the clock. I know everybody is slowing down as the effort weighs on us. I mentally berate myself for not bringing my inhaler to a cold-weather race. As I try to pick up the pace in the cold air, I hear myself begin to wheeze, and find myself unable to fully push air into my lungs. Still a half-mile from the line, I know I can’t red-line that long. I hold back, but I’m frustrated. My legs want to go, and my lungs are closed. I work around the crowd, around the last turn, and into the chute, grabbing my pie ticket as I slide under the clock. 7:21.
In the park, around the finish, I discovered that about five of our church runners earned pies, a solid result for many for whom this was a first or second race. Some are enjoying the sport and are planning to line up to run again, some even desiring to train for a longer distance. And we’re hoping many more will join us next time, either for this race next year or for another race in the near future.
As for me, though this wasn’t a personal best at this race, I managed to complete the distance at sub-8 pace, and though my asthma raised its ugly head in the cold air, I was satisfied with my time. When the Boss asked about my time as we found each other, I had to tell him honestly, “I didn’t even look at the clock as I went under it.” I know a race in which I didn’t look up at the clock is a race in which I really ran well, and am not measuring myself solely by the clock. I was happy to get to run this one again, and happier yet to get to do it surrounded with people I love.
I still remember my first race. I remember driving there, in the dark, and discovering packet
pick-up was not, in fact, where I had been told. I remember having to drive, with some other runners, to the actual race site, where I was handed a piece of paper and some safety pins, and actually having to ask someone what I was expected to do with it. I remember being very bothered by the other runners around me (it was actually an incredibly small race–under 500 runners, total). I remember starting just behind the lead pack, and having to walk before the first mile marker. I remember walking with a boy who was having a tough time. I remember hitting the turnaround before thirteen minutes were on the clock. I remember having a great time on the homeward half. And I remember how thankful I was for every single person who encouraged me along the way.
With these memories in mind, here are a few words of advice and encouragement for you, if you’re on your way to running in your first (or nearly first) race.
1. Don’t be afraid to look like a rookie. Runners love their sport, and we’re almost giddily happy when we find out someone has just discovered it. Tell someone around you this is your first time running in a race, and you’re sure to hear words of encouragement and/or advice. It’s what happened to me when I asked what to do with my bib (that’s the official name for the piece of paper with your number on it, by the way*). Ask about anything–where the water stations are, where the turnaround or portapotties are, etc.
2. Warm-ups and stretching are a very personal thing. If you’re new to running, you should minimize doing anything you haven’t done before. Just because you see someone zipping around, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good idea for you–it might be a terrible idea. Stretching is great for those who are used to it pre-run, but if you’re not, it could lead to injury. Do whatever you’re used to. I usually run an easy mile or two before a 5K, but if your long run is just up to 3 miles, you’re probably better off just walking to warm up a little. Talk to a runner who knows your running history to get individual advice. Don’t get swept up by the crowd.
3. Don’t be afraid to walk, and don’t consider it failure if you do. Part of your learning curve as a runner is developing a sense of pace. In your early races, you may start too fast, which will almost guarantee you’ll be too tired to keep your pace in the middle miles. That’s okay. Plenty of us have found ourselves exhausted and needing a break, so you’ll probably have company. Try to time your walk if you can–you’ll get a mental and emotional boost from being able to run the last stretch, so it’s best to walk in the middle portion and conserve your energy for the last section of the race. Besides, there’s usually spectators (maybe even family?) at the end, and their energy will give you an extra push. And let’s face it, no one wants to walk in front of the hometown crowd. To minimize your chances of having to walk, however . . .
4. Start slower than you think you should. The people at the front of the pack will be running extremely fast. These people are in it to win it. Don’t follow them! The group right behind them are those we call age-groupers: they know they can’t win this thing, but they have a decent shot at finishing very well in their age group. At least in your first few races, you should probably let them go, too. If this is your first race at a particular distance, you should be in this to finish it, period, with no time goal in mind. (Even if you’ve run the distance before in training, race day is a whole different animal.) Once you’ve finished one race at that distance and are able to predict a time for yourself, be smart: don’t take off any faster than your desired pace. If you feel good after the first half, pick it up for the second. Feel great with one-quarter of the distance to go? Let loose! It’s always best to be picking people off at the end than to be gutting out a death march as you will the finish line toward you.
5. Pay attention to the conditions and adjust accordingly. If it’s rainy, the course may be slippery and /or muddy, so you’ll have to watch your footing carefully. If it’s very hot and/or humid, make sure you are drinking more water and slow down, especially at the beginning of the race. Remember to also adjust your wardrobe. You may want to wear a hat or visor in rain so you can see clearly; sunny conditions may call for a visor (I find a hat can trap heat). In longer distances (10K and up), don’t get arrogant: drink even in cold weather.
