Sunday, December 4, 2011

First "Race" of the Season

The past several years I've had a real aversion to road races.  I guess triathlons kind of, too, but road races especially.  And even more so in the very beginning of the season.  I know they're good for me but as running has become my arch nemesis once again, they are not at the top of my list for fun things to do.  Aside from the fact that I always wind up running into some friends I hadn't seen in a while and didn't even know would be there. 

This being the rest week, I was supposed to do a race.  It's my second block, and I never even mentioned the word race in October, so no races made it to the schedule.  Probably a good thing, since even just a few short weeks ago I was even worse off than I am now, and any finish time I'd have been able to conjure up on my badly underutilized running legs would've surely sucked the last of the tiny remaining shreds of my faint belief that maybe, just maybe, if I keep working hard, I can be a decent runner again.  Yesterday almost did it, but not quite. 

I was at least fortunate in the fact that the weekend a race was needed there was a 5K conveniently located a couple of miles away, at 3:00 in the afternoon, on a flat course.  It was actually the same start line as the Cigna 5K, but fortunately not the same course, because that one cruelly ends on a nasty little hill that makes you almost certain that you can't possibly finish that last little tenth of a mile.  The weather was actually perfect for racing, and, as an added bonus, the first 1000 people to register would be given a free Santa suit to run in.  So I made quite sure that I waited long enough for well over 1000 people to sign up before I handed over my $30.  Come on, anyone who knows me in real life knows I'm no fun.  I think it was a wise choice because those Santa suits clearly were not made for running, as evidenced by several pairs of shredded Santa pants I saw at the finish line on other competitors.  Looks like they won't get to wear those for their kids.

I headed downtown in the afternoon to sign up and pick up a number by myself, but then ran into a few people I knew.  Sometimes I forget how many people I actually know.  I spend so much time by myself, I just have to remember that not a lot of those people I know hang out at my house or are willing to bike with me outside when it's 27 degrees out.  I even got offered a Santa suit in spite of my being somewhere around the 1400th person to sign up.  No, no, that's okay.  I think I'll be fine in, you know, running clothes. 

I had zero expectations, no idea what pace to run or anything.  To be honest, I hadn't run with my Garmin in months.  Frankly, I didn't want to know what the paces were.  I thought from a mental standpoint I was better off feeling accomplished for simply going out and being able to run again rather than being upset with myself because I was "running" 12:17 per mile or whatever.  This is not optimal when you need to develop a pacing strategy, but whatever, it was only three miles, right? 

It was a bit chilly when we lined up, but again, perfect once we actually got moving.  There was a sea of Santas all dressed in red, and I opted to go and stand up close to the start line.  Not because I thought I would win (might have happened if this was a run only for people 90 and over, plus Molly, but that's not what this was) but because there was hardly anyone up there.  The course was out and back down Elm Street in Manchester, which has an almost indiscernible incline on the way out, and therefore decline on the way back. 

As we started, I realized I had forgotten to put on my heart rate monitor strap.  Although in a 5K it's more for informational purposes.  Like, "Oh, hey, my heart rate is 197.  Good to know, because it felt like my heart might explode, and now I know I'm right!"  But this time I didn't have that information to go on.  I did have my average lap pace to look at and... nothing specific to aim for.  Let's say I knew anything under 7:00/mile was going to be too fast (didn't used to be... even for a half marathon!) and anything over 8:00/mile was probably too slow.  It started telling me I was averaging 12-something, then 11... so obviously something was off to start.  So I just settled in to what felt sort of, kind of "comfortable."  Then a minute or so later I glanced down to see 6:49 and thought, well, no, I know I am not in a position to maintain that.  No way.  A quarter-mile in and I felt like I had already blown my pacing as I started to taste blood in the back of my throat.  It's a taste I associate always with the first basketball practice of the season in high school.  As in, when suddenly I have to run and breathe hard after months of being out of shape.  Well, obviously I've been running recently, but certainly not this hard.

I had a building in my sights that I decided maybe I'd really pick it up from to finish strong.  Of course when I got there, with only a quarter-mile to go and the finish line in sight but still looking painfully far away, I decided I just wanted to make it to the end without throwing up or pulling any muscles and stopping so I could try and breathe in some fashion that didn't hurt my throat so much.  I used to line up at 5K's and wish they were half marathons.  I was not designed to go hard/fast.  I can go forever, but these short races require a need to endure a different kind of pain that I just don't tolerate well.  But this time, I was glad it was a 5K.  If only because I'm not sure I would've been able to run much further! 

Each mile was 15 seconds slower than the last, so from my own personal 'awesome' pacing abilities, that actually wasn't so bad.  And I (barely) managed to squeak out something just a tad better than my fastest marathon pace.  Great, right?  I read all the time about people who are "so far off my game" or coming back from some terrible injury and still feeling so "slow" and "fat" and "out of shape" but they still win the race or maybe "only" come in second and ran 5:30's.  I don't work like that.  For me, time off makes me feel like I'm starting all over again, back when I was 21 and started running on the treadmill at 220 pounds just to get in shape for my last college basketball season.  It took me three years to get kind of decent at running.  I still live in fear that it will take me three years from now, and I don't have the time or patience for it anymore! 

So let's just hope that that was not indicative of what I can expect, but rather just a starting point.  It's so hard to see beyond it though, no matter how often I try and say that sort of thing to other people.  Just do the work, it will get better.  Why does it sometimes feel like that doesn't apply to me?  Anyway, I spent the rest of the night with a hacking cough from all that heavy breathing and once again wondering to myself if seriously once a week (or maybe more) I should just go out and try to destroy myself by running as fast as I can for 3 miles or whatever, so maybe eventually it feels easier.  Of course I know that is probably just a recipe for some new injury - the foot didn't hurt at all, by the way - but it still just makes me want to go out and do all of those impulsive, impatient things that I am pretty sure don't actually work, but sure seem like they should. 

So, that was my Saturday.  Got beat by a bunch of Santas and threw away my unused free beer at the after party tickets.  I bet someone just cried when I wrote that.  Yep, I turned down free beer. 

Wait, I almost forgot the fun part of my week, though.  I went surfing.  I've got this very neglected surfboard I got for my 21st birthday that gets used here and there and really not much since I started racing.  Well, I got invited by some people to go and was reluctant at first, given that the water was 48 degrees and I don't have a winter suit.  But then I thought, but I do have two wetsuits.  Yeah, tri suit under my old, too-big-for-me surf suit worked out quite nicely with my other Blue Seventy cold gear.  And I gotta say, those webbed gloves are so awesome for paddling into waves I might just wear them even if the water is warm.  It was almost too much fun.  I say too much because now I want to go more and while I wasn't really cold, I did lose feeling in my feet for a while and I'm just not sure how long into the winter my two wetsuit plan would get me.  See, I don't understand when everyone thinks I'm crazy for doing thinks like surfing or biking when it's really cold out.  It's not like I wear the same stuff I do when it's 75 degrees out!  You have the right clothes, you don't have to be cold.  Except your lips, I'm sorry, but those will always be cold.  And sometimes your toes...

Sorry, it's Sunday night, time to mentally prepare for another week.  And next weekend headed to DC to watch the Army/Navy game.  Always nice to get on a plane without a bike box!

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