Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Taming the Hills

In the quest to do 4 halfs in 5 weeks, I seem to have saved the most challenging ones for last - the Marine Corps Historic Half in Fredericksbug, VA, on May 16th, and the Maryland Half Marathon in Timonium on May 23rd. I knew both of these had pretty significant inclines on the elevation charts, but it couldn't be that bad, right?

The motley crew of us headed down to Fredericksburg on Saturday for packet pick up and to get settled into our hotel for the night. My plan for this race was to support my friend and gym buddy, Kathryn, through her first half, one in fact that I had gently prodded her into registering for. Time wasn't important to me, especially knowing I had to hold back a bit with a half the next weekend as well. Kathryn's friend Jamie was also running her first half and had decided to try and run with us and Katie.

The race started with the firing of a musket. Oh yeah, this was totally up my alley! We wound our way around the businesses along Jefferson Davis Highway, and made our way towards downtown Fredericksburg and along the Rappanhannock River. This was my first time in the area and I really enjoyed the course. Unfortunately, we started out too fast, having got caught up in the excitement of the race. There was no way we could comfortably do that pace for 13 miles, especially knowing hills were coming up.

Around mile 8 or so, Jamie and I split off from Katie and Kathryn. I was so happy to know that she was in such good hands. Katie would get her over the finish line. Jamie and I picked up our pace a bit and continued our way through town. She grew up there and had actually worked at some historic homes in the area, so she was basically giving me a tour the entire time. What fun and a great way to make a new friend and learn about a new area.

Sadly, our time in downtown Fredericksburg was coming to and end. We hit a mile long incline by Mary Washington Hospital, and then another long, steep hill around mile 11 or 12. Finally we were back on Jefferson Davis and near the finish. We picked up the pace, grabbed each others' hands, and over the finish line we went. 3 hours flat. Not bad considering the hills we had trekked. We grabbed some snacks and met up with Jamie's family and waited for our friends. Once everyone finished, we cleaned up and headed out to celebrate before heading home. Another one, and in a couple of cases hopefully the first of many, was in the books.

Later that night and for the next day or so, I relived almost every step, and not in a good way. I felt horribly beaten up by this one, especially in my hips and knees, which had never really been an issue before. This had me really concerned heading into another notoriously hilly race so soon. I substituted a run for a bike ride to help loosen me up a bit, managed a 4ish mile run a couple of before the race, and otherwise took it mostly easy to rest up for Sunday's race.

As the week went on, I began to look at the weather forecast. The chances of rain for the weekend kept get higher. I had been really fortunate so far in that it had not rained for any of my Spring races. A far cry for the year before, where I got drenched in almost all of them. It was lightly raining when I left Mom and Dad's house early Sunday morning to meet up with the Loopers, and our dear friend Colleen from Philly. We met up and the sought shelter under the grandstands at the fairgrounds. We got lucky, it stopped raining pretty much as soon as the race started. The rain stopped, but the humidity hung around, so much so you could see the moisture just hanging in the air at times.

Again, I had no time goals in this one - just wanting to make it through unscathed, especially given how I had felt in the days immediately after the Historic Half. I started off with Katie and decided just to see what happened. We encountered our first noteworthy hill around mile 3, taking our time powerwalking up it. The community support was great. Families were out cheering and working water stops, but official and not. One group even had trays upon trays of Swedish Fish, what fun!

About mile 6 I started to hit a groove, and pulled away from Katie. It was pretty uneventful until about miles 7 and 8 when the long, steady, STEEP hills hit. I pulled myself along, powerwalking with long steps. All of the hours of squats and lunges were paying off as I hauled myself up. The race benefitted a cancer center, and signs of encouragement were along the shoulder in the really rough spots: "Think this is hard, try fighting cancer"; "I'm running for my parents, who can't"; "Survivors: Did you ever think you would be doing THIS". I got a bit emotional seeing those.

Once we got through the ugliness of those hills, we were treated to about a mile and a half of a straight downhill. This is where the race course differed greatly from Historic Half's - despite all of the uphills in Fredericksburg, we were never really rewarded with any good downhills. This was my time to have some fun and pick up some speed and time. It became a mental game in those final couple of miles. I was exhausted and my body was done. I was sightly energized as we turned back into the fairgrounds, knowing I was almost done. The last few yards were on the track itself. I did a slight sprint and was done. 2:54:33, my third best half time to date. Even more impressive when you consider that #'s 2 and 4 were on pretty much entirely flat courses.

I had done it - 4 halfs in 5 weeks. I am amazed at myself, but definitely happy to have a few weeks of rest before I start up my official MCM training.