6. I wouldn’t take any sports drink on the course unless I’d tried it in training. In a short race, you probably wouldn’t get sick until you’d finished running, but why chance it? Check what the race is serving before you start running, because once you’re out there it’s not always easy to hear volunteers clearly. For short distances, you’ll get away with just drinking water. Your best bet to make sure you get the water you’re looking for instead of spilling water (it’s harder than you think to catch a cup while you’re running) is to identify the volunteer you’re going to take a cup from and point to him or her as you approach. I know–that sounds terrible. Trust me, having volunteered before, I know: your volunteers appreciate knowing you’re coming for them. Now grab the cup, and, if you’re going to walk to drink, look behind you, and move to the side before slowing down. Don’t be in a rush to catch up to your old pack when you resume running. Just gradually return to your running pace. Taking in water is worth any lost time. Do not take in water while running unless you’ve practiced in training. It’s harder than it looks!
7. Don’t do anything new on race day. Don’t try new shoes. Don’t try new socks. Don’t wear the new tank. Don’t try the new sports drink. Don’t do the stretch that incredibly fit guy is doing. Can I say it more clearly? This is the cardinal rule. Unless you’re using the race just as a fun run, and don’t really care about your time, you may as well burn this into your brain: nothing new on race day.
I’ll have more tips for your next race, but these will get you to the start line of your first or second short race confidently. Knowing you’ve put in the training, it only remains for you to run from the gun to the tape and give it your all!
*Like so many other things in running, pinning on the bib is a matter of personal preference. Races require that you pin it on your front, for identification purposes. This helps them locate and remove bandits, that is, runners who are running on their course without paying the race’s registration fee. In larger races, it also helps on-course photographers identify you so they can later sell you your pictures for exorbitant amounts of money. I happen to sweat like a beast, and I use my shirt to mop up, so I discovered after a few years of distance running having a piece of Tyvek on my shirt isn’t particularly convenient. Since I’m often running in skirts, I simply pin the bib on my skirt now. You just have to find what works best for you. Whatever you do, fill out the information on the back, which helps emergency workers find and contact your next of kin if, God forbid, something should happen to you on the course. Just be thankful you’re not running in 2007, when you had both a bib and a horrible ankle bracelet that served as your timing device. These days, your timing chip is somewhere on your paper bib. Not only is that one less thing for you to worry about, it doesn’t have to be returned. Sometimes, technology is your friend.
Contrary to what people seem to think, I still call myself a novice runner. I’ve only been at this for six years, and I am still in the “constantly making mistakes” category. I have friends–my father is one–who have been running for decades, and know more about this sport than I ever will. I am not an authority on running. However, for some people, I am the go-to person for questions about running, or the most gung-ho proponent of the sport that they know, and therefore, the most logical person to ask their questions. I don’t mind that. I find that certain questions get asked frequently. Below, some of the answers.
What kind of shoes should I wear? This is a very individual thing, as you can imagine. If you have high arches, you’ll probably be fitted with what’s termed cushioned shoes when you go to the specialty running store–you’re going in the morning, right? RIGHT? You see, God designed our feet so that our arches take the impact from our stride. A high arch does that very well, but if yours is very high it needs extra cushioning. If yours is flat, like mine, you’ll likely be fitted for a motion-control shoe, which will do the opposite: it will support your non-existant arch to prevent your foot from rolling inward, which is what it wants to do. A flat-footed runner who is small or lightweight (or both, like me) will be fitted into a stability shoe, which will do the same thing but to a lesser degree. Have normal, well-designed arches? You lucky duck! You’ll be fitted into neutral shoes, which will simply get out of the way of your beautiful, perfect feet. You may even get away with wearing minimalist or barefoot shoes. Every manufacturer of running shoes designs shoes for every kind of arch, and every smart retailer will bring you one shoe of several brands to try on. I’m a big fan of Brooks, but I’ve also worn Nike and Mizuno. Personally, I simply cannot run in Asics, but they’re a decent shoe. My father never runs in anything but New Balance. I hear Sauconys are particularly good if you have a narrow foot, which explains why I’ve never been fitted in that brand–I have feet like a duck. (No, literally.)
