Sunday, October 2, 2011

Delivering My First 50k

For me, running a 50k for the first time was a little like being pregnant—I was looking forward to it more before it actually happened, I spent way too much energy just trying to stay upright, and at a certain point I just wished like hell it was already over. 

Near the beginning of the trail
My husband and I chose the Baker Lake 50k for our second attempt at an ultra-marathon because the course is an out-and-back, so there were no double loops to tempt us to quit at the halfway point. It is located in a beautiful region and the course was supposed to be easy, with relatively little elevation gain. It is also just a 50k, that is no 25k or 50 or 100 milers are held on the same day (therefore, if I wore my race shirt there would be no question of which distance I completed). Superficial of course, but you should never underestimate the power of a good race shirt. In fact, I’m wearing mine right now and might never take it off.

Another benefit of the location near Baker Lake, Washington is that the campground where the race started offers free sites after Labor Day. We ended up missing the early start time by a few minutes because we were still breaking down our campsite when the horn sounded about 10 minutes early. The sun hadn’t completely risen yet, so we weren’t that disappointed about not making the early start because the visibility was still a little poor. We spent the hour before the regular start time generally being intimidated by the other race participants, nearly all of whom looked like they usually run 50 kilometers before breakfast. 

There would be only one aid station, so we both wore hydration packs loaded with sports drink (Nuun for me, Gatorade for Aaron) and plenty of gel. I also carried a carb/protein drink (Perpetuem by HammerNutrition) in a handheld water bottle. We each packed an extra shirt and socks as well as more gel and some Body Glide in our drop bag that would be driven to the halfway point for us to use at the turn-around.
One of the numerous bridges
The starting horn sounded and we were off, generally staying toward the back of the pack. We ran up a paved road and across a dam. I’m not necessarily scared of heights, but I still found myself avoiding looking over the edge to the bottom so far below. After we crossed the dam, we went up a gravel road for about a mile and then turned off onto the single-track trail and were instantly enveloped by thick forest. The trail was padded with pine needles and undulated lazily through the woods and over many wooden bridges.

Fortunately, wearing the packs allowed us to carry our cameras and we took plenty of opportunities to take photos—before it started to rain. Yes, it started raining about an hour into the race, and it wasn’t just the omnipresent Pacific Northwest misty sort of rain, it was pretty much a downpour. The canopy of trees tended to shield the trail in most places, but it was still wet and getting wetter. At this point, we were about six miles in and feeling pretty good about our 12 minute per mile pace. Although we told ourselves and everyone else that “finishing is winning’” we both really wanted to finish in between six and seven hours. 
Me leading the way over a river crossing in the mist

The trail became slightly more treacherous and rockier at about this point. It was also punctuated with many stream beds to cross, some with flowing water that soaked our feet no matter how careful we were. The foliage along the trail become significantly thicker, obscuring the ground for large stretches at a time making it difficult to go much faster than a walking pace for fear of tripping. It was difficult to settle in at a comfortable pace and keep it steady for long because of the constantly changing terrain. I lost my footing several times and recovered, except one time when I actually fell. My water bottle broke my fall with a wheeze, prompting me to compare it to an airbag for runners. I was none the worse for wear and quickly scrambled up and kept running. If I had tripped any later, I would have been a road hazard because we ran into the first runners coming back the other direction about a minute later, four miles from the halfway point.

We stopped to let others pass many times in the next hour, stepping off the trail because it was so narrow. Aaron stepped into a patch of stinging nettles at some point and spent the mile before the aid station with a burning sensation on his left calf. One thing that was hard not to notice was how pleasant and courteous all the runners were. Without fail, everyone who passed us or whom we passed offered a kind word. I’m not sure if this is common among trail runners in general or ultra-runners in particular, but I suspect it has more to do with the distance; these people know what it takes to push their body past limits that seem inconceivable to most people and understand that sometimes a friendly word is all that is needed to get through the next mile. 

We finally reached the turnaround about three and a half hours into the race. We refilled our packs and I changed out of my soaking wet shirt, used the bathroom and we were on our way once again. This time Aaron took point and pretty soon I wasn’t able to keep up with him. After Haulin’Aspen, we agreed that we would both run our own races at Baker Lake. Of course, I expected this to mean that I would beat him with no hard feelings, but I was feeling pretty wrecked already and was actually pleased that Aaron hadn’t started to physically break down yet, as he had in other distance races. Normally, my super power is endurance and I typically have negative splits (where I run the second half of a race faster than the first), passing many other runners in the last few miles, but for whatever reason I was merely mortal today and feeling pretty grim about the next twelve miles. 

