Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Of Winter, Roads, Racing, and Simplicity

OK ... March is almost over and technically it's Spring.  But guess what?  It's still below 20 degrees every morning when I wake up, it is still a white blanket of snow once you are within a mile, in any direction, of our house, and so in my eyes it's still winter.  And as much as I have tried to embrace some love for the roads I am just not feeling it.  I want my trails back.  Now.

This year I skipped doing any February races to give myself a break from running and "racing" and just have some fun with some non-training running and XC skiing.  Yup, that was fun.  I didn't really have a plan for March except to try to get ready for April and the fact that I am registered to run the Boston Marathon.  Not really sure what I was thinking there, but unfortunately the way race entries go anymore there is not much time to contemplate "should I or shouldn't I?"  You wait and you will likely not have to think about it ... you will get closed out and the decision will be made for you.  I guess that's how I ended up registering for Boston.

So in the event that I actually decide to run Boston (I'm still up in the air on it) I thought I should actually get some road training in.  When I was sick of running on the roads and sick of the cold I tried the treadmill for some good turn-over training and mental training to work on overcoming the boredom.  The last two years that I ran Boston (2007 and 2008) I found this awesome small town race in March that turned out to be the perfect pre-Boston prep.  The Wurtsboro Mountain 30K.  So I decided that since I had no other March racing plans this year this would be a good challenge.  My friend Karen is also running Boston and decided to race it, too.  Yay ... girl road trip!

So let me say, the first clue that this race could be a ball-buster ... it has the word "mountain" in the name.  It may be 7.6 miles shorter than the marathon, but mile for mile, this race is tougher than any hilly marathon I have done.  Rarely do you see flat road.  No, it's not easy.  And I love this distance for a "race" ... I would never run this kind of effort running 18+ miles on my own.  This race is full of tough love.

Karen and I arrived in Wurtsboro a little over an hour before the start; just enough time to get our stuff, relax a bit, and decide what to wear.  The temps were projected to start in the mid-20s for the start but rise into the higher 40s by the time we would finish.  It alternated between overcast and sunny and I finally decided on 3/4 length tights, compression calf sleeves, two lightweight long sleeve shirts and a singlet, my very cool light-weight FLRTC beanie, light gloves, and sunglasses.  I have trained all winter carrying a water bottle with NUUN and I like the fact that I have my own drink to sip at when I want and not have to rely on aid stations, so I decided to wear my waist-pack and carry a bottle.  Then there was the biggest decision ... which shoes to wear?  I really wanted to wear my Altra Intuitions but they have ZERO traction unless running on a dry road.  The roads that day were still coated with wet slushy snow.  Well, I've done a lot of road running this winter in trail shoes and this day I was very glad that I brought my Altra Lone Peaks with me.  Yup ... I would be racing a road race in trail shoes.  Guess I know where my heart is really at.

The race started at 9am and the sun was out pretty bright.  And pretty quickly we were headed uphill.  This race does not start to even remotely level out until close to mile 5, and even then it's not flat, just less hilly.  Mile 1:  9 minutes, 35 seconds and I was passing people.  5K:  30 minutes and change.  At this point I passed a woman and man running together.  Little did I know that this would be the last female runner I would see.  The sun was quite warm on my back and I was sweating, sort of regretting putting on that second long sleeve shirt.  I thought about stopping to take it off but decided I better wait until the higher elevations and see how I felt.  And I was glad I waited since the sun went back under and it was a bit cooler higher up.

I felt like I was pushing a bit but not red-lining and just trying to stay within myself.  I never really had anyone running along side of me.  And I never really felt like walking, which made me happy.  I thought of my friends running trail races in MD and NJ in the snow and I embraced the sloppy roads in their honor.  The Lone Peaks just plowed through the crap and the traction was excellent.  I just kept focusing on getting to the point where I would have more miles behind me than I had in front of me.  I tried not to get mental but I did have a little moment at the 15K point where I thought "holy crap, I have to run what I just ran all over again" and it seemed a little daunting.  So I tried to just focus on one mile at a time.  At the 10 mile aid station there were women screaming "first female" as I came toward them.  What?  They must have been yelling about someone ahead of me.  So I just smiled, thanked them, and kept running.  And so this has nothing to do with the race, but here's my real question ... how is it that I am not even face to face with these people, I'm running with my face all contorted, wearing a winter beanie and sunglasses, and they STILL recognize that I am female yet when I go into a store not wearing a hat, face fully exposed, smiling, and I am greeted with "can I help you, sir?"  Hmmmmm?  Just something to contemplate.