What should I eat before I run? How about after? Again, this is incredibly personal, but my bet is you probably don’t need to worry about it very much unless you’re going out for over an hour. I’d be willing to bet you’re gonna be okay just heading out the door–that is, if you’re going out first thing in the morning. Going out later in the day brings on all kinds of complications–in that case, your engine’s already been running, and you may need to help it along. If so, the key is to both time it well and to feed it something that doesn’t take a lot of energy to digest. Remember, when you’re running, your body’s sending its blood to your legs, so there’s not a lot of extra blood and energy to send to your digestive system. That’s a problem if you’re asking it to digest complicated foods. I know that’s disgusting, but that’s simple anatomy. Plan ahead. Eat at least thirty minutes before you set out, and then eat something that’ll be easy on your stomach. For crying out loud stay away from the dairy. My go-to meal before long runs is peanut-butter toast. My training partner, like many runners, is a big fan of bananas. Because we generally run only in the mornings, we usually only eat before long runs of ten miles or more. It’s often far more important what you eat when you get back, especially if you did speedwork. In that case, experts say you should get some healthy protein in you pretty quick. And drink some water! If you’re a heavy sweater, it wouldn’t kill you to replace some of the minerals you’ve lost, especially in the summer. Many people use Gatorade, but I’m not a fan of its cloying taste. I’ll either drink it watered down or melt a tablet of Nuun in a glass of water for my post-run mineral replacement drink.
When should I run? For most of us, the easy answer is, run whenever you can. If your life is such that you have more than one choice, then my suggestion is that you vary your routine in order to keep your running fresh. Run on Monday mornings and Tuesday evenings, then take Wednesdays off. Run Thursday afternoons with a friend and Saturday mornings with a group, then bike on Sundays with your family. The time of day does not necessarily offer any advantage–unless you’re training for an event with a wacky schedule. If you’re training for a race at midnight, you should probably try to sneak in some midnight running.
Do you listen to music? No, not usually, though I have in the past. Little G and I are doing most of our training together now, so that’s part of it. We’re doing our speed sessions separately, but during those sessions I can’t afford the distraction of music. There have been races in the past when I’ve carried my music with me, prepared for rough patches. For this year’s Tallahassee Marathon I carefully prepared a “26.2 playlist,” carefully arranged by beats per minute. I carried it with me during the race and “plugged it in” at mile 16, though I’m not sure whether it helped or just ticked me off. In training, when I do run “plugged in,” I am far more likely to be listening to the spoken word, either a podcast or an iTunes U class. I then run with only one earbud in so I can still hear ambient sounds, and only when I’m running in daylight, mom. This is closely tied in to . . .
Do you run on the sidewalk or the road? Listen carefully–this is just me. You need to evaluate your situation and what is safest in the environs where you run. Personally, I run on the road. I am typically running at 4:30 in the morning, so few cars are out, and I’m running lit up like a Christmas tree, but yes, I run on the road. If you choose to do the same, please run facing traffic–as an older, more experienced runner once said, “it’s good to see what’s gonna hit you before it does.” If your roads are very narrow, cracked, busy, unlit, or in any other way even remotely unsafe, and sidewalks are available to you, you should use those, in which case, probably, you should run with traffic. So, why do I run on the road? Like I said, I’m typically running very early in the morning, and traffic is not an issue. I usually see, maybe, one other runner out during my entire one hour’s run, and a handful of cars. I purposely run on streets with streetlights, and wear two blinking lights. Though some seem to think that thugs or ruffians would be my biggest threat, the reality is that inattentive drivers are. Thankfully, the streets I run on are wide and have bike lanes, and by staying in them I can avoid Texting Timmy. I also avoid the cracks and giant spiders that fill our sidewalks, for which I am most grateful.
My friend/brother/neighbor/sister-in-law’s grandpa’s aunt’s cousin twice-removed said running is bad for your knees. Many people who run wear a brace on one knee (I wear kinesio tape.). Why is that? Could be that hitting the ground at 2 1/2 times your body weight for hours at a time is a terrible idea. On the other hand, I’ve also been–let’s just come out and say it–FAT, and that’s no walk in the park either. Guess what? Having high blood pressure and pre-diabetes is also bad for your health. No, running doesn’t have to be bad for your knees. It’s why I’m a huge advocate of proper shoe fitting, of cross training, of scheduled rest days, and, especially, of a slow increase in distance. I think if beginning runners do all these things well, there’s no reason for anyone to have knee pain. Would I trade my occasional knee pain for the extra weight, the high blood pressure, the higher heartrate, and the poor body image? Not on your life. The next time someone tells you running is bad for your knees, tell them it’s good for your heart, your lungs, your endurance, your self-esteem, your weight, your skin, and your patience. Which is good, because your patience is being tested. Right. Now.
How far do you run? Our training is always driven by the end goal. Our easy midweek runs are often between four and six miles; speedwork is often six to seven miles total, once all the intervals are added up. The distance of the long runs progresses, of course, as the season progresses, but, since we started working with Coach Will, it also has a speed goal, which wasn’t true when we were working on our own (and shouldn’t be a goal for beginning runners). If you really are curious, and have nothing better to do, you’re always welcome to peruse my training logs, though I’m not sure how useful it would be to you.
Because I have several friends who are just embarking on a running adventure, and they asked me to give them my best running advice, I’m putting together a list of all the things I wish someone had told me when I first started. Here is my best advice in relationship to training; I’ll write my best race-specific advice in a future post.