Those who know me know I never waste a downhill, but I found myself walking the downhills on the way back because I was in quite a bit of pain. I actually walked a majority of the last half of the race, only running when I was sure I could go for a significant distance without having to break my gait because of a steep patch or a creek. Every rock seemed to rise up out of the trail like a whale breaching the surface of the water—surprising and dangerous. The combination of the rain and the footfalls of other runners had caused the trail to degenerate into a muddy morass in several places. I stumbled less on the way back, but only because I was going slower and selecting my foot placement with excruciating care. I hadn’t felt this bad in a race since my first marathon and I hadn’t even gotten to 21 miles yet. I knew I had to keep eating and drinking, but the gels made me gag (in the best of times they aren’t great) and even the taste of my own sweat from where the nozzle of my hydration system had been resting against my chest was hard to take, but I chocked everything down anyway and I’m sure I would have been worse off if I hadn’t.

I overtook a few people on the way back and our brief conversations were a welcome distraction, but I was essentially in complete solitude for the next several hours. I alternated between hoping I would come across Aaron so I would have company and hoping he had already finished. My Garmin had given up the fight at about mile 24  when it got so wet running through the overgrown section of the trail where I held up my forearms to ward off the wet blows of the branches. My Nike Sportband was still going strong, but because it’s a pedometer and doesn’t connect to GPS, I knew the mileage could be significantly off. I got something of a second wind around mile 26, which was probably a combination of knowing I was nearly finished and the fact that the trail became significantly easier; knowing at this point I was going further than I had ever gone before was also motivating. As per my usual technique, I kept mentally breaking the course into tiny fractions (five sixths complete!), but I had to constantly revise my math as my mileage (according to the Sportband) kept increasing but I hadn’t yet reached the road I knew would start about a mile and half from the finish. I finally popped out of the trees at what I thought was 30.25 miles hoped that my recollection of how long the road was had been incorrect. The Race Director waiting there quickly dispelled that notion when he told me I had one and three quarters of a mile to go. I stopped to chat and have a drink since my pack had run out. I took a cup of what I thought was Gatorade but that turned out to my Mountain Dew. I don’t think I’ve had Mountain Dew for 20 years and it is just as nasty as I remembered. 

I started running again before my stomach rebelled, and this time I resolved to run the rest of the way without interruption. I passed one more person on my way in and just after I crossed the dam I saw Aaron waiting for me and cheering me on. He ran me in for a ways, but I have never half-assed it across a finish line before and I wasn’t about to start now—I took off and sprinted across the finish line at 7:44:40—exhausted and sore and happy, kind of like at the end of a pregnancy. And one more reason why the two are alike: I didn’t get a medal when this one was over either.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Haulin' Husband

Note: The Haulin' Aspen trail marathon has about 2300 feet of elevation gain and about 2500 feet of elevation loss. It is course is described as "challenging" on the website and (like Fueled by Fine Wine) the promise of booze at the end becomes a motivating factor. I had never done more than 25k on a trail until this event.

The morning of the race dawned crisp and clear in beautiful Bend, Oregon. Bend is in the high desert, so it is not unusual to have very chilly mornings in August. My husband had registered us both for the full marathon for my birthday. We arrived at the elementary school where the race started to blissfully short port-a-potty lines and an interesting cast of characters. My particular favorite was the guy with vertebrae threaded onto his truck antenna like a more sinister (but less creepy) Jack-in-the-Box ornament. Frankly I was pretty intimidated when all of the early starters (usually reserved for people expecting a 6-hour time) had body fat percentages lower than my shoe size. There were also a grip of people in Cascade Lakes shirts, a 216-mile relay race that had ended the day before and I overheard a discussion between two runners who had both run a 50 miler the previous weekend. Can you spell H-A-R-D-C-O-R-E? Fortunately, a fair amount of the starters at the regular time looked more my speed and we queued up for the pre-race briefing: The course was to be well marked with "confidence flags" that would be placed to reassure runners that they had indeed taken the right path. I have always maintained that the interstate needs confidence signs--Congratulations! You are actually on the way to the airport!

