Pacing the Madison Half Marathon

Recently I was asked to pace the Madison Half Marathon. This means, for those unfamiliar with the running world, that in exchange for free entry to the race and a free singlet from the store that sponsored the pace groups, I was asked to run at a specific pace (2:30, or 11:27 minutes/mile) for the entire race. By running even splits, we both help people trying to run a specific goal time achieve that goal and serve as a moving time mark for other runners to gauge their times off of. I also heard spectators pointing to us as a way of figuring out where the runner they were waiting for might be.[1]

Many people asked me what my strategy was going into this, since my normal pace for a race like this would be something like 1:50–2:00 (8:24–9:10 min/mi).[2] It’s not a bad question—when you are used to running at a pace at least 30 min faster, it can feel very strange to slow down so much. In order to ensure that my legs were tired enough, I accidentally ran every day during the past week, culminating in 14.73 miles on Saturday. Then I accidentally stayed up until midnight, so I only got about five hours of sleep the night before the race.

I say “accidentally” because I’m aware that these behaviors are kind of risky in terms of injury; at this point in my running life, I almost always take Mondays and Fridays off. But this week there were things that came up—running with B, running with my fellow pacer—and I couldn’t skip out on them. I also wanted to get a hard weekend ahead of the KM 50K in two weeks. So now I’ve officially peaked, having run 63 miles this week and 28 in the last two days, and will do a little taper. I am actually really excited to taper. I’m tired.

So let’s see what I have some photos of. First off, here is my carb-packed dinner from the night before. Thanks to Costco, from which I purchased approximately five pounds of five-cheese ravioli. Unfortunately, they’re not super amazing—the texture is fine, but the flavor is not strong. Still, it was a pretty good dinner. I cooked the ravioli up with some mushrooms and onions and a white sauce with a little pesto in it. Next time, I will fry the ravioli in butter after boiling them,[3] and maybe throw some blue cheese in the white sauce rather than cream cheese. The salad was your standard Cesar with spinach instead of romaine. When Bryan came home from gaming, he brought me a piece of tiramisu, too.

Carb loading. I'm not a food photographer, sorry.
Carb loading. I’m not a food photographer, sorry.

The next morning, I struggled out of bed at 5:15, having had weird dreams all night about making hard-boiled eggs in tea. I don’t get it either. I got my stuff together (more of an achievement than it sounds like), told the dogs to go back to bed, and scrambled out of the house. I was supposed to meet the other pacers at a hotel on capital square at 6:20 to be ready to get in the corrals at 6:30, so I ran from where I parked (about half a mile away) to get there on time. Instead, this turned into hanging around the lobby waiting and asking each other, “Where is [whoever we noticed is missing]?” Around 6:40 we took a group photo and then dispersed to line up.

At this point, walking down the hill to where the back of the pack will be, things were starting to feel kind of intense. I got the feeling—and I don’t know if this is legitimately what was happening or not—that the runners on the sidewalks were watching us. When we got into the corrals, that would be their signal that it was time to line up. Such pressure.

Pre-race selfie.
Pre-race selfie. My hair is amazing.
Looking up the empty corral at the pacers.
Looking up the empty corral at the pacers.

At 7:00 precisely we took off. Prior to the gun, my pacing partner (also named Emily) and I sort of looked around to see if anyone was willing to declare they were sticking with us, but aside from one shy, noncommital wave, no one was. I don’t know if this means that a lot of people were unsure of what time they might finish in, if they were all planning to run with their iPods (I saw a lot of this), or if they were just shy. We tried hard to be happy and approachable, and as the miles ticked past a few people tried talking to us. One fellow, who I thought might be from India or Bangladesh, stuck with us the whole way; although he seemed to be working pretty hard, he was happy enough to chat when we talked to him:

Em: So, where are you from?
Him: [Something I didn’t really catch]
Em: Where is that?
Him: On the east side of the city.
Other Emily: Wait, did you say “Sun Prairie”?
Em: To be fair, I live near Middleton and never go over to the east side.

Did I look like an ass? I don’t know, maybe. I laughed, he laughed. We high-fived after the race, so I think there were no hard feelings.

Skipping around in time, after about a mile and a half, it started to rain, which was actually not terrible. The rain never got strong enough to really soak us, so my feet stayed dry, and it kept us cool and kept the heat down.

The corner by Camp Randall where the route turned onto Monroe Street was the first place we really started to encounter a bunch of people cheering for us. Some of the people the other Emily and I run with were out to spectate, so it was fun to hear the occasional “Go Emilys!,” but there were just a lot of people who would shout “Go 2:30 group!” Things got quieter as we turned into the Arb, and then as we went up the hill near Edgewood it got crazy again. I was starting to feel like a rock star. Probably the best part of this was when we came past the Berkeley orange stand (just past mile 12, I think); since Berkeley organized the pace groups, they gave us a real good cheer. And from there it was just a few blocks up Dayton (past my old haunt, Ofek Shalom Co-op), then up to State Street and the finish at the capital.

Running through the Arb with Other Emily.
Running through the Arb with Other Emily.

In the aftermath of all this running, I went home and brunched it up with B, then passed out for a solid two and a half hours. Now (writing this the day after), I feel pretty good—my right calf has been a bit sore, but no worse than one would expect from strenuous exercise. Why only the right one? Don’t know. Let’s not dwell on it too much.

So, to finish this thing up, what advice for future pacers? There is some law of nature that states that although your Garmin may work perfectly every time you step out the door, when you really need it to be accurate for a race, it will fail. My watch was off at almost every mile marker by up to 15 seconds or more. I hit the lap button as we passed the markers to try and compensate. Although I had it set up to give a current pace, an average pace, and a lap pace, the most useful way of telling where we were was the total time elapsed plus knowing that we were supposed to be running 11:27s (round to 11:30 for ease of math-doing). If you are running weird splits, like 6:52 or something, write your split times on your arm.

Finally, if you are a spectator and want to have a boombox playing some music to encourage the runners, let’s go with the Foo Fighters rather than Miley Cyrus. (I heard both yesterday, but I just want to make my preferences clear.)

The finish line taken by a professional photographer (credit to Focal Flame Photography
The finish line taken by a professional photographer. Credit to Focal Flame Photography.
A picture of me looking much more uncomfortable than I felt at the finish.
A picture of me looking much more uncomfortable than I felt at the finish. Credit to Focal Flame Photography

[1] In addition to pacing, or pace groups, being a thing that is provided at many major marathons, there’s another role for pacesetters—rabbiting. Rabbiting, often used for world record attempts, involves a fast runner who is typically paid to set a hard pace and act as a wind-break for the frontrunners and then drop out halfway through. There are, to my understanding, some pretty specific rules about what events can use rabbits and who can rabbit for what race (men can’t rabbit for women’s events, e.g.). This kind of pacing also has some ethical issues, because it moves the focus of a race to breaking a record rather than actually having an entertaining (competitive) race. On the other hand, rabbits do count as official entrants, and occasionally when the elite runners don’t follow them, they don’t drop and just go on to win. (Here’s an entertaining video of that from 1981.) But since the race was won in 1:13 for the men and 1:26 for the women, these questions don’t really apply to our 2:30 group.

[2] Since I did a 2:03 at the Ice Age half marathon two weeks ago, I think I could go sub-2 in a road half right now, except for all the various things I did to myself this week, as detailed above.

[3] Postscript: I tried frying the ravioli in a combination of avocado oil and butter. They were awesome.

Post-race.
Post-race, back at my car. My hair has calmed down due to rain.

Ice Age 50 half marathon, take three

One of my favorite spots on the trail.
One of my favorite spots on the trail.

This was my third time running the half marathon here. My times have been very closely clustered:

  • 2012: 2:00:59, 2nd in AG
  • 2014: 1:56:50, 5th in AG
  • 2015: 2:03:51, 10th in AG

Some race is always going to be your personal worst time. That’s just how it works. Interestingly, while I haven’t always gotten slower, I’ve consistently placed lower in my AG. Also, my AG has changed; I do get the feeling that for the half marathon distance, the women’s 30–34 age group is more competitive than the 25–29.