Take it easy. This is the single, most important piece of advice I can give new runners. Don’t be too eager to accomplish grandiose goals. You just cannot rush your transformation into a distance runner. Plan for this to take a long time. Your body has to adapt to the rigors of running, and that’s easier said than done. When you run, your body hits the ground with about 2 1/2 times your body weight. That’s a lot of impact on your joints, your knees in particular, but that’s just the joint issues. Think about the cardiovascular effort you’re making, the way your body has to adjust for your burning through more calories every week, et cetera, et cetera. Make adjustments gradually, so your body doesn’t go into shock. Perhaps more importantly, you’re more likely to stick with it if you do it this way. Your body won’t rebel against all the changes going on at once, but will slowly acclimate to the changes and make the necessary adjustments, strengthening muscles, bones, and ligaments. Your heart and lung capacity will increase. But these changes will happen slowly–let them take their time and you’ll be rewarded by a changed body and increased endurance for the sport. (When I give people this advice I am often asked how long it took me to reach certain milestones, so I’ll give them to you here. I walked for about a year before I ever took a running step. I then took about six months to transition from walking four to five miles to running that same distance before running my first 5k in December of 2007. Up to that point, I was doing beautifully. Then I lost my head. I ran a 10k two weeks later, a half marathon two months later, and my first marathon almost a year after that first half, in March of 2009. I advise against that fast progression in distance. If I had it to do over, I would have waited another six or eight months to run my first 13.1, and another full year to run 26.2. But hey, you don’t know what you don’t know.)
Get properly fitted for running shoes. And by “running shoes” I mean shoes that were designed for running. Laces do not running shoes make. Once you’ve committed to running so much as a single mile for exercise, your cute little cross-trainers will not cut it, and are likely to lead to injury. Love your body enough to go to the nearest running specialty store for a professional fitting. (Please don’t expect the big-box sporting goods store to do this for you. Their specialty is low prices, not good service.) They will ask you to run on the treadmill to observe whether you pronate when you run, and may ask you to stand on a machine designed to tell them whether your arch is flat or high, and whether it has pressure points. Then they’ll likely ask questions about your running experience and goals. They’ll bring you a few shoes to try on, and you can pick out the one that feels best. You can probably even run in it around the store or on their treadmill. Expect to pay anywhere between $100 to $140 for your first pair; consider it an investment in your heart and knees.
Take it easy, again. Most days, your run should leave you energized, not exhausted. You should run at a pace that feels comfortable, for a distance that leaves you feeling like you could go a little longer. Not able to run for any length of time yet? That’s okay–start by walking and run to the nearest light pole, then walk again. When your heartrate returns to normal, run for a stretch again. Whatever you do, don’t sprint the running portions, even though they’re short–run at a relaxed pace. Don’t worry if your pace doesn’t feel much faster than walking or it seems like your feet are barely leaving the ground. The goal is to continue to extend your time on your feet, and you’ll be shocked at how quickly your heart and legs will become accustomed to it if you are consistent. (I started walking as part of my Weight Watchers regimen in the early part of 2006, doing about three miles four times a week. In about a year I was up to walking five miles, and started running short portions. I ran my first mile in the summer of 2007, and continued increasing my running portions slowly so that by that fall, I was consistently running four or five miles every time I set out. If you’re unsure of the best way to increase your distance, look for the “couch to 5k” schedule, which will get you from doing nothing to completing a 3.1-mile race. Already completed a 5k? Look for the “one-hour runner” schedule, which will get most people to the finish line of a 10k.)
Track your runs. Believe it or not, after a while, all your miles will start melting into each other. Find a way to track how far you went on each run, which route you took, which shoes you wore, and how you felt. Write down what you ate and how you felt during and after you ran. Did you take water? What was the weather like? Though things like this seem like overkill, writing them down helps you establish patterns. Soon you’ll notice that you run better in the evenings than the mornings, so you’ll know to schedule your race for an evening 5k rather than a morning one. You’ll realize the day you felt queasy on your long run was the day you had toast without peanut butter on it, or forgot to stop for water halfway through. You’ll walk with wings on your feet the whole day when you realize your average training pace has dropped by thirty seconds in the last four months, even though you haven’t been trying to go faster. Or cut yourself a break when you realize your last few runs have been slower because the temperature has been ten degrees warmer. I use the free logs at runningahead.com, but you can use a paper log if you’re more comfortable with it–my running partner has used both a standard calendar and a running-specific log.