The race started and we left the paved parking lot to immediately bottle-neck at the start of the single-track course. Aaron and I were perfectly content to stay toward the back of the pack. I know that my strength has always been a strong finish. I was worried about Aaron from the start just knowing the difficulty he has had in the past with physically breaking down towards the end of long races. I put it out of my mind and just enjoyed the beautiful scenery and the cheerful banter between me and my husband. At about mile 4, I had to tie my shoe <wink> and after about 10 feet back up the trail, I realized that I had inadvertently gotten a stalk of weeds stuck in my pants. I pulled out the 2 foot stem, but the leaves remained behind (pun intended). In what I am sure was a WTF moment for the runners behind me, I plunged my hand down the back of my capris in an attempt to scoop out the chaff. I knew it was a loosing battle and wished once again that it was possible to dip my entire body in Body Glide.

For the first several miles, we played leap frog with a particular pair of runners. After the third or so exchange of the lead, we started talking to them. The big guy, Peter, was talking up the Galloway (run/walk) method with evangelical fervor, and since we couldn't deny that all of us ended up at about the same pace, we decided to join them. It turns out that there were buddies from way back in high school. Peter is raising money for cancer research by running 50 marathons (one a month; he's about three years in) and his buddy Haig was running his first marathon ever. We ran for three minutes and walked for one minute together. My only experience with Galloway is limited to knowing someone who does 9/1 intervals, so I was surprised at the short length of time for the run. It seemed to work pretty well though, especially since the course was on a steady climb. We had a great time talking to these two guys; one of the best things about running  is the people you meet along the way. I mean that in the larger sense too, because I am blessed with a very supportive community of running companions.

At the top of the BIG HILL. (Thumb left in
for authenticity)
Aaron had run this same marathon last year, so he knew what was coming up--a big hill. Make that a BIG HILL--at mile 12. It was pretty steep and everyone just walked for about a mile and a half. Aaron, Peter, and Haig all have longer legs than I do, so I fell behind and didn't want to stop to take a photo; however, let me assure you the view of Mt. Bachelor in one direction and the entire city of Bend in the other would have taken my breath away if I had any left. Aaron was waiting for me at the tippy-top and a girl, Jen, who I had fallen into step with, took our picture together. We started running again and soon caught up with our new running buddies at the start of some truly amazing single-track. I took point right away and sailed down the mountain at an easy 8:00 mile clip. It was so fun, we where literally whooping for joy--those almost involuntary expressions of glee that you think can only be experienced on roller coasters until you find yourself tearing through a forest on sandy single track, high on fresh air and exercise.

Looking over my shoulder to see if Aaron was having as much fun as I was, it was immediately obvious to me that he was in a bad way. I gave up my lead and slowed to a trot as I repeated "don't be selfish" over and over in my head like a mantra, because all I wanted to do at this point was RUN. But...ultimately, my relationship with my husband is far more important than a silly race. There will be *many* other marathons in my future, but only one husband. With that in mind, I told him I would finish the final 11 miles with him no matter what. So we walked. For the most part, walking was okay, especially when I had to see my husband nearly crumple in agony whenever he tried to run, as though some malicious wizard from Harry Potter had struck him with the cruciatus curse. That was hard, but even more painful was when we neared the finish line and had to go past a long line of finishers waiting in the port-a-potty line. It felt like the walk of shame when they all started clapping and cheering for us. I felt like a failure and secretly wished for some physical evidence for our slow pace (a little blood, maybe a broken limb). However difficult it was for me to walk, I know it was far more difficult for my husband to ask me to make that sacrifice. We finally crossed the finish line together at just under 6 hours. And though there was never really any other option, I am proud that we finished this race together, however long it took.

As with most things, there is usually a silver lining. I try to take lessons from each race I do and this one taught me that I am more than capable of surviving a six hour race. This is good news indeed as I head into training for the Baker Lake 50k in October--my first ultra marathon. As a bonus lesson, I also discovered that caution trumps speed when it comes to pulling up one's knickers during a shoe tying break.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Short, Hard, and Dirty (but Hey, She's Pretty)!

The course was about .25 miles short of 13.1; the elevation
gain and loss made it very hard; and here is a great illustration
of both the dirty and the pretty scenery.
Fueled by Fine Wine is a half marathon that takes place in Dundee, Oregon, the heart of Oregon's wine country. Their slogan is something along the lines of, "you won't run your best time, but you'll have the best time." A more accurate appeal might be, "come try for your personal worst and then drink wine until you don't care about your finish time." I have to hand it to them though, it works. I have run it both years (it was started in 2010) and both years the course was changed at the last minute and turned out to be harder than advertised. This year was twice as hard as last year because it had at least twice the number of hills; it was, however, at least twice as beautiful to help ease the pain.