I feel like I’ve recapped this race before (here; looks like B was with me that year—the photos suggest I didn’t have a GPS watch yet, and I had a lot less definition in my shoulders…). Anyway, to avoid boring you, I’ll just hit the highlights this time:

  1. The first loop, I thought most of the hills were not as gnarly as in previous years. Also, unlike 2014, my legs weren’t trashed when I finished the first loop. Perhaps I am becoming a stronger hill runner?
  2. Unfortunately, I did notice I was pretty tired on the second loop (I stopped picking up my feet as well and stumbled a few times, almost falling). And the hills were a lot more pronounced.
  3. I felt like I pushed myself all the way through. This and last week’s race confirm that I’m probably in about 4:10 marathon shape.
  4. After a while, I fell behind all the fast people and was ahead of the slow people, and I found it quite hard to maintain my pace/focus. I knew I wouldn’t win, and I didn’t really want to go into the “pain cave.”
  5. Toward the end of the race, I passed a woman with some Thai tattooed on the backs of her arms. Ungrammatically, I shouted “คนพูดภาษาไทบได้” at her as I came up behind her. She was startled, and responded, “I have eighteen miles to go” (she was in the 50K) before realizing what I’d actually said. Too bad I didn’t get a chance to talk to her.
  6. My bad ankle hurt almost all the way through, which is weird because it didn’t hurt Thursday or Friday before the race and it doesn’t hurt now today (Sunday). Just one of those annoying things, I guess.
  7. I finished 10th in my age group. I’d been hoping I could still pull off a top-10 AG finish, so I guess that’s okay. Disappointed I couldn’t go sub-2, but it wasn’t my day. The weather was cool enough, but very humid. I miss being fast enough to pull off a sub-1:50 half marathon. I wonder if there’s a way to get back there without injuring myself doing speedwork.
  8. Probably not.
Grassy meadows, rather unpleasant when it's sunny.
Grassy meadows, rather unpleasant when it’s sunny.
Red trail, green grass.
Red trail, green grass.

As a warm-up for my 50K that is coming up in . . . four now three weeks and is also held on these very trails, it was reasonably good. I brought my hydration pack along and wore the clothes I thought I would wear for the upcoming race (about halfway through the race, the shorts, which are new, started to chafe, so those are off the menu. Good thing I tried them out.).

  • How annoyed were you with your performance, on a scale of 0–10 with 0 being totally fine and 10 being pretty hacked off? 2.
  • What mid-90s song was stuck in your head almost the entire run? “Gangsta’s Paradise,” by Coolio.
  • Last year, you got disoriented leaving the park, drove to Fort Atkinson, then later started to crash and had to stop at a random gas station outside of Edgerton and buy chocolate milk and potato chips in order to make it home. Did you experience those problems this time? Nope. I had a mini-sized energy bar before/during the race (pro tip: not a great choice of snack if your nose is stuffed up while running, like mine was). After the race, I grabbed a salt cap and some pieces of fruit before I headed out. When I got home, I had some peanut noodles, then later went out for (veggie) sushi with my family.
  • Did you accomplish anything after the race? I slept on the sofa for 90 minutes.
Post-run selfie (post-runfie?).
Post-run selfie (post-runfie?).

Next week, I am co-pacing the 2:30 group at the Madison half marathon, something I’ve never done before. (I’ve never even made it all the way through a race with a pace group, so it should be an interesting time.) I’ll be hanging out at the expo on Saturday around noon, so come say hello if you see me, or catch me at the starting line. Unless you’re going to be weird and awkward and make both of us feel uncomfortable, in which case feel free to continue stalking me quietly from a distance.

Also, speaking of quietly stalking me, if you missed it (and I don’t know why you would have seen this, since I didn’t announce it or anything), I’ve blogged a bit about ultrarunning over at Technically Running. It’s at least slightly humorous and has a picture of a skull I found attached to it for some reason.

LMR 20K: Fifth Time’s the…Something

TL;DR:Good 8K, slightly painful 8K, rough final 4K.

I’ve run the Lake Monona 20K (LMR) almost every year since 2009. Along the way I’ve watched it change from a fairly small race to a large one, with all the attendant problems that change could be expected to produce.

For fun, here are my results:

Year Time Pace
2009 1:53:39 9:09
2010 1:41:24 8:10
2011
2012
2013 1:56:41 9:23
2014 1:45:53 8:31
2015 1:50:45 8:53

Holy cow, I was fast in 2010! I ran my half marathon PR that year too, apparently—1:46:02 at the Madison Mini-Marathon. (I have just discovered that there’s a website, Athlinks, which I am probably the last person to find and which displays all my race results ever going back to my first-ever 5K in 2005 in which I finished in 38:05. Holy shit.) So this year was either my third fastest or third slowest, depending on how you look at it.

Okay, where was I? So this race always takes place the first weekend in May, and that means you never know what you’re going to get in terms of weather. Some years it has been quite warm, some years it has been cool and pleasant. This year it was warm.

The course is a nice one; it begins at the Monona Public Library, runs through some hills in the first 5K, has about 10K through downtown Madison/the Near East Side that’s quite flat, and then a few more hills as you come back into Monona. Most of my running group is getting ready to run a 4-hr (ish) marathon at Green Bay in two weeks, so the training pace was set for 8:59 min/mi. Well, good luck. The race now has 1,225 runners, which makes the start quite congested. After shuffling forward for (what felt like) a couple of minutes after the gun (in reality maybe 90 seconds), we crossed the timing mat and took off at an easy jog. At one point, hitting about 9:30, I joked to my friends, “This is the training pace, right?”

One of the better photos from the race.
One of the better photos from the race.

There was a lot of weaving and throwing of elbows through the first two miles. Eventually we managed to find enough open space to really get up to race pace, and to make up time we wound up running a little faster than 8:59 (miles 4–7 were 8:4x, so were 9 and 10). Ironically, the people I was running most with are not doing Green Bay, and neither am I. What the heck. We came through the 10K in about 55:08, which is fine, and hit the 15K in 1:22:25. Then a combination of heat, lack of water, and fatigue started dragging me back, and I slowed to a 9:xx pace. But at that point,we were almost to the finish, so it almost didn’t matter. With about two miles left, we met a guy named Jud from SLC who was having a pretty hard time of it. He was fun to chat with for a little while before he slowed down to walk, and my friend and I kicked it in to the finish.

At this point, I made a critical mistake, which was chugging three quarters of the bottle of water I got handed and then eating a granola bar and half an apple. The sudden entry of food and lots of water into my stomach when I had been moving so hard in the heat undid me. I had to sit down for a few minutes because I felt woozy, and then I slowly shlepped the half mile back to my car to drive home, grimacing from some unpleasant stomach cramps. When I got home, I had a shower and a nap, and then I took a salt tablet with my lunch, which made a pretty big difference in how I was feeling. So, pro tip: if you run really hard, don’t eat directly after you stop running. Give it a moment. Add fluids gradually. You will feel much better. Also, if you’re on a course with infrequent water stops and it’s the warmest day of the year so far, bring both salt tabs and your hydration system. I neglected to bring both, and regretted it.

Em oi! #405: Philosophy Ruins Films

em_405

Well hello. It has been a while since we had one of these little chats, hasn’t it? I’ve been reading a lot, but not blogging too much beyond book reviews. So you’re probably asking, “Hey Em, how’s it going?”

It has been all right. Not great, not amazing, but also it’s going much better than it was in January. I went through a rough patch between seasonal affective disorder and a leg injury. The first was solved with phototherapy, the second with PT, which is just about finished. PT has been a strange collection of triggerpoint dry needling (which is not super pleasant, and the alcohol wipes are giving me a rash) and various exercises and stretches designed to 1) make you feel inadequate when you realize how many of them you keep forgetting to do and 2) fix whatever imbalance exists in my hip that is hurting my ankle. In the meantime I spent a lot of time swimming in January when I was totally off running, and then running only on the dreadmill and elliptical in February—I’ve been doing about 24 miles on the dreadmill and close to that on the elliptical as well. I’ve also been lifting weights a lot; since early September, B and I have switched to a 5×5 program which is a lot more intense than our previous 3×10-type program. My lifts have gone up a lot, which is very satisfying, but I’ve also put on some pounds of muscle and so my bra no longer fits right.* The best news is that as of tomorrow I am encouraged to try running outside again; if everything goes well, I may be able to show up to race the 50-Furlong World Championship in Paoli on Saturday. I doubt I am in condition to defend my title as 8th fastest woman in the world at that distance, but it would be really nice to race again.