Back to the race.  This is one of the most beautiful road courses I have ever run.  Amazing houses to look at.  Awesome tall trees on both sides of the road.  Running streams along the road.  And very little traffic.  And the hills NEVER stop ... it truly "rolls" the entire course.  Somewhere after mile 10 I caught up with one of the early starters.  I could see one of the guys from my race start time up ahead but there was no one behind me.  The most challenging part of this course, I think, comes around mile 12 where it is just a gradual climb of rollers for the next 6 miles.  And I believe the miles truly get longer here.  We now had changed directions and the wind just seemed to disappear and I started to get a bit warm.  I did have to drop my pace a bit as my stomach started feeling a bit queasy and slowing the pace some did relieve this.  At mile 14 I was again greeted by the mile 10 aid station group (another cool thing about this race ... the mobile revolving aid stations).  The women again screamed that I was the first female!  Now I knew there was no one else around me and I smiled and asked them if the snow had scared all of the super speedsters away.  I felt like I was running strong and fast (for me) but I also know what the women's winning times have been in the past.  And then I thought, crap, no way I can ease off now; who knows where the second place woman is.  Crap.  I was getting a little tired, mostly mentally.  Physically everything was still feeling pretty good.  But I was ready to be done and I so wished this had been a half marathon and was SOOOOO thankful that it was not a marathon.  Around mile 17 one of the aid station ladies pulled up by me in her truck and said that second and third ladies were about a mile behind me duking it out.  And I thought if they were pushing each other I certainly had better not ease up; they could easily push each other to the point of catching me.  FINALLY mile 18.  I started to feel like I couldn't breathe and had a little coughing fit.  Thank goodness it was short-lived and I could finally see the elementary school ahead and knew that's where the finish was.  I had nothing left.  If those ladies had come up on me I don't know if I would have had any fight in me.  I was on empty.  Thank goodness they did not catch me.  I finished in 2 hours, 38 minutes, 28 seconds ... a big PR for me on this course.  And Karen finshed in 2:57, good for her age group win.

Some lasting impressions of this race for me:

1.  I love these small town races.  I do not enjoy the big-scene races with a lot of hype.

2.   This is one of the last "old school" races (in the good company of the Tromptown Half Marathon/5K and Forks XV) and that's one reason, despite it being a road race, that I love it.  1: The cost.  $32.  Most 5Ks come close to that anymore.  2:  Paper entry form.  Forget that additional computer registration fee.  The only additional cost is the stamp.  3:  Not another tech shirt.  Just about every race gives tech shirts now.  I miss the good old cotton t-shirts.  This race gave out knit winter beanies.  Very cool.  4:  No schwag bags full of crappy advertisements that just get tossed in the garbage.  Nope, not here.  We got a hat and choice of giant bag of Goldfish Crackers or Goldfish Cookies.  I love races that give out feel-good food.  And 5:  Hand-made awards.  You feel the RDs love with these.

3.  Other than Karen, I did not know any of the other runners.  This was good.  It let me focus on myself and not fall into that need to try to race another person.

4.  OK, my winning time is not all that good when you look at past winning times (or the top 10 female finisher times, for that matter!), but as Diane Sherrer once said ... it's all about who shows up.  And those speedsters didn't show up that day.  Which is why it was me walking away with the Pepperidge Farms cookies (OK, there was a cool cowbell trophy, too).

5.  I won a road race.  This is not an everyday occurrence for me.  Headline should read "Old Fat Female Wins Road Race Wearing Trail Shoes and Waist Pack".  It's good to be in the Masters category - those ladies are a tough group and I am proud to be a part of them!  And fat - I am a proud Clydesdale runner and I work hard with beer and food to maintain my status.  And as for the shoes and bottle pack ... can't help it, I am a trail runner at heart - and they work.

6.  This past summer I switched to a High Fat, Low Carb diet and I am seeing the benefits of this.  I probably still eat more carbs than many on this "diet" but it is much much lower than I used to eat.  I don't deprive myself when I want carbs - I am not giving up beer or pizza.  I just use them as my treats.  But eating less carbs has taught my body to tap into my fat stores - and I have a pretty good supply - for energy.  I had a Lara Bar (210 calories, 10 grams fat, 31 carbs) a couple of hours before the start of this race.  I never felt hungry during the race, never felt the need to take in any fuel during the race, and felt energized throughout.  I drank about 10 ounces of water (with NUUN electrolyte tab) during the race.  And I felt fantastic.

7.  These get-er-done-in-one-day races and then kick back and relive the fun with friends and beer are fun.  I need to do more of these.