And boy was it painful. I haven't been this sore since I ran a marathon after six weeks of solid rest. I've been gimping around the house like my hips are made of peanut brittle. I'm sure this has a lot to do with my fetish for running down hills as fast as possible. In fact, I actually heard someone say, "she's coming in too fast, she'll never make the turn" as I came flying around the corner at the (downhill) finish line, as though I were coming in for a landing on an aircraft carrier. I'm going to hold on to that memory, as I doubt anyone will ever again worry that I'm running too fast (which I wasn't by the way; I made the turn just fine, thank you very much).

The other reason I, and everyone else I know who ran that race, took so long to recover is that we do not run enough trails. Although FBFW wasn't technically a trail race, there were swaths o the course that ran through the vineyards. Not nicely groomed trails, but lumpy, bumpy, grassy fields. All the little stabilizing muscles get called into service for this kind of running and it really make you sit up and take notice that those muscles rarely get a work out. Running trails is a great way to strengthen those axillary muscles, which can help prevent injury. They are also a heck of a lot of fun. I've gotten into kind of a complacent spot with my running lately and I'm glad this race came along to shake me out of my rut.

Friday, July 8, 2011

How a PR Really Feels

My first year of running was 2009. That year, everything I did was a personal record (PR) because I was always running a distance for the first time. The following year, I PR'd at nearly every race simply because I was getting stronger and learning more about running, so there wasn't a huge sense of accomplishment at getting better because the original bar was set so low. This year, after an injury set-back, I had not PR'd even once, though I was already half-way through my season. I kept getting close, but could never quite grasp that brass ring. I set an ambitious goal for the Seattle Rock and Roll half marathon to not only break my personal record, but also to finally break two hours in a half marathon.

As the race day wisdom goes, no new is good new, that is, don't muck up your race by wearing new shoes, trying the sponsored sports drink for the first time on the course, eat cereal for breakfast if you always have toast, or otherwise mess around with your routine. With that in mind, I set out to find a way to get coffee at five o'clock in the morning since I am now so beholden to that caffeinated mistress that I am afraid I will cease to function without her favor by mid-morning. The hotel where we were staying (The MooreI highly recommend it) has neither coffee makers nor microwaves in the rooms (The MooreI highly marginally recommend it). One would think it would be easy to get coffee in Seattle, what with all the Starbucks within Starbucks, but that proved not to be the case. After an exhaustive Yelp search and several phone calls to downtown coffee shops, it turned out that downtown Seattle is a coffee wasteland on Sunday mornings. I actually thought about purchasing an electric coffeemaker to bring along because the one we use at home requires boiling water. Aaron suggested canned coffee, but that only comes pre-mixed with cream, which I do not take in my coffee and do not want to start, especially on race day. I settled on iced Via, a specialty instant coffee meant to be mixed with cold water. It comes pre-sweetened and tastes like coffee-tinged ass, especially mixed with tap water in a plastic hotel cup. I choked it down anyway.

This whole coffee thing feeds into my race strategy: Start slow, never waste a downhill and avoid port-a-potty stops. I am sure I am not the only person who relies on caffeine to get things moving (you know what I'm talking about). The Via worked, though not necessarily efficiently. I ended up getting the job done, but in drop-cookie fashion (two tablespoons at a time); fortunately, the batch was complete before the start of the race.

Chilly race morning.
The weather was forecast to be cool, but it turned out to be quite chilly and the sky looked ominously like rain. Our group of twenty or so Portlanders battled the cold by wrapping ourselves in blankets while huddling on cardboard boxes, hobo-style. Some of us <casual whistle> may also have nabbed a sweatshirt from the donation bin to wear until our coral got to the starting line. I am a big fan of coral starts, especially in races with so many people, but it does make for something of an anti-climax when you hear the gun go off and then have to wait 17 minutes before you can start to run. It never did rain, but the overcast sky, while making the temperature nice for running, did lend a gloomy cast to the course, which made it seem not quite as pretty this year.