What else have I been doing? Learning to code. As in write computer programs. So far if you want a program that spits out a triangle (right or equilateral) in ASCII or that curses at you in a variable way based on your input, I am your programmer. Actually, I have to admit that this is my second attempt at learning to code. When I was an undergraduate, I took the introduction to programming course the UW offered (which is taught in Java). Now I am learning Caché ObjectScript, which is a much less well-known language, but it is easier in part because B is teaching me, and it turns out that he is a much better teacher than the grad student (who may have been a forestry major?) they had teaching the intro class when I took it. B is a good teacher; it’s also convenient to have my professor on site rather than inaccessible except by email sometimes. I may also be a better student now.

Well let’s not go overboard on that.

I’ve also been learning indexing. And Chinese. And editing a bunch of books (I did three full-length manuscripts, on ancient Athens, moral philosophy, and sociology, from the first week of February until last Friday the 7th of March). In other words I have been busy, not sleeping enough, unable to find time to do the things I enjoy or see my friends much, and basically acting like I’ve not developed any coping skills since college. But things will get better now.

A note on podcasts and the like. A bunch of people gave me recommendations, many of which have been very satisfying. The Hound Tall Podcast (formally The Hound Tall Discussion Series with Moshe Kasher) is very funny and a lot more Jew-y than Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me (I recommend the George Clinton interview if you haven’t heard it yet). Of course the Ultrarunner Podcast is a good way to keep up with a sport that no one follows but me; my new goal is to get interviewed on there, since I’ll probably never get on Fresh Air. Also, the Moth Radio Hour has some very good stories–also some gutting ones, so do be careful. Finally, John Harris’s excellent podcast/audiobook of The Epic of Gilgamesh was both exciting and intellectually stimulating. I may or may not have time to do a whole review, but in the meantime, it’s highly recommended.

I’m filing this comic under PN1995.9 S695 L86 2015, for Drama–Motion pictures–Other special topics, A-Z–Star Wars films.


*If you are reading this and saying, “Wait, you only own one?”, I will tell you: You obviously don’t know me. Ninety percent of the shirts I now own came from races. I am not an enthusiastic shopper.

Em oi! #404: Why They Don’t Do Reality TV Shows about Writers

em_404

Oh my G-d, that sofa. If I have to draw it again, I don’t know, I’ll go crazy.

We’ll file this under PN1992.8 R43 L86 2014, for Drama–Broadcasting–Television broadcasts–Special topics–Other special topics, A-Z–Reality programs.

I…had originally planned to do a chart of like all the races I did this year, and talk about how much I ran and all that kind of thing, but then I was struck by the thought that no one cares. Basically it’s something I’ve been dwelling on as I try to figure out what I want to sign up for next year. A lot of popular races tend to sell out early, and race directors of course like this and encourage people to register early by offering lower fees if you do so. One race that I do every year sold out in less than seven hours.

So I’ve been trying to figure out what might be a good goal for next year. As a runner, there are basically two ways to go: faster or farther.

I will say now that I suffer from some–let’s call it optimism about my running abilities. I don’t often fail at tasks I set myself, and even when I do, you know, cross the finish line in tears (Marine Corps in 2009) or limping/bleeding (Dances with Dirt 2013), I usually count it as a win because, you know, I finished! Even the triathlon in which I had a panic attack during the swim and took so long finishing the rest of the race that B actually thought I might have drowned and was going to look for me in the medical tent when I finally crossed the finish line counts, to some extent, as a win.

All this comes to the fact that recently, I’ve been doing some speed work. Nothing too big–one week I did 5×400, then the next week 4×800, then this past Thursday 3×1200. My 800s were at an average pace of 3:22. According to one marathon time-predicting test, called the Yasso 800, if you want to run a marathon in x hours:y minutes, you should work up to a set of 10×800 where your time is x minutes:y seconds–in other words, 10×800 at 3:22 could predict a 3:22 :xx marathon. I thought about this and figured that even if I took a bunch of extra time on the second half, I could still run a 3:30:xx, which I think would be a Boston qualifier for me. I am of course ignoring a few key facts, like:

  1. I did 4×800, not ten, and my times were definitely dropping by the last one.
  2. This would require me to run an 8:01 min/mi for 26.2 miles. My single fastest race last year was 10 miles in 1:21:46, an 8:11 min/mi pace. There is, it turns out, a huge world of different between an 8:11 and an 8:01.
  3. I ran that race in April.
  4. Also, every time I have tried to do serious speed work, which is the only way to get faster, I have gotten hurt. In fact, even with the 3×1200, my foot was starting to act up.

I actually am so optimistic that I couldn’t convince myself that this was totally out of the question–I had to instead convince myself that Boston is bourgeois and I don’t really want to do it.[1]

So that leaves farther. You can’t have followed this blog for long without realizing that I really enjoy ultrarunning as a sport, and that I often think farther is better. I’ve run an average of 45 miles/week this year, despite being off several weeks with various injuries, and managed to somehow do 61 miles on a week that I was “cutting back” before a marathon. Because I felt a huge sense of accomplishment when I finished my last 50K, I thought: Why not do a 100K?

There are actually plenty of good answers to this pro or con, depending on how much you feel like running around in the woods for ten hours is a good time. But the major con is injury. Specifically, the problem is that I have recurring injuries, and the cause often seems to be running above 20 miles in one run. You can run a marathon off a long run of 18 miles, even a 50K, but I’m going to guess it will be hard to do a 100K on that kind of training.[2]

Bring it all back home, Lupton–what’s your plan? To be honest, I have decided that what I really need is a year of not getting hurt. So I’m going to take it pretty easy–I’m planning to do the Ice Age trail half marathon in May, and then the Powerman in Kenosha in June, and then see where I’m at. If things are feeling good in the first half of the year, I may try to jump into a marathon or 50K, like the Trailbreaker or the Mad City 50K, both of which are small enough that I should be able to make the decision last-minute. And then after June…I don’t know. I’m not going to plan that far ahead right now. I know lots of people who have super impressive plans for next year; I just have to admit that’s not going to be me this year.

Next time, hopefully I’ll have something to write that’s not about running, like more on Ulysses or something. Wouldn’t that be fun? ‘Cause seriously.


[1] Perhaps the most fantastically snobbish statement I’ve ever made. Hilarious too, because by many (economic) measures, I’m kind of bourgeois as well…

[2] For those who might be somehow curious: There’s actually very little research on what constitutes a good training plan for a 100K (because so few runners do them), and most plans that are available are kind of based on “this worked for me” strategies.

Antelope Island 50K

The top of the Hill on 1st (1st and Aish) in SLC
The top of the Hill on 1st (1st and Aish) in SLC

Ok, now that I’m back in Madison and have slept some (a lot), let me see if I can talk about the Antelope Island 50K in a brief yet entertaining manner.antelope island

First things first: Where is Antelope Island? It’s the largest island in the Great Salt Lake of Utah, so specifically it is about 46 miles from my brother and sister-in-law’s apartment in Salt Lake City. When B and I decided to go out to Utah for a fall visit, I noticed that this race happened to be right around the time we were going out and arranged our travel schedule to coincide. So I didn’t OFFICIALLY travel out there for the race, I just happened to be in the area and the race was happening. (I have a personal rule that I don’t travel more than an hour from home for a race unless it’s a super awesome race.)

We flew in Tuesday afternoon. I had originally planned to run Tuesday and Thursday this past week as the last bit of my taper, but then I was up in the night Monday night/Tuesday morning with. . . something. Was it food poisoning? A norovirus? Only her intestines know for sure. At any rate, things sure weren’t 100 percent when I got up Tuesday morning and I didn’t go for a run, and I even told B that if I still felt super crappy come Saturday I was going to cancel the race. My conditioned waxed and waned throughout the day (including a long stopover at O’Hare), and by the time we arrived I had a pretty intense migraine (complete with nausea, light sensitivity, and blurry vision). Bodes ill. But Wednesday morning when I got up I was fine. In fact I felt so much better than I had in twenty-four hours that I was positively jubilant. Daniel and I went for a run around SLC’s Liberty Park in the afternoon, and I felt pretty good. My foot gave me some trouble on the last part of the run, especially going up the hill from State to A on 1st Street, but the view is so rewarding I couldn’t complain. Then I had two full days of rest, which I knew would make both my foot and my PT happy.