Monday, May 10, 2010

National Police Week

Saturday was a race that has become of one of my favorites, and one of the only ones I've done every year during my running career, the National Police Week 5K. Proceeds from the race go to Concerns of Police Survivors, an organization which helps the families of fallen officers. As the child of a retired police officer, I was fortunate my father came home at the end of each shift. I figure this race is at least a small thing I can do to support the families of those who suffer such a terrible and needless loss. As a reminder of why we are there, each race bib has the name of a fallen officer on it. This year I ran in honor of Off. Brandon Sigler.

The race itself began and finished next to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial and Judiciary Square and takes you around the Capitol, Library of Congress, and U.S. Supreme Court buildings, among others. This includes a climb up Capitol Hill around mile 1. I had debated on how I wanted to race this - do I stick with my 3:1 intervals (I've been in such a good groove with them lately) or do I just all out run, taking a brief walk break with each mile? Since I had not done a 5K since September, and given my PR success this Spring, I knew this would be a new personal best, it was just going to be a matter of by how much.

I got caught up in the race atmosphere and took off. First mile was just about 10 minutes flat. I got slower with each mile, partly due to the climb up the Hill at the start of mile 2, but mostly because of the weather and how hard I was pushing myself. Temps were in the 70s and the sun was beating down. Winds died almost immediately as soon as the race started. I underestimated how warm it would be. I normally carry a small 10oz. handheld bottle, but chose not to in this race. By the end of the race I was exhausted and my mouth felt like a desert. Fortunately, I had the cadence of some of the local police academy groups I had been pacing off of to keep me going. My time was 34:11, a PR of just over 3 minutes.

So, as I start to transition from races to using them as training runs, I have had quite the Spring, setting new bests in 5K, 10K, 10 mile, and half marathon distances. It has been so rewarding to see the hard work I've been doing in the gym and out on the trails paying off, and keeps me more and more excited about how Marine Corps will be in the fall.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Frederick Half Marathon, 5/2/10

Yesterday was the Frederick Half Marathon. This is the first part of the Maryland double. The second is the Baltimore Half in October. You get a bonus medal for completing the two.

This was my 7th half, and probably one of the most difficult to date due to the weather. When I woke up at 4:30, the temps were already over 70 degrees, and humidity over 80% (it had rained in the wee hours of the morning, but did burn off a bit after daybreak). Fortunately, the race started at 6:30, so we were going to be able to finish before the heat got too bad. There was also a full marathon and relay, and I really felt for those would be running into the late morning/early afternoon. A friend of mine was volunteering at the bag check, and I stopped by to say hi while we were walking to the cars post race and he said that medical was pretty overwhelmed from people succumbing to the heat. Right near the water stop at mile 9, I saw a woman being treated by paramedics. Later I found out it was actually one of my friends who had seen her starting to go down, and helped her to the ground and signaled for medical help.

For weeks I planned on this being a “give it all” race in hopes of a great PR. I really had not raced a half since this same weekend last year when I did the Long Branch Half, choosing to do others between then and now at a more relaxed pace. So, as I saw the forecast, my hopes began to fade. Finally I just decided to go out there and see what I could do, but while listening to my body and being sure to hydrate well along the way. My hope was for a time around 2:50, a steady 13 minute pace. Given my performance at last month’s 10 miler (a 12 minute pace), I thought it could be a bit better than 2:50, but with the weather, who knew what would happen.

My first 2 miles were under a 12 minute pace. Clearly the race hysteria had caught me and by mile 2 1/2 I was drenched in sweat and telling myself I need to slow down, and sooner rather than later. I ping ponged into a couple of folks from my local running club. One made a comment that I was “hard to keep up with these days”, lol.

The first half seemed to go quickly, suddenly I was at mile 6. I caught up with one of my training buddies around mile 8 and we ran together on and off for the next couple of miles. One of our ROTE friends was cheering just before mile 10, and was armed with cold water and popsicles. Sooo good!

The race then became a mental game. How much harder could I push myself? I’d been lucky that up to this point it had been fairly cloudy. I was right around mile 10 when the sun decided to come out. No fun, as there really is no shade in those later miles. I kept going, happy to see a couple of training buddies at points along the way. I knew I had a PR by this point, it was just a matter of by how much. I got a second wind at mile 12, but it was gone by mile 13. Whomever put a steep hill right around mile 13 is cruel. I decided to walk it. Seemed like the safer way to go. Got to the top of the hill and turned to corner and then we were on the horse track and headed toward the finish line.

Final time was 2:46:52, a 6 1/2 minute PR.

Despite the heat, this was a very enjoyable race. Residents of some of the communities we ran through stood out with hoses, or had sprinklers set up for you to run through, which was a wonderful thing, and probably one of the things that kept me going. One couple even stood in front of their house and had a “restroom here” sign in their yard. As we ran past, everyone thanked them for being willing to open their house up to smelly runners like that!