I started out with my fast friends (whom I rarely run with) for this race, like I had somehow been promoted. It was nice, but a little disconcerting because I felt some performance pressure along with the loss of comfort from having my regular running buddy at my side. I did a pretty good job of keeping up with them until my left arm went inexplicably numb around mile 2.5 and I slowed down to eat a gel and assess the situation. I finally decided it didn't matter since I don't run on my arms and the numbness didn't appear to be spreading. I wasn't really feeling my best and said as much to my friend Gayla right before a downhill (which, according to my strategy, I did not waste). That downhill (around mile five or so) got me into a groove and I was able to get back to a pace that would put me near my goal and that I thought I could sustain. However, my Garmin was getting more and more inaccurate (according to the course markings) so I couldn't rely on my average pace display. I tried to do math in my head according to my elapsed time but kept getting distracted by the teenage cheer squads along the route who got progressively more slutty-looking until I was worried they would be down to thong panties and pasties by the end of the race.

As the miles fell away and I got closer to the finish line, I knew I was close to two hours but couldn't be totally sure because of my Garmin issue, which was exacerbated by the long tunnel around mile ten. I picked up the pace to be within my margin of error and crossed the line at 1:57:15. Finally a PR!

Oddly enough, I have mixed feelings about meeting my goal. I didn't leave everything on the course as they say, and so I am left with the feeling that I could have done better. Surely this is why running is so addictive. Initially it was enough to see big gains; now as I pursue ever smaller increments of improvement, I feel like I am also pursuing this new, more elusive goalto not just go faster, but to go as fast as I am absolutely able. I want to find my limit, to know without a doubt that I have reached it, and then find a way to push that limit further; to know how a PR really feels.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Danny Abshire is a Genius!

Danny Abshire, the force behind Newton Running Shoes and the author of Natural Running, is my new hero. I have made previous forays into minimalist running, with mixed results. After reading Born to Run, I went out and bought myself a pair of Vibram Five Fingers and started using them as a training tool. I was aware that I needed to start slowly, and I built up a mile at a time to a maximum of five miles, one day per week. I did end up injured during this time period, but I can't definitively say if it was due to the Five Fingers. I was running about 40-45 miles per week at the time, so my injury could have been caused by general over-training. I suspect the Vibrams were a contributing factor, but not the only reason I was sidelined for several months with a shin splint so severe the doctor suspected a stress fracture and had me do a nuclear bone scan.

Now that I know what it's like to stare longingly at other runners like a kid on the wrong side of the playground fence, I want to do everything I can to stay healthy. It was a ridiculously long recovery full of small gains and demoralizing set-backs. I tried a myriad of things to repair and prevent my shin splints (which have a number of definitions, but in my case was a severe pain where the tibialis anterior attaches to the bone on the inside of my leg above my ankle and extending for about four inches). I read a lot of articles (not much else to do, after all) and did a lot of icing (helped) stretching (helped) foam rolling (definitely helped) acupuncture (probably helped) deep tissue massage (didn't help) KT tape (probably helped) calf sleeves (caused a setback) and chiropractic (helped somewhat). This was over the course of the fall and winter of 2010/2011. I was doing fairly well, when one of my setbacks prompted me to start looking a little deeper at my running form. While running the first of a back-to-back series of half marathons on New Year's Eve, I ended up with pain in my left leg, in the exact location that I had been making progress in on my right side. It wasn't as acute as my right leg (and it never did get as bad), but it made me realize that the forces that caused my initial injury may not have been entirely external, that is, I must have an imbalance that was causing my injury and unless I fixed it, I would be stuck in an endless cycle of injury and recovery.

One turning point came when I heard a podiatrist speak about the barefoot craze. One of the things he said was completely obvious and yet a total revelation to me. He related an anecdote about a woman who came into his office from an injury she sustained while trying to transition to a minimalist style of running, yet she wore three-inch high heels to the appointment. Minimalism, for it to be effective, is a lifestyle choice and cannot be compartmentalized to the hour or so a day that you spend running. You can't expect to make gains in foot strength and stability when you're walking around the majority of the day in footwear that has the exact opposite effect. After hearing these remarks (that not coincidentally, are echoed in Abshire's book) I immediately put away my high-heeled winter boots in favor of flats. I can honestly say it made a difference. My shins were much less aggravated after making this relatively simple change (although the hems of my jeans suffered in the Oregon rain). In addition, I also started backing off on the level of support in my regular running shoes, choosing to wear mostly racing flats and keeping one pair of Nike LunarGlides to wear if I am feeling particularly fatigued because they are a neutral shoe with "dynamic support," that is, fairly fluid support as opposed to rigid stabilizers.