Pre-Race Selfie
Pre-Race Selfie

Saturday morning, I woke up at 5:50, a full forty minutes before Daniel and Claire were coming to pick me up, so that I could eat and also reconsider my life choices. I was suddenly very nervous, in a way that I seldom am before races anymore. I felt a little crappy (too much wine the night before? Too little water?), I was nervous about the course and elevation, and I just kept thinking I should call Daniel and tell him not to come and crawl back into bed with B. I could go for a run later, maybe even go up to Sugar House Park and do twenty miles, and. . . but I didn’t follow through on any of this. I kissed B goodbye and went down and got in the car.

By the time we got to Antelope Island I was feeling better, physically anyway. When I got out of the car to check in, I heard gunshots in the distance. The women working assured me that it was just hunting and “not on the island, we hope.” They also said, “Don’t bother the buffalo and they won’t bother you.” Ok, good to know.[1]

Sunrise
Sunrise
My Lovely Hosts, Daniel and Claire
My Lovely Hosts, Daniel and Claire

Daniel and Claire dropped me off at the starting line just as the sun was beginning to climb over the mountains and paint the sky pink. It was beautiful—and cold. I told them to come back in not less than five and a half hours and thanked them again for their tolerance of my weird hobby. Then I had to take off my sweatshirt and go wait around for the race to get started. The RD announced a last-minute course change owing to mud that took the course from 31 miles down to about 30. I stood in line to use the port-o-potty behind a guy who had his arm in a really complicated sling owing to some sort of surgery (he was still running, which made me feel possibly a bit better). Then a few minutes later, we were off.

The First Climb
The First Climb

Starting Line to the First Aid Station (Mile 5.8)

The race started with about half a mile or so of flat on a gravel access road of some sort. We went along a fence until we came to a break and turned onto a dirt trail that took us in slow switchbacks up the foothills of the mountain (I think the main mountain is Frary Peak, but I’m not totally sure that was the one we were running around, so you’ll have to just guess at the geography). We were at times running east, into the sunrise, which was very pretty but made it hard to see the trail. Luckily, the trail here wasn’t very technical, with only occasional rocks to dodge. There were a lot of false summits—I would look up the trail, thinking that just beyond the coming ridge things must flatten or even descend—only to find when I arrived that the trail continued up. Luckily the hill was quite gentle, so the continuous trekking didn’t bother me and I kept up a pretty steady pace between 10:30-12:00 min/mi. After mile three, the trail turned downward (and west) and suddenly I was skimming along, taking in all these breathtaking vistas I hadn’t had a chance to look at before. Oh, wait, the breathtaking part—that was the altitude. And sure enough, after two miles of lovely downhill, the path turned sharply upward and we hiked it in to the first aid station. I arrived right around the one hour mark.

I wasn’t too concerned about calories so early in the race, but I knew I couldn’t fall behind, especially with the comparatively long distances between aid stations (most were five to six miles apart). I think I had a Fig Newton and a couple of potato chips. Then I was off again. I actually made it through a bit faster than several women, some of whom I would leapfrog with for much of the rest of the race.

Mountains at the Beginning of the Course
Mountains at the Beginning of the Course

Mile 5.8 to the Second Aid Station (Mile 14)

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Elevation Profile. Click to Embiggen.

As I left the first aid station, the staff said that there was a nice bit of downhill ahead, “About a mile of downhill.” And it was very nice, good enough to hit a 9:40 split. I started thinking about how fast I was going to finish—maybe I would hit a 5:15:xx and be lounging around when everyone came to get me. Then suddenly, in one of those weird moments you seem to encounter in the mountains where the ground tells you something your eyes/inner ear don’t necessarily get, I went around a corner and the trail turned sharply upward. The rest of this section was largely not nice; it included steep climbs (about 1,700 feet over seven miles, with over 600 feet of that in the last mile alone); downhills too rocky to run; sections of trail ankle-deep in sand or shifting, golf ball-sized gravel; sections covered with rocks the size of bricks I was not nimble enough to bound between; and of course absolutely no shade. I began to run low on water and at times felt a bit dizzy, but there was really nothing to do but keep going to get to the next aid station. Luckily, I was able to sort of tuck into my brain (I thought about a lot of rather silly things, like the book I have been editing) and keep going. Each time my watch buzzed, I felt a bit surprised that another mile had passed. My splits during this section ranged from 9:21 (the downhill) to 22:42 (the last 600 feet of climb and a stop at the aid station to pull a rock out of my shoe).

It was very nice to get to the aid station and eat some potato chips and potato dipped in salt and refill my water. I also got to blow my nose, which was nice. My nose always runs when I’m out, er, running, and I’d neglected to bring any tissues.

Mile 14 to the Third Aid Station (Mile 20ish)

At the mile 14 aid station, I heard one of the guys say that the next aid station was five miles away. I was excited to leave—both because I had told B I would try to text him around mile 15,[2] and because mile 19 seemed very achievable and also very close to the finish (at the time I thought it was only ten miles out). Also, at this point the trail turned downward again, and we got to give back all that vertical gain. I ran for a while with a woman from Layton, UT, who mentioned that she had never done a 50K before and had trained only to sixteen miles as a long run! She left me behind when I once again couldn’t navigate the rocky descents fast enough. I also found that whenever I tried to accelerate a lot, I developed a stitch in my ribs (the altitude? Pushing too hard?) and I just couldn’t keep up. I had been gunning to finish strong, maybe even top three in my age group, but I realized at this point that I was going to have to just run my own race and finish when I finished.

That is the dao of the trail, I guess.

Mountains, near the End of the Course
Mountains, near the End of the Course

During this section, I came down around a bend and looked up to see two buffalo standing in a field. They were maybe a hundred and fifty feet from me, without any sort of protective fence between us. Wow. So I stopped and took a picture. They were unimpressed.

No Fence
No Fence

After the buffalo, the trail eventually narrowed and went into this area along the western side of the island where there were a lot of plants very close to the trail that were dry and kind of spikey, perfect for scraping the fuck out of my legs. Seriously, plants, what did I ever do to you? I was bleeding in half a dozen places by the end of the race, not fun. The best cut was right on my right ankle, perfect for accidentally kicking with my left foot (I am not graceful), and then good for a quarter mile of pain.

Eventually I reached the aid station and dumped some water over my head, which made me feel better. But I was tired after all the up and down of the first twenty miles, and pretty much ready to be done.

The Two Close-Together Aid Stations (Mile 20 to Mile 24ish)

This was the section where the bargaining began. I was feeling pretty woobly from the heat, so although the course was pretty flat, I started to walk. For a while, my right hip flexor was cramping up. But I knew I was so far from the finish line that I couldn’t just walk until I felt totally better, because I would never feel better until I could stop running and I would never get to the finish line walking. So I started to make deals with myself—run for half a mile, then you can walk for .05 miles. Repeat. Although my times were a pretty steady 11:30 min/mi during this section, and I felt really pretty terrible, I kept passing people, so either I wasn’t the only one having a bad time of it or I managed to out-strategize a lot of people.

The fourth aid station was over a ridge near mile 24. I had been planning to walk, but I crested the ridge and saw it, so I kept running. Yay, more water dumped over my head. (Sadly, none of the aid stations had ice.) Yay, more potato chips.

Mile 24 to the Finish

Leaving the mile 24 aid station, I was relatively sure I had five miles to go. The aid station personnel thought the distance was more like six to seven. They also thought that there was a water-only aid station between them and the finish, though this turned out not to be true. I continued my run/walk strategy for a while here, crossing the 26.2 mark in 5:21:43 (a personal not best) and picking off several more people. Despite my slow speed, I was making progress. The course at this point was very boring—lots of scrubland, the salt lake kind of in the distance, no real change in altitude from mile to mile, nothing to focus on but the passing of a few trees and rocks and the odd pile of ossified buffalo droppings.

Right around mile 27, and just before I was about to allow myself another walking break, I came up behind that woman from Layton again.

Remember her?

As I came up behind her, debating about whether to try to pass or to walk and let her get a lead again, she turned around and said the most magical words I could have heard: “I think I see it.” I was actually kind of unsure at this point what “it” was—the drink station? The finish line? Maitreya Buddha? But I actually did not care. She took off and I took off after her.