Talk about it. When I started running, I shared my new passion with few people. I drove myself to the start of that first race by myself, finished (having placed in my age group!), and drove myself home–alone. Aside from the fact that I’m a card-carrying introvert, I was also going through a personal transformation I wasn’t sure would stick–I was still holding on to some of my “fat clothes” in case I decided running wasn’t for me and decided to quit after a year or so and put some of the weight back on. If you decide running isn’t for you after the first couple of races, that’s okay!–but I doubt it. I find most people, once they’ve tried it, will always stick with it. Maybe they become less passionate–they decide they never want to train for another half marathon, or racing isn’t for them–but they generally remain runners. If you’re starting out, I encourage you to tell others that you’re running. Tweet about your run. Instagram your fabulous new shoes. Ask the runners you know all the random questions that you can think of. It will both motivate you and give them an outlet for all the running conversations they’re dying to have.
Try it. You know those runners you’re asking all those questions? They’ll all give you different answers. One eats before every morning run; the other sets out on an empty stomach. One drinks coffee, black; the other risks tummy issues if she so much as smells it. Running is an experiment of one. Go ahead and ask the questions. It’s vital to initiate the conversation and get the wisdom from as many runners as you possibly can. But, in the end? It doesn’t matter what works for every other runner–it only matters what works for you, and you’re only going to find that out through experimentation. So get out there and try stuff out. Go run!
2013 Fort Lauderdale 13.1
Little G and I had been training for this race for months. Last year, when we first started working with Coach You Can and You Will (I’ll just call her Coach Will from now on), she erased our racing calendar for the entire 2012 fall season. She wanted us to do well at the marathon, she said, and that meant running–and especially racing–a whole lot less. Though Little G and I love to race, we agreed that we could give Coach Will’s one honest year of testing. We resigned all our racing for that year and turned our attention to the marathon.
However, after our success at the Tallahassee Marathon, both we and Coach Will felt we could endure the training for both a half marathon in the fall and a marathon in the spring. We were warned that the training would be more intense, both because we’d be racing twice and because the half marathon logically would require much more intense speedwork to prepare us for the rigors of running thirteen miles at nearly eight-minute pace. Though appropriately sobered by the amount of work that would be required of us over the coming months, both Little G and I were prepared to put in the training. We circled the 2013 Fort Lauderdale 13.1 and the 2014 Tallahassee Marathon as our goal races for this season.
I mention all that to point out that my goal, ever since we started training in the late summer, was to run a seriously fast half. Though my stated goal was to simply score a new personal best by going sub-1:48, Coach Will thought I had the potential to run 1:45, and all her workouts have been geared to preparing my legs to run the pace necessary to accomplish that. It’s been a long, hard-hitting four months. Though I was never super-confident in my ability to run the requisite 8:01 pace to get that 1:45, I sure didn’t want to miss it because I hadn’t done the work, so I stuck to Coach Will’s schedule and put in her grueling speed sessions, knowing they would be the key to my race-day speed. I was nervous because we didn’t do as much distance work as Little G and I are used to doing when we train for half marathons on our own. In the past, she and I have run at least two eighteen-milers in preparation for a half marathon, but Coach W asked us to do just one sixteen-miler, and I missed that one due to overseas travel. In the end, I had just one fourteen-miler under my belt by the time I stepped up to the line, but I reminded myself that in training for the marathon, I’d also missed a long run (the last of three scheduled 20-milers), and I’d still managed to run faster than my goal.
But as the days got closer to the race, I knew it wasn’t undertraining in speed or distance that would do me in, but heat and humidity. Fall just wasn’t going to make it to South Florida in time. Each time I’ve scored a PR at the half (1:50, then 1:49, then 1:48), it’s been while racing in the 50s under clear skies. I was not going to get that this year–not by a long shot.
And so I made a decision, in the days before the race, not to race this one very hard. I just didn’t want to leave my heart on the course just to watch the clock come in at 1:54 or so. It wasn’t worth it to me. Maybe that makes me a little less of a runner, but I’m okay with that. If I’d been gunning for a place in my age group, I might have fought harder, knowing every other woman aged 35 to 39 was fighting the wind and heat too, but I knew, even under the best conditions, I didn’t have any chance of cracking the top ten in that group. My only opponent was the clock, and the clock isn’t slowed by heat or wind–just me.
Things began to go south almost from the time we arrived at the race site. I’d been sipping coffee from the time Little G picked me up at 4am, and my only thought as we parked was FIND. A. BATHROOM. It was about an hour till gun time, so I didn’t have to wait for one of the many port-a-potties. Feeling much relieved (ha ha), Little G and I then dropped off our gear bags, walked around a bit, and about thirty minutes later I had to go again. The lines for the bank of port-a-potties were now infernal. I knew if we tried them we’d be doing one of those run-from-the-potty-straight-through-the-start things, and I didn’t want to do that. Besides, did I mention? I had already decided I wasn’t going to race this one. I told Little G I’d hit the first bank of potties on the course. So what if it cost me thirty seconds? Time, shtime. We walked around a bit, got in the chute, and got ready.