The other change I made was to improve my core strength (also advocated by Abshire) by taking classes at Twist Sports Conditioning. My husband has been insisting that I add weight training to my routine since he graduated from the National Personal Training Institute and I understood the reasoning, but I had been putting it off until Twist and Portland Fit teamed up and the gym gave the Assistant Coaches (like me) a discount on classes. The workouts are designed to get runners moving outside of the sagittal plane, focusing on  side-to-side movements. They incorporate lots of balance work as well as weight training, including body-weight exercises. I started doing these workouts in my Five Fingers simply because it is easier to balance on a BOSU ball when you can grip it with your toes, but then I noticed that I was activating a lot more of the muscles in my lower leg with the minimalist shoes vs. my running shoes. I feel that the Twist workouts as well as my choice of footwear have combined to strengthen the auxiliary muscles in my lower legs, greatly improving my shin splints.

 It was at this point that I read Natural Running. Of course, I didn't actually read the entire book before I got all excited and tried out his technique. I went out for a training run with the intention of keeping Abshire's tenets in my mind: mid-foot strike under the center of mass, slight lean forward, high cadence. He has some stuff in there about what to do with your arms too, but I'm pretty sure my arms aren't the problem, and I had enough to remember as it was. So I took off running and then, I flew.

Of course, I didn't literally fly, but it felt like it. My average pace for a training run ranges from about 9:40 to 10:40. My half marathon PR is something like 2:01:00, or roughly a 9:15 pace, and I haven't been able to approach that since before my initial injury, though I had run several races since my recovery. On this day, I ran sub-9:00 minute miles. Seven of them. In a row. And not just a little under, I ran an 8:47 average moving pace. Granted, my heart rate was soaring, but so were my spirits. It truly felt like a breakthrough. I finally understood the forward lean, I really had my cadence down, and it all felt...natural.

Then I read the rest of the book, in which Abshire recommends trying out Natural Running for about ten minutes at a time to start off with, after you've already completed a dozen form drills. This was just like the time I read Chi Running halfway through and tried out that method, only to strain my lower back and realize I had gone about it all wrong after finishing the book. I'm not sure if I am demoralized or cautious, but I haven't been able to duplicate that fantastic run again. Maybe it's guilt, like Danny Abshire is going to somehow know I ignored his advice and cheated on his program, or that his dire predictions of screwing up and getting injured or making my form worse by not training in precise increments will materialize.

I can't cut my miles down to virtually nothing so I can build up to Natural Running slowly as Abshire advocates because I'm in the middle of training for a 50k. So now I have quite the conundrum: Do I keep my same old form and risk injury, or do I go for Natural Running form without following the program explicitly and risk injury?

Comments here would be much appreciated.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Not Far from the Tree

Hippie Chick 2011
The Hippie Chick Half Marathon is always on Mother's Day weekend. This year Mother's Day was even better because my four-year-old daughter got to participate in the kids' race. I often get comments that Gemma looks like me, but the weekend's festivities confirmed that she also inherited a startling array of my personality traits. (This was an appropriate revelation considering I recently discovered I am turning into my mother.)

Exhibit A, the Expo. Gemma ate all the food samples in sight and rolled her eyes at the length of the line for merchandise. She also griped about having to wait in line twice for the race numbers and then the t-shirts. Fortunately, after years of experience, I have learned to keep my eye rolling and griping to myself (mostly). I will be teaching her these skills (though I am am sure it will take her a few decades to learn them--just like it took me).

On race day morning, Gemma got dressed in her very first outfit made of tech fabrics, a t-shirt and skort. She was very excited and lifted up her skirt to show everyone the built-in shorts underneath. Now, it's been a number of decades since I went around flashing people, but there's something about a matching tech outfit that still gets me going; I think because it reinforces my new revelation that I can be an athlete.

 Gemma was convinced she was going to win the race. We gently tried to explain that she would be one of the youngest (not to mention shortest) kids in the race and that she would not be winning first place. Then we tried to explain that the point of the race wasn't to win, it was just to finish. She gave me the stink eye on this one, just like I would have when I was a kid. "I'm not going to win? I don't even have a chance? Pfffffttt. What's the point?" I was very competitive and driven as a kid and did not appreciate coming in second (or last, which is why I shunned sports in school). I am so glad I found running, even if it was later in life. I love running because it allows me to be competitive with myself even though I will never be competitive in the traditional sense of actually winning a race. We finally convinced Gemma that she should run anyway, even if she wasn't going to win and she got that familiar look of pride on her face when we pinned her number to her shirt, the one I see in the mirror before every event. 