I was looking, but I could not for the longest time see whatever she had been referring to. Finally I saw a glint of light at the top of a hill—maybe light off a car’s windshield, but it could have been our destination. Layton and I had some discussion about how far we thought the race actually was. As she said she wasn’t sure if we were going twenty-nine or thirty miles, another woman came up behind us and remarked that she was still telling her friends she did a 50K. I said, “Of course!” We chatted for a brief bit, and then when the trail widened I sped up and passed both of them. For a while I thought we would stick together and finish the race, but they were slowing down, and I could smell the barn.

"SAY CHEESE"
“SAY CHEESE”

I reached the fence we’d run along at the very beginning and crossed though an open spot, only to face another climb. My watch suggests it was about 224 feet of elevation gain in a mile or so, I think about a 5.8 percent grade. I was kind of annoyed, but stumbled up it using a hike/run strategy. At the top, just by the turnoff for the half marathon course, was a herd of buffalo (on the other side of the fence this time). Wow! They seemed unimpressed to see yet another runner stumble past.

The road turned down for one final descent. There was a guy ahead of me in a yellow t-shirt, and I suddenly wanted to pick him off and add one last catch to my list, so I sped up as much as my incredibly tight quads would allow. Better yet, as I came within range of the finish, B, Daniel, and Claire were all standing there cheering me on! I crossed the finish line within a few seconds of the guy in yellow (I was so close to catching him!) and was awarded a coffee cup. I think I said something really intelligent to B, like, “They gave me a coffee cup!” Then I sat down for a while before I could fall over.

Final Tally

Some of My Cuts (and an Amazing Amount of Dirt)
Some of My Cuts (and an Amazing Amount of Dirt)

I finished 29.88 miles (according to my watch) in 6:04:24, a 12:12 min/mi pace. According to my watch, the course had just over 3,100 feet of elevation gain. The results at UltraSignUp.com are still somewhat preliminary as of this writing, but I am listed as 6th woman, 4th in my age group, and 22nd overall finisher. I learned that I should be careful of climate differences (WI had a cold snap, so it had been quite a long time since I’d run in warm weather), bring something to shade my head/neck from the sun (no trees), and give the elevation its due. I did a good job at staying on top of salt and calories all day, and I think my run/walk strategy was pretty successful, considering how many people I passed in the last ten miles.

My foot was actually totally fine though the race, giving me no more than passing discomfort. At some point my hip slipped out (my SI joint got stuck) and I finished with knee pain and lower back pain because of it, and I also totally blew up my quads, and my calves are hurting if I sit for too long, but other than that I feel remarkably good. My PT will be happy. The race was well-organized and enjoyable, the course a real challenge. I had a hell of a time.

A special thank you to Bryan, Daniel, and Claire, for not just making this madness possible but for supporting me through to the end. Having you guys there to cheer me on in the last moments was really amazing. Also special special thanks for helping me get a new Garmin last minute. It worked out really well and was super useful during the race.

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My Finish (Photo by Daniel)

Also I’m going to stick to half marathons for a while. Holy cow.


[1] When I was a kid, my parents used to stick me in the car and drive me out to Fermi Lab (the supercollider) to look at the buffalo (really, this was a method of making me fall asleep). The sign at Fermi Lab said, “Don’t try to cross this pasture unless you can do it in nine seconds, because the bull takes ten.” I have no recollection of how big the pasture was (though I do think I wanted to feed the buffalo Cheerios, as though they were ducks), but in my mind this means that buffalo are both fast and mean.

[2] Does that sound lame? It was an important psychological goal—during the last few miles of climb leading up to the mile 14 aid station, I was counting down—“Only three more miles before I get to text B.” The idea was to tell him my time at the halfway point to help better gauge the SLC crew’s departure to Antelope Island. Unfortunately I realized after the race that my text hadn’t gone through. Whomp whomp, sad tromboon.

Amazing Post-Race Liege Waffle at Bruges (SLC-Area Waffle Stand)
Amazing Post-Race Liege Waffle at Bruges (SLC-Area Waffle Stand)

North Face Endurance Challenge — Marathon in Eagle, WI

nfec results This has been the weirdest “b” race ever, guys. Not only was the training weird, but I tapered for the race, which I never do, and it was a weird taper.

For one thing, it was the only taper in my life that I spent in Europe eating Belgian waffles and French pastries. It was also the only taper (of recent memory) done without a pool available.

Swimming is typically my go-to cross-training because it gives me sexy shoulder muscles, can be done inside (an important consideration this time of year in Wisconsin), and is non-impact. But for this taper at first I was in Belgium and France for two weeks, and while I could have gone over to one of the local pools and gotten a day pass, I was under some obligation to spend time with my family. Anyway, I was walking a ton (it’s Europe), so it didn’t really seem necessary to “work out” outside of my every-other day schedule of running. To keep up my cardio fitness, I ran 8–10 miles at a go every other day, and occasionally did body-weight exercises with B.[1] The day we got back from Europe was the day our gym started its annual cleaning of the lap pool; it reopened the Monday after the race. So I was been totally on my own for the last week.

When a pool is unavailable, there’s always biking. I enjoy biking, sort of. I’m not good at it. So last Sunday after
my run I biked 10 miles to my Chinese class and back (5 miles in each direction to the Social Sciences building—and I got to watch the IM marathon when I was heading home). Monday I biked around some of the rural area outside of Middleton, about 25 miles total. Then Wednesday. . . it was both 45 degrees and raining, so I went to spin class. Friday it was also 45 degrees and raining, so I did more spin. You would not believe (or maybe you would) how energetic one feels when one is in marathon shape, and how difficult it is to get what feels like a good (tiring) workout when you are totally primed to run for four hours without stopping. I guess that means that I had a successful taper because I felt strong and a little crazy.

But still: What is it about spin bikes that no matter how hard I think I’m pedaling, the little odometer always tells me I went 25 miles in an hour? And why can I do only half of that on the mean streets? And why do I sweat so damn much while spinning? And how can I make it stop irritating my bad foot when I stand on the pedals?

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My foot, taped by both the PT and myself

Such questions. I apologize about this blog, by the way. I’ve missed you guys. But here I am almost five hundred words in and I haven’t gotten to the race yet. Also I apologize that I’ve yet to make up my mind about whether I think a colon should be followed by a capital letter (whether or not it introduces a full sentence). I changed the “w” above.
I signed up for this race as a way to gauge my fitness/training before the Antelope Island 50k next month. It also served as my last and longest training run. In a world where I was paying attention to things like having a training plan, my long runs would have gone something like this: (various stuff working up to) 15, 18, 15, 18, 20, 26.2 (and then some taper before the 50k). Instead I have done, starting the first week of July, 17, 13, [10k—tri day], 20, 13, 18, 20, 15, 10, 10. The 15 was the day before I left for Europe, the second 10 was the day after I got back. On the one hand, I actually missed or shortened three of the planned FIVE twenty-milers the plan my friends were following had scheduled. On the other hand, I am not someone who can run over twenty miles a lot and remain uninjured. I am backed up by historical data on this. I need to write myself some reminder post-it notes that say: Don’t do track speed work; don’t wear minimalist shoes; don’t run more than twenty miles once per marathon training cycle (or potentially: don’t run marathons); don’t do two-a-days.

I have done every single one of those fucking things during this marathon training cycle (er, except for the “don’t run marathons” part—though I guess I just did that?), and not surprisingly my right foot is a little angry about it. But not angry enough that I needed to miss the marathon. Just angry enough that I am running on “step down” (which means every other day rather than my normal five days per week schedule), and I had my PT tape my foot on Friday. I’m hopeful I’ll be back in full fighting shape by October, but for now I didn’t have high expectations going into the NFEC. My goals were like this:

  • A goal: Sub-4 hours. I was in shape for this, with the exception of my foot that won’t get with the program. If it were a road marathon I would probably expect to clock in right around four hours, even with the issues. However it was a trail race, which means probably not.
  • B goal: 4:30:xx. This would be a solid time for a technical trail marathon, and per last years’ finishing times would still put me in the top five women. So it was probably a pipe dream.
  • C goal: Sub-5 hours. This was probably a reasonable time given foot and terrain. It would probably be a pretty solid time for this course. (This assumption based on my experiences running elsewhere in the Kettles.)
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Early morning pre-race selfie

Writing this introductory portion of the race report the night before, I should note that my week has looked like this:

  • Sunday: Run 10, bike 10
  • Monday: Bike 25
  • Tuesday: Run 10
  • Wednesday: Spin class (“25”), aikido
  • Thursday: Run 10
  • Friday: Spin class (“30”, because I started early)

B looked at this and said, “Have you heard of a taper?” So taper is as taper does, apparently. (Help me out, what does that actually mean?)