Miles 1-3: I lose Little G right away with my typical jackrabbit start. Thankfully, this part of the course is a little loopy, for which I am thankful: the turns force me to pay attention and, maybe, slow down. In spite of my decision not to race, I note my pace is faster than I’d planned in my head, but I’m determined to run relaxed. I stay with the crowd, enjoying the sound of their footfalls and the many musical acts along this part of the course. We hit my favorite part of this race, the tunnel, and I soar on the downhill with every runner’s step echoing on the tiles around me. Little G is just off my shoulder as we work around the other runners, and I’m halfway up the back side of the tunnel before I even realize I’m running uphill. Having finished the hard work of the hill, Little G and I start chatting times and mileage, and resolve to run this one in three parts: the city miles, the first section northward, and the last push for home. We feel re-energized by this new resolve and by spotting the port-o-lets, and we stop. I’m in there for what seems like forever, and when I get out, she’s long gone. 8:48, 8:41, 10:09 (I told you I had to go!).
Miles 4-6: I’m running with an entirely new pack of runners, but I tell myself not to sprint to catch my old pack or my training partner. Around me is a woman who is already moaning with every stride, and I use her pain as motivation. We are only in mile 4; it’s way too early for a hard push. Better to keep the pace just under nine-minute miles to find my old pack, then settle into 9 or 9:10 pace. I am reminding myself we’re still in the city; when we hit the waterfront, I’ll have to rethink my pace as I lose the wind protection of the buildings around me. It’ll be a new race, then. I see the two-hour pace group ahead of me, like a giant amoeba. Because two hours is a bit of a holy grail for many half marathon runners, it is a BIG group. I tell myself to catch up to them slowly, then run their pace for as long as possible–after all, they must be running about 9 or 9:10. Besides, I can see the Las Olas bridge up ahead, and can feel the wind picking up. Having run up plenty of windy bridges in my lifetime, I know I’ll do better if I stay tucked into the group for the uphill portion. I can’t see Little G, so she’s somewhere ahead of the group. I resolve to drift slowly toward the group and run with them. Instead, I find that the closer I get to them, the faster my pace gets; I muse to myself that they’re like a giant black hole, sucking me in. Sure enough, as soon as I get into the group, I can’t wait to get out. There’s elbows and feet everywhere, and I can’t find a comfortable place to run. I immediately abandon my earlier decision, and pick up my pace to move through the group as quickly as possible, now realizing I’d rather face the windy bridge than a multi-legged, elbows-akimbo amoeba running up the hill. I succeed in leaving the group behind and am thankful, since I’m still picking up people who are struggling up the incline of the bridge. I inwardly thank Coach Will for countless bridge reps, but resolve not to mention it, lest she make me do more of them next training season. As we leave the bridge we come to my favorite part of this course: we’re shot off the bridge toward waterfront Atlantic Boulevard. There’s a ton of people on the road here, cheering us on with signs, cowbells, and happy (if sleepy) smiles. But after a couple blocks we turn onto Atlantic and I feel it–that wind. It’s like a giant hand pushing against my chest. I look down at Garmie and my pace has dropped by about thirty seconds, just like that. (I’d find out later winds were gusting out of the ENE at 25mph as we were running.) But at least running on the straightaway means I can see Little G again. I make a conscious decision to back off my effort because of the wind. I know the pace showing up on Garmie’s screen is never going to match my effort level in this gale, and I don’t see any reason to get overexhausted, so I relax. Immediately I feel better; my effort and pace seem to be more in line. The two hour pace group comes up from behind me, much smaller now, but still long-legged and with elbows flailing. I see Little G ahead of them, and wonder if she’ll run with the group. But, to my surprise, at the next aid station, the group runs on without a pause, and Little G and I both stop for water. Leaving that aid station, we’re happy to be together again, and able to chat. We know we’re going to be turning back into the city again soon, and hoping to get some shelter from the wind. 8:52, 9:08, 9:16.
Miles 7-9: So much for shelter from the wind . . . as we turn west into the city, we find that the buildings are creating a wind tunnel instead. We’re thankful for the cloud cover, because on top of the wind, we also know it’s brutally, miserably hot, and humid. We’re pouring as much of the water over our heads as we’re taking into our bodies, and though we’re not taking as much sodium replacement as we would be on a sunny day, we’re watching ourselves. I took my first gel at mile 6. I’m not tired yet, but I’m also very consciously not making a move yet, either. It feels like there’s a long way to go in this one, and in the back of my mind, I know I still have to go back to Atlantic and that wind. Before I commit to any kind of closing speed, I want to see how bad that wind is on the homeward miles. It’s also beginning to dawn on me that I could go again. This is unusual for me in a half marathon, and I’m glad I’m not racing. On a hot day, having the urge to go can make you forego hydration and put you at risk. I resolve to drink every time Little G does, and make another stop if I have to. I’d prefer to finish a little slower but IV-free, thank you very much. 9:16, 9:13, 9:13.