So yes, I had fun at a road race.  But if I said I wasn't looking at the scenery and trails that I was running by and wishing I was running there, I'd be lying.  I am still up in the air as to whether or not to run Boston.  Fortunately I have paid dearly ($$) for the luxury of being still being able to decide.  I just can't get excited about it and it's not where my heart is at.  I know it is a privilege and an honor to be able to run there, but I don't know and probably won't until the last minute.  I am fortunate to have had to opportunity to run five Bostons pre-2013 bombing.  The logistics are so different now and I get that, but it is all just giving me a headache now.  I want simplicity.  I just want to run and lose myself in the woods.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Pre-Spring Ramblings

So I'm still tired of winter, although I am coping with it a little better now.  Now that March is here I can really feel that there is an end in sight.  Since I haven't had any races to report on and my "training" has been sketchy at best, I really don't have much to actually "report" on.  My training has mostly just been a series of a flight of ideas ...

Joe and I had a wonderful day of XC skiing at Allegany State Park in Salamanca.  If you XC ski, I highly recommend checking this out.  It is a good 2.5 hour drive from here but well worth the trip.  And if you don't XC ski, come spring when the snow melts there will be really excellent trails to run on.  The Allegany Adventure Run on May 2 is always a good time.  Bonus points:  the Ellicottville Brewing Company is just a short 15 minute drive from the park ... excellent food and even better beers!

Normally in the winter I switch from drinking beer to wine.  A good dark semi-dry wine relaxes me through winter.  However, this year the local craft brewers have really come through for me with some amazing stouts.  My top picks ...

Rooster Fish Oatmeal Stout.  I love this beer.  I walk into The Crooked Rooster and I don't have to say a word ... they just bring me one.  And then a second one.  And then there is their Cocoa Porter.

Ithaca Beer Company Milkstache.  Oh. My. God.  Smooth and filling.  It leaves an excellent beer moustache on your face and a film inside the glass as you empty it.  Good stuff.  IBC recently had an Oatmeal Stout and Super Stout (made with Gimme Coffee) on tap that were also pretty excellent.

Two Goats Brewing Dirty Butt.  Their brown ale mixed with their cream ale.  Smooth.  Just plain good beer.

I can't wait to get back to running on trails.  I am trying hard to stay positive with running on the roads but I just enjoy the solitude of the trails.

I think a lot about food and beer when I run.  I just do.  A hunk of cheddar rolled up in a piece of bacon is amazing after a hard run.  And probably not bad during a run.

The best part about March ... Shamrock Shakes are back.

Why did I bother to buy a pair of road shoes?  Most days I haven't been able to see pavement and my road shoes have zero traction on the snow and ice.  Two weeks from yesterday is the Wurtsboro Mountain 30K (roads) and I certainly hope I will be able to wear my Altra Intuitions for the race!

So I think my mind has just started wandering when I am out running ... sort of a survival mechanism.

And that brings me to this weekend.  The weather forecast called for some sun and warmer temps.  I wanted to get some miles in.  Well, Saturday didn't work out as expected on that front.  I did get a short 4.4 mile run in before heading over to the Finger Lakes National Forest for a hike with Joe and my sister and her husband.  We had a really excellent 5.5 mile hike.  In the years that I have been over to the forest in the winter I haven't seen such excellent snow conditions on those trails in probably forever.  It was amazing and the temp was just right at around 24 degrees.  After we headed over to Two Goats Brewing for some recovery time.  So my mileage for the day was not a total loss.  And although not running, snowshoeing at any speed is a great workout.

I had planned to go to Rochester today for the #TrailsROC birthday run.  A run and a party ... sounded good to me.  And then a couple of days ago it dawned on me.  The run was scheduled for 8am ... and we were losing an hour of sleep.  Well, that didn't work out.  So I thought I would get up a bit early (remember, I work at night so my idea of early is probably still late for anyone else!) and get a longer-ish run in.  Well, it was still freaking dark out!  And yes, I own a headlamp but the idea of trying to dodge the ice and navigate in the dark really didn't appeal to me.  When it finally got light out I headed out.  Within a half mile I had to shed one shirt.  The wind was blowing like mad.  I had a route idea in mind when I left the house but within the first mile decided to just wing it.

So I'm still running the roads in my trail shoes.  Our roads are still snow covered and the tricky footing more closely resembles running on the trails with the added benefit of still having to dodge the cars.  I headed for some of the lesser used roads and had a pretty fun run.  The wind was blowing pretty good but it was just right to keep me cool in the high-20s heat wave.

The official start of race season is next week with the St. Patrick's 4-Miler in Binghamton.  Best race ever.  And I had better be able to wear my road shoes.  And there will be beer and Shamrock Shakes involved.