The Race

The race had a late start (9:00am) so I was able to sleep in until 6:25 before getting up to begin my pre-race rituals (eat a raspberry Pop Tart while reading The New Yorker). At 7:15 I stuck my stuff in the car. Then I panicked and ran back upstairs for an emergency piece of tape for my foot (in addition to the tape that the PT put on yesterday). I rolled out around 7:20.

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I-94 to Eagle, WI

The drive over was fine. I felt relaxed. Then after a while I felt tense. I arrived about 20 minutes early and jogged over to the park bathroom (which, by the way, had actual flush toilets and soap!). And. . . my foot didn’t hurt at all. I jogged back to the car. It was still fine. Incredible. I decided to add one more piece of tape to a spot that was sort of bugging me (see picture above). I put on the t-shirt with my number pinned to it while cramming a protein bar in my mouth, grabbed my hydration pack, and set off for the starting line.

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“It’s 45 degrees outside”

One thing I have to say is that I was impressed by how much parking was available and how close to the starting line I got to park. Another thing that was impressive was how cold it was (about 45 at the start, I’d guess). The race officials had little heat lamps and fire pits for us to warm our hands over.

The race started. I had decided on the following strategy: Run a conservative first half, then pick it up. Walk hills if necessary, and be prepared to hike it in if the foot gives out. So I went out at a pace that felt pretty slow. We ran along the side of a road (Cty Highway ZZ I think) for a while, then turned onto a grassy/muddy path going up a rather mild incline. Later I found out I made it through the 1.8 mi aid station in about 16 min—a 9:16 pace, not exactly relaxed.

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Starting line

It took me about twenty minutes to get bored. While ultra runners are typically a chatty bunch, road marathoners are often quite serious—they have times to hit, Boston to qualify for, that sort of thing. Well, nuts to that. In what is a giant leap out of my shell, as soon as I came up next to someone who was going my pace, I started chatting with him. He was from Sandwich, IL, a 21-year old guy named Shane who worked as a restorer of houses and was interested in becoming a pastor. We talked for about twenty minutes, then he left me behind and I started talking to a professor of entrepreneurship from Marquette University. He was an interesting guy, had studied classical Chinese back in the day and had a son who was totally fluent in Mandarin.[2] The professor thought he was on track to win his AG (men 64+), so was running a pretty conservative race. I hung with him for about forty-five minutes (through the seven-ish mile aid station and beyond) before he stopped to stretch a calf and I rolled on ahead.

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The prairie area

After a few switchbacks we emerged onto the prairie. I met up with two other marathoners, Nicole and Matt, and we chatted through the 11.7-mile aid station. I was still feeling really good at this point—my foot was doing really well on the soft ground (the rain from the last few days proved useful I guess) and I felt strong and happy. I ate a gel at about 1:50:xx and then grabbed some potato chips and a piece of boiled potato dipped in salt going through the aid station; although it wasn’t really a hit-the-salt-hard day, I have been struggling with stomach cramps all summer caused by salt issues, so I decided I wasn’t going to forego it completely.

I lost my companions after the aid station and went on for a while alone. My foot was beginning to bother me, but in truth the pain from the tape rubbing on my skin was worse than anything else. The terrain was very runnable, the weather still comfortably cool. Around (what I think was) mile 17, I passed a guy who made a remark about how he was going to follow me, since I had a good pace going. I laughed and we chatted for most of the next nine miles. His name was Wes; we talked about running, our jobs, his kids, and lots of various sundry things. We also met the single largest climb in the race—it was right around mile 19, and nowhere near as scary as Shane (remember Shane?) had suggested to me that it was. Certainly it was quite steep, and I hiked it rather than try to run it, but it wasn’t super arduous, and I probably could have run it if I’d had a gun on me.

By mile 20, my foot was starting to hurt. And my other foot hurt. And so did my ribs and my abs and. Well, you get the picture. But I knew something was going to hurt. You don’t come unscathed out of a marathon. So onward I went. The terrain had settled down after the big hill and was really pretty easy to run despite my discomfort. As we neared the end (I think close to the two miles to go mark), Wes dropped back to take a gel and I decided to try for some kind of finishing kick.

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More typical Ice Age trail (aka the hill where my quads died)

I passed a couple of people (50k-ers and marathon relay people) and started up a really long, low grade hill. This was the point that I tried to speed up and realized how trashed my quads were. I was being passed at this point by a seemingly endless stream of marathon relayers going in the opposite direction and a few coming back. Eventually I crested the hill and tried to push it a bit back to the finish, including passing a lady (50k, sadly, not marathon) in the last fifty feet before the finish. When I turned around, Wes was right behind me—apparently he’d been trying to catch me but couldn’t. We fist-bumped and I wished him well.

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Post-race selfies

I’d finished in 4:30:47 (watch time); I assumed, based on the good (cool) weather and course conditions, that I wouldn’t have placed. But I decided to wander over and get my results anyway before I left. Surprisingly, I was the 11th woman overall, and the 3rd in my age group (of 7). So I hit my B time and still managed to place. Nice. I got a little baggie of prizes, including sleeves, which I am excited to try out sometime this week.

Post-Race

I stumbled back to my car and stopped at a gas station on my way back to Madison for coffee and chocolate milk. I was already sore as I shambled around the store, and things only got worse by the time I got home. But despite my feeling (at the end of the race) that my left big toe was probably bleeding and that my right little toe might have fallen totally off, here is the sum total of the damage:

  • Bruise on back from hydration pack
  • Sore quads
  • Some chafing of various soft tissues
  • A blister the size of my thumb under the tape on my right foot
  • Everything from the knees down a bit muddy

So that’s not too bad at all. As I write this (following icing and ibuprofen), my foot feels really good (except for the blister). Score one for the PT.

I think that’s all I have to report. For those thinking of doing it, the NFEC is a great course, very runnable but not unchallenging, in a beautiful park, and the race is really well organized. I’m impressed on all counts.


[1] At our last hotel in Brussels, we actually had access to a universal machine in the gym, which was nice but a little confusing—rather than labeling any of the weights as pounds or kilograms, it just said “10, 20, 30” and so on. 20 what?

[2] If you want to be famous, the Chinese seem endlessly amused by Westerners who can speak Chinese fluently. I have never myself been that fluent. Actually, I don’t really understand the draw—as I’ve told some various relatives, there are about 960 million native speakers (as of 2010), making it far and away the most commonly spoken language on the planet. This means that when you learn Chinese, you are doing nothing that has not already been done by LITERALLY a billion people. But the Chinese seem to find it so entertaining! Compare that to Americans, who tend to think that learning English is basically THE LEAST you can do.

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My medals from summer racing — Viroqua tri, Couples duathlon, and NFEC

Viroqua Triathlon Race Report

Ok, Viroqua Triathlon race report. I’m going to try to keep this short because I’m pretty tired and I got stuff to do. Got up at 4:30 in the morning (a time I’ve concluded should not exist) after a few hours of fitful sleep, ate a poptart, and dragged out of the house by a few minutes after 5. I’m glad I took extra time to pack everything up and put my bike in the car the night before, because triathlon requires so much gear and preparation that trying to do it at 4:30 would have led to me driving off sans helmet or something terrible like that. I had actually planned to leave the house by 5, assuming the drive was 90 min, so I would arrive by 6:30. The drive was actually longer than that, and I had to stop for gas. It got a bit nerve-wracking, actually. I was just pulling into the outskirts of Viroqua (a town with a “watch out for horse-drawn buggies sign on the main drag, as well as actual horse-drawn buggies galloping along) at 7.