Gemma's first race finish with a teary-eyed Mom
Gemma and her dad ran the whole race (just over half a mile or so) together while I hiked across the field to get to the finish line to meet them. Fortunately, there were a team of rabid mamas just ahead of me forging a path through the crowd so I just followed them and arrived in plenty of time to wait for my daughter. I had a few minutes and observed some of the other mothers tearing up when their kids crossed the finish line. Bah! Silly mamas! she comes down the track...look at her go...<sniff>...she's so strong and beautiful...<wipe, wipe>...a big hug for finishing..."why are you crying, Mama?"

Friday, May 20, 2011

My Teeny Tiny Tri

There's nothing quite like the feeling of saying, "I did a triathlon" even when you preface it heavily by explaining that although it's technically a triathlon it's really the most junior version possible. Called a 20.20.20, it's sponsored by the student rec center and involves twenty minutes of swimming in the pool, twenty minutes on a stationary bike and twenty minutes of running on the indoor track. There's also nothing like the feeling of showing up for a triathlon and realizing that all of the other competitors are fit college students of the traditional age, and some of them actually are triathletes. That feeling? Not as good. I had, however, already paid my entry fee and I really wanted the t-shirt, which was a real "finishers" shirt and not available for simple purchase by a slightly over-weight graduate student mother unless she actually completed an hour of what suddenly seemed to be torturous physical activity.

Fortunately, my partner in crime (husband Aaron) had agreed to join me, so I wasn't the only senior citizen in the group. As is traditional in a tri, we hit the pool first. If I had any residual skepticism that the other competitors were in better shape that I, it was quickly wiped away when I got a look at the chiseled abs of my fellow swimmers. Aaron and I had both taken swimming lessons in order to actually achieve something better than a doggie paddle for this event, but with only a few weeks under our belts, we were far from graceful. I had to stop and pant heavily after each lap and had all kinds of problems keeping my rascally swim goggles from flooding my left eye with water. Our timer was a good sport, especially when I kept asking him if we were done yet (not so I could get in one last lap, but so I could stop the insanity).

Finally our twenty minutes were up and I headed into the locker room to change for the cycling portion. Instead of making rapid transitions, as in a real triathlon, we had ten minutes to change and get to the stationary bikes. Which was a good thing because I think it took me nine and a half minutes to get my damn sports bra on. I always thought getting a wet sports bra off was a pain in the ass. I will never complain about that again, because putting one on when your body is wet is a zillion times more difficult and the situation went from comical to ridiculous to practically suicidal before I finally had the girls properly contained.

Getting that damn bra on did nothing to reduce my heart rate, nor did the two flights of stairs to get to the bikes. I was the last one to arrive and had just enough time to adjust my seat but not enough time to figure out where I was supposed to put my water bottle, which I ended up staring longingly at for twenty minutes since I had failed to notice the clever holder on the bike and left it instead on the floor. Some rockin' '80's music took some of the pain of boredom from the "ride" but none of the pain of the bicycle seat from my sensitive parts. I thought I was doing pretty well on the miles in this portion of the event, little did I know the odometer was set for kilometers. Oh well. I was just happy, if somewhat bow-legged, to be finished.

Wonder Twin powers activate! Form of: Triathletes
The indoor track was on the same floor as the bikes and we didn't have to change for the running portion, so we just milled around waiting to start. Not in that bridled-energy way like an elite athlete--more like that let's-get-this-over-with way of a rueful amateur. Of course, running is my strength so I was actually pretty happy to get started on the track. I didn't account for the fact that this indoor track is less than a quarter of the size of an outdoor track, forcing near-90-degree turns on what is essentially a concrete surface. I am used to getting passed, but on such a small track, I was literally ticking off my distance by how many times a specific runner lapped me (twice for every time I went around).

The best part of this experience was being finished (or possibly walking around afterward with a Sharpied number on my hand, branding me as a triathlete). The worst part is that I finished less than a tenth of a mile behind the amateur winner. This isn't so bad in and of itself, it's bad because now I feel compelled to tri again...