Miles 10-12: We’ve made the turn around and are seeing the rest of the pack now. I see the second bank of porta-potties after the tenth mile marker and tell Little G I’m ducking in. To my surprise, not only does she stop too, she actually waits for me. As we start running again, we share a gel–the second for each of us–and turn our minds to the challenge of finishing this out. We’re running better than we thought. In spite of our return to the waterfront, the wind doesn’t feel nearly as brutal now, maybe because the wind is bearing from the north and we’re now headed south–and probably also because our legs know we’re on the way home. We pass the mile-11 marker and its clock. Little G says to me, “You can still get in under two hours. Go.” It doesn’t take much for my closer’s legs to take over, and I don’t stop to do the math. I tell Little G I’ll see her at the finish–yes, the same woman who just faithfully waited for me outside a stinky portolet–and take off. My legs instantly find a sub-9 pace of their own accord, and I do all the smart-racing things I haven’t been doing this entire race. I know it’s the end of the race, so I make a concerted effort to move through the field rather than staying with anyone. I’m pushing, but I know two miles at the end of a half are still a long way to go. And I know the end of this course like the back of my hand, and that last mile feels leagues long. 10:16, 9:07, 8:43.
Mile 13-finish. Sure enough, this last mile is a killer. Around me, people are slowing down and walking, and I commiserate, remembering how I looked and sounded at the end of Tally. But I don’t speak to them, refusing to expend the energy. (Does that make me a horrible person?) I concentrate on moving forward. My shoulders hurt; I remember, finally, stupidly, that I had the same problem during the Gasparilla Marathon in ’09, which I also ran in a gale; running against wind, even when you don’t think about it, makes you use your arms more and uses astoundingly more upper-body muscles. I shake my arms out as I run and try to focus on my form. “Head, heart, lungs,” I tell myself. According to the last two mile markers I am painfully close to the two-hour mark. I will either just make it, or just miss it. I enter the s-curve where this race sets up the finish, and I can see the clock. It is ticking up, painfully, rolling over two hours as I enter the park. I break into a dead sprint, and I know what other runners and spectators are thinking, because I’ve thought it before. “Honey, if you have a 7:15 push at the end of 13 miles, there’s no way you ran this hard enough.” Hey, they’re right. I just changed my mind at the last minute and decided to race the last two miles. What can I say? 8:24, 1:27-ish for the last .2.
I was right, after all–I just missed it. Checking the results later, we’d find out that I officially finished four seconds over two hours. It’s time on the bridge going around people, time in the bathroom, half a second too slow in half the miles in the race. It’s okay. I said I wasn’t going to race this one, and I didn’t–much.
Having finished the race, Little G and I stopped for breakfast at Panera, shopped a little at Ikea, and came home, a little heart- and quad-sore, but knowing the day just hadn’t gone our way. There’ll be other races, other days to prove our speed and mettle, days when everything lines up and we can let our legs go. For this race, this was enough, and my heart is happy.
Because of a souring weather forecast, I made a decision well before the start of the Fort Lauderdale 13.1 that I would not be racing–therefore, my pace was fairly relaxed from the early miles of the race, and my mind, which would have been engaged in strategy and pacing if I’d been racing, instead was free to wander, sightsee, and meander. All of which it did, for at least the first nine miles. The result? A long list of pet peeves, free running advice, and interesting insights, all of which I will now share with you, free of cost. I know. Life is good.
1. Line up in the chute based on how you expect to run, or, in fancy terms, “self-seed.” In biggish races, organizers will often have flags or signs with expected finishing times, making your job easy. In races without these, watch the other runners: if people around you are wearing shorty-shorts (“bun-huggers”) and have sub-5% body fat, it’s a pretty good bet they’re going to be taking this seriously. Listen to their chatter: runners in the chute tend to talk times. Or come right out and ask. Trust me: nothing will throw your race off more than starting too fast. When in doubt, line up further back than you think, especially in longer races. You’ll always feel better being the passer than the passee.
2. About the running bottoms that look like underwear with the words “eyes on the prize” written prominently across YOUR bottom, I have only one word: NO.
3. On-course music is fun, but it can throw off your pace. Don’t let the high school brass band push you to your mile-10 pace in mile 3. Stay on target. Their job is to energize the crowd. Your job is to run your race.
4. If you’re struggling and audibly moaning with every stride one-third of the distance in (that’s mile 1 in a 5k, mile 2 in a 10k, mile 4 in a half, or mile 9 in a marathon), it’s time to regroup. Walk. Get your breathing and pace back under control. To stubbornly hold to the same murderous pace, with so much of the race ahead of you, puts you in the crosshairs of disaster. The race is long, and the smart ones run to finish.