At 7:10, I arrived at the pool. There were a few bike racks set up, so I dropped my bike off and ran inside, where no one seemed too concerned that we were 20 minutes away from the beginning of the race. Packet pickup went quickly enough, and I changed into my swimsuit and set up my transition area in about 15 minutes total for all three activities, so that by 7:28 I was standing on the deck of the pool. I was in the first wave of swimmers (at the time, I assumed that this was because I registered super early so I couldn’t convince myself not to do the tri. More on this later though.). We were assigned two to a lane in a really nice six-lane pool. I was in lane 1, and it was really wide—we probably could have gotten another person or two in without issue. The way the pool was set up, there was a wall with an opening in it that led to a shallower area (probably for water aerobics), and consequently the pool was super warm, at least in comparison to the pool I usually swim in, which is kept at 81 degrees. So everyone gets in the pool, the lane counter explains how everything works—eighteen laps, I’ll signal when you have one more using a kickboard and then signal when you’re done, have fun and good luck. I was a little nervous, suddenly feeling unsure about decisions like wearing my earplugs in the pool, wearing my watch, signing up for a tri when I’m obviously not a triathlete. . . . Pretty normal pre-race jitters, I guess. A few minutes after 7:30, the race director got on the microphone and talked and then we started.

Because of the nerves, I was feeling out of breath by the time I got to the end of the first lap (unusual for me). I guess I was probably pushing the pace, and also trying to do flip turns, which is always a bit stressful in a new pool. I consciously slowed myself down, focused on my stroke, and decided to stop with the flip turns for the time being. Things improved. By the time I hit nine laps, I was really moving—I passed the guy who was sharing the lane with me. I felt like I was flying, super aerodynamic despite the watch. I finished the swim in 17:24.3, the second fastest swim split!

Transition was run out the door and down to the transition area, dry off as fast as you can, regret the choice to try to put on tight spandex tri shorts over wet legs, hop about like an idiot, make sure your ear plugs get into your bag of stuff, grab the bike, duck underneath the rack of bikes because I don’t really know what the hell I’m doing, and sprint for the exit. 2:53.8. I think this is comparable to other tris I’ve done. (Actually, I just looked it up, my first transition in my first tri was 5:05, but I had to take off my wetsuit and I dropped my chip and all kinds of terrible stuff. I apparently didn’t blog about my other tris.)

The bike course was really pretty amazing. The first five miles were mostly downhill with a few rolling hills I was able to get up without issue. I knew ahead of time that there were only two really serious hills on the course. The first came a bit before mile 10, I think. According to MapMyRide, it was a 4.3% grade, which is pretty steep but not as steep as the hill I do hill repeats on. I knew it was going to be trouble when I was listening to the RD give me a description of the bike route, and when he said, “And then you turn left on Helgerson Road,” some guy standing behind me said, “Oh man, we have to go up Helgerson Hill?” Hills that have names are not fun hills. In person, it seemed very, very steep, that kind of lung-sucking climb that makes you grab the handlebars of your bike and bend over and just gasp to try to get through it. Sitting up straight is a better strategy though. Also, as I slowed down, a gigantic cloud of bugs came to attack me. Awesome. The second hill was longer but less of a climb (1.9%) and I went up it without any issues—it was actually almost fun compared to the first hill. As I was just getting to the base of the second big hill, some of the first sprint racers started to catch me. One asked if I was in the Oly. I said yes and that it was nice to see someone, since I’d been basically alone for the last ten miles. She mentioned that there were only six people doing the Oly, and only two women (so that was why I was in the first wave). I knew the other woman had gotten out of transition a few seconds before I did and was really fast on the bike, since I hadn’t seen her since. So at that point I knew I was basically racing for second place. Maybe she would have a bad run and I’d be able to catch her.

The best part of the bike was going past all these little small-town Wisconsin buildings. I passed a very small white clapboard church with a steeple, and a small graveyard behind it. It was like biking through Our Town. As I crested a hill, a flagger shouted to me, “Don’t worry, it gets better from here!” and then added, as I was almost out of earshot, “And then it gets worse again.” An accurate description of life. I finished the bike in 1:23:31, a pace of 16.8 mph if you believe their course measurement of 23.41 mi, and slightly slower if you go with the 20 miles my watch measured it at. Yes.

T2: Put on your shoes, blow your nose, remember to take off your helmet and go. 1:48.5.

As I was coming over the last small hill on the bike course, I’d seen the lead woman who was quickly overtaking the kid I’d shared a lane with (the run shared the same road as the bike course). She was really moving, so I knew I wasn’t going to catch her. At the same time, I’d passed another woman who was doing the Oly (turns out there were more than two of us) at around a mile into my run, so I had to push it a little to make sure I didn’t get caught myself. The run was a 10k on an out-and-back course—it ran almost entirely downhill to the turnaround, and almost entirely uphill back to the finish. I feel like I’ve learned two things from ultra running—the first is, always stop to fix small problems before they become big ones. And the second is, run with the terrain when you can, because it will totally turn against you. So I did the first 5k really fast, I think I was running 8:30s. The turnaround was a guy sitting on the bed of his pickup with his puppy. I got a glass of water from him and headed back. I passed the other runner who was on her way out to the turnaround and we attempted to high five. I cheered on a lot of the last few bikers and told them they were only a mile from the finish, and they cheered for me. It was cool and overcast, and the rolling fields and small houses made it feel like a Grant Wood painting. I slowed down to a 9:10ish pace on the way back because of the hills. With about one mile to go, my legs were pretty done. But then I got a little more downhill and made a respectable finish. Run time was 55:14; total time was 2:40:52, well below my goal of three hours.

My awesome post-race selfie, for those (Mom) who didn't see it on FB.
My awesome post-race selfie, for those (Mom) who didn’t see it on FB.

It turns out that there were in fact seven athletes who competed in the Olympic tri, five women and two men. The lead guy was out of the pool and out of transition before I managed to get to transition, so I never even saw him—he finished in 1:59:xx. The last woman, who must have been so far back I don’t even know if she’d started the run by the time I finished it came in at 4:04:xx. The age groups wound up a bit weird (why was it Men 20–29 but Women 26–35?), but I was the only woman in my age group and consequently got a medal. Overall I finished fourth of seven participants and the second woman of five. The woman who beat me did the swim in almost exactly the same time (she was a few seconds slower than I was), then did the bike in 1:11 and the run in 44.5 minutes. So clearly there’s something to aspire to.

And that’s it. I had a sweet roll from a local bakery, put my stuff back in the car, and drove to Green Lake for my husband’s family’s family reunion. Conclusions: All the time I spent doing 5×100 at I-want-to-die speed in the pool paid off. I should have spent more time pushing myself to go faster on the bike and working on hills instead of just training for distance. Running track has helped me keep my speed decent, despite the high training volume; my legs felt good and I think I would have been faster in a non-tri race. I can’t say I was sorry to get up this morning and “only” run without having to do a brick (a workout where one does at least two of the three tri disciplines), but I’ll miss some of the variety of triathlon training as I transition to getting ready for my last big race of the year, the Antelope Island 50k. Of which more later, because this “short” race report is now suddenly 1,800 words and I need to go make myself some dinner and maybe walk the dogs. Thanks for reading!

Capital View “Couples” Duathlon

Lest you think my life is entirely given over to literature now . . .

I got up at 5:10 this morning to go do a duathlon, primarily because I signed up for it in a fit of enthusiasm back in . . . March or something. It was so close to my house, such a good chance to practice biking in race conditions before my tri in July. It would be fun.

Fun. I remember fun.

Okay, so I went into this race feeling a bit overtrained. “But Em, overtraining sounds like a positive thing, like you’re really on top of your training!” No. Overtraining is a thing that can happen if you train too much and don’t recover sufficiently–don’t take enough days off.[1] Symptoms include fatigue and decreased performance (despite speed work, you’re not getting faster); gastrointestinal upset; an increase in respiration rates or higher resting heart rate; lower appetite and increased thirst; decreased motivation to work out; feelings of sadness/depression or anxiety (for example, if you typically keep your anxiety in check with exercise, you may suddenly find yourself having an anxiety attack about your cat at midnight one night). Oh, changing sleep patterns too. If I get really bad, I tend to get night sweats.[2] So yeah, it’s a lot of fun not very fun. Lately I’ve had to drag myself out the door in the morning, and although my legs feel strong on the run, I feel mentally disconnected from what I’m doing. Add to that an ever-changing variety of stomach issues and the anxiety thing . . . it has been a rough few weeks around here.

Anyway, after I finally figured out what was going on, I decided to use my taper (yeah, I tapered for this) as the beginning of recovery, and just do the best I could with what I had in the tank on race day. Aside from getting lost on what was supposed to be an easy Friday morning bike ride[3], I think things went pretty well on that account. The race was a (trail) 5k, a 25-mi bike, and another trail 5k, which makes it pretty typical for duathlons in this area, although Wikipedia says the “classic” distance is in fact 10k run, 44km bike (a bit more than a marathon, for those that don’t do metric), and 5k run[4]. I completed these events plus two transitions in 2:43:19.2, good enough for 6th 5th in my age group and 36th35th overall. Here’s a quick breakdown of what happened.