5. A word about passing. It’s an unavoidable part of racing, as it’s an unavoidable part of highway driving. Give other runners the courtesy of not stepping into their lane. If you’re coming up on someone in front of you, a simple “on your left,” is always kind. Unless you’re coming up on their right side.
6. And about water stops. If a runner misses the volunteer she was hoping to get water from, she will be eternally grateful if you grab a cup you didn’t need (since you’re running with a hydration pack, you animal, you!) and hand it to her.
7. To couples that run together: good on you! The matching his-and-her shirts? Adorable! Having said that, please remember that you’re like a semi on the highway: if you’re going to pass, you have to remember that you’re twice as wide as a regular runner. THERE ARE TWO OF YOU.
8. Also, if you’re going to run with your partner, either your romantic partner or your training partner, have a conversation well before the race about how you’re going to run. Are you going to stay together? What if one of you is having the day of his life? What if the other of you has to stop for the bathroom every other mile (hey, it happens)? Talk about this honestly in the days leading up to the race, and then don’t hold grudges on race day. Storming off at the post-race party because she finished two minutes ahead of you is petty, and it makes you look small.
9. Most runners think the race shirt should be earned before it’s worn. Put it in your gear bag and check it with race organizers. You shouldn’t be running the race in anything you haven’t thoroughly tested anyway. Race in a shirt you’ve trained in, then retrieve your bag from gear check and, having conquered the distance, wear your race shirt proudly. You’ve earned it!
10. Post-race, you may wear your medal all day. Just try not to hit anyone with it, unless it’s your training partner, who finished two minutes ahead of you and is gloating insufferably about it. In that case, I didn’t see anything.
Dreher Park Dash 5k Day
July 20, 2013
Bib Number: 244
Overall Placement: 78 / 254 (30.7%)
Age Group Placement: 1 / 16 (6.3%)
Gender Placement: 19 / 133 (14.3%)
Chip Time: 25:47.56
This was a new race on the calendar. Though the Dreher Park Dash is run each year, it is typically an evening race. This year, organizers chose to run the race twice, once during the daytime, in July, and once in August, as is typical, in the evening. If a runner completes both events, the times will be combined as a 10k race.
Little G and I signed up for the dual event, though she despises 5ks, and summer races, in particular, of course, are difficult to run fast. This course is not well set up for a personal best. It is run in the park, and as such, has lots of curves. For most of the course, especially the second mile, it’s run on a fairly narrow dirt path, and as such, lends itself mostly to single-file running. During the years I’ve run it, unless I’m feeling particularly well-honed in speed, I’ve learned to use that second mile to settle into a steady pace, hopefully behind someone who is running consistently and well, and then wait until after the second aid station, when the course stretches out a little, to push the pace and pass. I found myself thinking this year, at about 1.8 miles, “in running, as in life, you’d better feel really confident before you make a pass.”
I was not feeling particularly well trained as we arrived at the race this year. On the contrary, I’d cut my long run short the week before because of some calf tightness, and though I’d been stretching the calf all week, clouds of doubt swirled in my mind. Having lost one training season to shinsplints, few things terrify me more. On top of that, rain had washed away my training week, and I arrived on race day with no more than three easy miles of running on the week.
Having said that, I was thankful, as I stood on the line, to be on rested legs. It was hot and humid, and I wasn’t sure what I had in me for the day. I knew I probably going to run sub-25–the Boss’s challenge to me before I left the house–but I also knew I was too stubborn to jog the race. When the gun went off, I did my best to rein in my typical jackrabbit start, letting myself get sifted out and refusing to look at my Garmin, choosing instead to run by feel. As we passed the mile 1 marker, I finally looked at my watch. It read 8:12, and I told myself that was a perfectly acceptable split for a first mile in July with zero speed training.
As we reached the middle, curvy mile, I told myself to hold my pace and stay behind Little G. I knew if I tried to pass I would spend myself too early, and I didn’t want to expend my energy yet. I tucked in behind her and coasted at an 8:15 pace for some time. Finally, as we approached the second mile marker, I made the pass. “You’re doing great, K,” she remarked. I thanked her, saying, “the third mile will tell,” and went on.
We entered the third mile and I picked off as many runners as I could. As always in this race, the finish seemed to push away from me down the dusty trail, but finally, I approached it, shaking my head slightly upon seeing my time, so far from my best. I grabbed some water, high-fived Little G as she finished less than a minute behind me, and caught my breath.
I was shocked to find out my time was good enough for first in my age group, and top 20 among female runners. Where are all the women? Did they all go north to run?
Age group prizes consisted of small bottles of locally produced honey. How fabulous is that? Instead of some keepsake we’ll never use, both Little G and I got something useful and delicious. We are hopeful that the rain will give us a few days of clear weather before the night race so the trail won’t be a mess for the August race, but we’re looking forward to the challenge either way. Two first-place age-group finishes in a row . . . what a treat!