Run 1

The last race (a trail half marathon) I did, I had to drive an hour between breakfast and the start of the race, so I was STARVING by mile two. This time, I grabbed a granola bar right before kickoff, and I think it was a good decision. The trails were wide and grassy, but not too spongy from last night’s rain. The biggest difficulty was in the sandy sections on the second loop. I was still pretty miffed with the event staff and volunteers for being badly set up and unable to answer any questions, so I basically stomped my way through. Perhaps because it was on trails (or because i had to run so damn much getting to packet pickup and transition), I couldn’t hold my planned 8:30/mi pace, but I finished in 27:21 (8:49 pace), not too far off.

Bike

Transition went relatively quickly (2:07) despite my never bothering to practice (oops). Also one never practices running in clip-in shoes, which is too bad because it is a pain in the ass.

Ok, I knew the course relatively well (I live five miles from it, after all)–it was a lolly pop shape–outbound to Enchanted Valley Road, a loop through Cross Plains, then back. Having ridden it Friday, I had a plan in place for where I was going to push it (the long flat section on Schneider Road, both directions); where the hills were (small rollers in the first five miles, then a bunch of downhill on bad roads, then some climb, then we’re back to the rollers); and where I was going to eat my gel (salted caramel flavor!). What I didn’t expect was the temperature–it was at least ten degrees colder than I thought it was going to be (it was maybe 60 when I expected 70-75 and humid), and overcast, and I was racing in a sleeveless tri top and very short shorts.

As I was running out of transition, I heard a woman shout to another racer, “Stay down on the hills, try to build some warmth.” Figuring this was a good plan, I stayed on the drop bars as much as I could throughout the race, and I think it made a difference in my time, which was a personal best in terms of average speed. I did get passed by a lot of people though–everyone from sixty year olds to guys on bikes that cost as much as my car.[5] I could appreciate, watching them, how useful aero bars are for position–given my geometry on the drop bars, I think properly positioned aero bars would get me quite low. But most of the riders with aero bars had bikes that were geared to allow them to climb hills without getting out of the aero position, while on my bike I find it most useful to get off the drop bars (and even stand up and shift my weight forward) to climb, so I don’t know that it would really be worth it overall.

I was alone for most of the first fifteen miles of the bike, but it was actually quite pleasant. I sang some various songs to keep myself company. (Example one; example two.) By mile 15, the oly triathletes had started to catch me, so I was within sight of others for the rest of the course. (Unlike cycling, drafting is not allowed in triathlon, so riders never bunch up into a peloton.) Around mile 17, I started thinking I should plan for the second transition . . . ultimately I decided to dismount in the normal way and do the run-in in my bike shoes rather than trying something weird like getting my feet out of my shoes before the dismount. In the last five miles I passed: two older people who had gotten off to walk their bikes up a hill; two older guys (50+) on mountain bikes, a woman whose chain jammed as she tried to pass me, and a 50-something woman who was having a devil of a time on the last hill.

I’m so badass, man. Elapsed time: 1:41:05, 14.8 mph.

Run 2

A few steps into the transition area, I stopped to take off my bike shoes to see if that would speed me up. My toes were totally numb from biking fast in the cold, but not numb enough that I didn’t feel the pavement under them. Ow! So I hobbled over and switched up my kit. T2 time: 2:40, very consistent.

The second run was basically the first run backward, sort of. The first run had consisted of an A loop and a B loop (arranged like a figure-8). The second run did the B loop first (forward), then the A loop (backward). I wish they had said that at the starting line instead of “follow the signs for the Sprint,” because I saw exactly one sign that said “Sprint” on it. During this run I passed at least one woman wearing a duathlon bib and saw a couple of others who were pretty far behind, so I knew I wasn’t last even though I felt like I was. I was, however, tired. I let myself shuffle along at whatever seemed like a sustainable pace; as the numbness in my toes receded, I found myself picking up the pace, and I think I actually did negative splits. My stomach was beginning to complain (cramp) at this point, but I told it to shut up because there was only a mile left to go, and I soldiered on. The second run was about three minutes slower–I finished in 30:04, a 9:42 pace. Not amazing, but could be worse.

Final Analysis

It’s clear that my crappy bike time was really the limiting factor here. Looking at all (50) finishers, there’s a strong correlation between the bike time and overall finishing order.[6] Also, almost everyone in the top 10 had a more consistent time between R1 and R2–they were within about a minute of each other. However, that particular fact is not relevant since I’m not doing another duathlon this season (as far as I know). Getting my bike speed up to 15 or even 16 mph would make a big difference in my finish. My main takeaways for July’s tri are: 1.) Gel around mi 11 is a great idea. 2.) Bike a lot more before July. 3.) Stop being overtrained. That’s all. Here’s a picture of my animals to thank you for reading this. Hat tip to Michelle (a former coworker from long ago), whose report on the sprint tri spurred me to write my own. Also, sorry about all the parenthetical remarks.

Hangin' Out
Hangin’ Out

Notes

[1] If you frequent fitness message boards, you often see people asking questions that amount to something like “I’m walking a mile per day worried about overtraining lol.” (Sorry, it’s the internet.) They’re probably not overtraining. But just because they’re not doesn’t mean nobody is, which I tend to forget until I hit the spot of oops too much. Also it goes to show you that everybody thinks their workout is super badass. As for me, my last two weeks before this one were 35 mi run/54 mi bike/2500 yds swim (week ending 31 May) and 51 mi run/37 mi bike/2500 yards swim (week ending 25 May)–doesn’t seem too onerous, but I guess it crept up on me. I did run 196 mi in May and 206 in April, suggesting a high weekly average.

[2] Other symptoms can be found by googling the term “overtraining,” but this 90s-era website has a fairly comprehensive list and looks reputable.

[3] Amusingly, in my attempt to figure out where the “challenging hill right before mile 15” (as listed on the course description) was, I took a wrong turn and wound up biking up a much more difficult hill.

[4] Duathlon.com says 40k rather than 44k. Regardless, nothing in Wisconsin has a 10k/5k runs, to say nothing of long distances that can range up to 15k/80k/7.5k or 5k/56 mi/13.1 mi. Since I basically decided a few years ago I wasn’t going to travel over about 40 minutes for races that were shorter than a half marathon, I’ve not been super interested in going places in order to run two miles, bike 12 miles, and run another two miles.

[5] If you are a 43-year-old white man with a bike worth over $5k and an M-Dot tattoo on your calf, I have nothing to say to you.

[6] Actually, my idea of using the runs to compensate for the bike made me something of an anomaly–no one who finished ahead of me had a speed of under 15 mph, as well as the next four finishers behind me!

Em oi! #387: Bad Dog

Bad Dog

Proof:
Dog!

Oof. Remember when I used to have time to blog? Me neither.

Ironically, I finished this drawing almost a month ago, when we were visiting Baltimore. But I didn’t get it posted the week we came back because we were packing for the move, and then we were moving. After the move, first I couldn’t find the sketchbook. Then I found the sketchbook but I didn’t know where my eraser (the one surviving eraser at this point), so I couldn’t finish the sketch. Last night I decided to get my act together.

I’ll file this under: SF429.S63 L86 2013, which stands for:
Animal culture–Pets–Dogs–By breed, A-Z–Shiba dogs.

More comics about the dog here and here.

I ran the Baltimore Running Festival half marathon on the 12th of October. It was fun. I was going to write a race report, but let’s face it: The chances of that happening are kind of slim at this point. I get up every morning at 5:30 to start work on my thesis, then I work out and do actual work, and after all that I have no energy left. So enjoy a few photos from the run:

go pass
My MTA ticket. I <3 public transit.
pre race
Looking skeptical before the race.
starting line
There was a goodly walk from where we lined up to the starting line, the last bit was uphill. It was a bit confusing. I bet people who actually read their race packet knew about this though.
socks
It’s the Natty Boh man. We’re in B’more, hon.
lake building
I’d been reading _From Hell_, and this building looked strangely like some freemason business.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

empty rowhouses
Running past empty rowhouses.
done
Post-race. I finished in 2:00:07.