Saturday, October 23, 2010

Actual girl on aforementioned cow bike

First, it occurs to me that I should credit the title of my last blog--it's a book by Dan Savage, of whom I am a huge fan.  There's really nothing about Gomorrah, literal or figurative, in that post.  I just can't say the word "slouching" any more without thinking of the rest of that phrase.

But the big news is that I finally got a picture of me on the cow bike, and it's now at the top of the blog.  It was either that or rename the blog "Cow bike on a Civic."  The picture is from Pumpkinman, and while it's from transition and therefore not all impressively aero, it does show the cowness about as well as any picture from that race.  Plus it amuses me that you can see, since my feet are out of the shoes, that I painted my toenails to match my tri suit, which is something I do sort of obsessively for races, for reasons that are unclear even to me.

This seems like a good time to answer the obvious question: Why a cow bike?

The main reason is that I went to a college whose mascot is a cow.  In fact the mascot is a purple cow, but I went with classic Holstein black and white and got Parlee to make the lettering purple instead.  I also went to college in the late 80's/early 90's, when cow pattern first started to a be a really big thing--maybe it was Ben and Jerry's, or maybe just a general reflection of the unsubtle 80's aesthetic.  Either way, I have always loved cow-patterned things, and I had dreamed for awhile of someday getting a cow-spotted bike.  So when the time seemed right to get a tri bike, I swallowed my pride, told the nice people at Fitwerx that I wanted it to come with cow spots, and the rest is bovine bicycle history.  Oh, and I also designed myself a cow swimsuit at Splish.  But that's pretty much it for now.  Except that obviously my kids had to ride in this.

And I have to say, the cow bike makes me smile every time I ride it.  It makes other people smile (and laugh) too, which I'd hoped for.  It really is a seriously nice bike, but I like having something to counteract all that seriousness.  (Other than the arguably spazzy way I ride it, obviously.)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Slouching toward Gomorrah

Last weekend was my college cross country team's yearly alumni meet.  It's actually a regular (though small) home meet, with a JV 5K that most of the alumni run in.  And it's kind of an exercise in humility, since not only does one realize how slow one is relative to actual college runners (even the JV at Div III, which was as far as I ever got as a college runner), but one has the added bonus of running behind groups of younger alumni who are chatting away about their exciting 20-something lives while one drags one's 40-year-old body along with a serious amount of 5K-worthy huffing and puffing.  As my classmate and good friend said after the race, having just come off her first marathon (in which of course she BQed like the former All American she is), "You forget how a 5K is just tongue out the entire way."  Indeed.

My coach was there to watch, because her nephew is a freshman at my alma mater.  Although I pointed out she was not supposed to be working, apparently she couldn't help but critique my running form, and her verdict is that I am slouching too much.  I think this is what she means:

I'm the one sort of hunched over in front--where "front" is a relative term, translated as "in the front of a small pack near the back of the race."  Come to think of it, I look like this in a lot of race pictures, so I think I need to work on my posture.

You'll note that I'm smiling here.  Funny, though, how there's kind of a wide margin of effort for a 5K--from all out to somewhat-hard-but-smiling-for-the-camera--where it all hurts pretty bad for the last half of the race.

And here we older alumni are, post-race, outside the newer, swankier version of essentially the only bar in town.

The old version of the bar burned down a year or so ago.  I know some alumni are going to be all nostalgic for the old version.  Call me middle-aged, but there's something to be said for a bathroom that you don't need a Hazmat suit to enter.

Monday, October 11, 2010

My picture in the Globe!

Well, sort of:

I'm the blond woman with the 6-pack abs out in front.  Kidding.  On the far left of the picture, with a tree branch hanging over my head, I'm jogging along in a lemon yellow, kind of high-necked tank top and sunglasses.  My left hand is crossing over my chest in an unseemly fashion.

Tufts 10K Race Report

Here is the summary, in case you are pressed for time: everything went great about this race, except for the finishing time.  Which is, in hindsight (the kind you get after 7 hours and two glasses of wine), probably what I should have expected.  But I like to dream big, even when said dreams are not actually grounded in reality.  Reality was 45:20.  Dream was better than last year's 43:54.

Here is the long version: I try to run this race every year.  I ran it twice (I think--this is sort of pre-internet at the start) when I was in grad school in Boston.  I think I didn't run it again until I came back to MA for my current job--I ran it the year after having my first child (pumped at a friend's apartment on Beacon Hill, did the race, came back and pumped again before heading home), skipped the year I was hugely pregnant with my 2nd child, and have done it ever since.  I love this race.  I love that it is often the US 10K championship, so when I am headed out toward the BU bridge on Memorial drive, I run right past the best runners in the country (and sometimes in the world).  I love that it is flat and fast.  I love that once I saw Bill Rodgers cheering for us on Charles Street. I love that it covers ground I ran all the time when I was in grad school--it feels like home to me.  I love that it successfully combines an elite race with a huge horde of women, many of whom are far from elite, and creates a race that works for all of us.  There were supposedly over 8,000 starters today, and except for a bit of a clusterf*** getting to my starting corral, it didn't matter--I had clear ground from the start (they have seeding that actually works if you're seeding yourself faster than 8-minute pace).

And of course, I love that this is the site of my all-time 10K PR, which is by far the PR I'm most proud of, and of course I am just dying to tell you it: 41:13 in 1994.  It was the result of massive (for me) mileage, training for cross country with wicked fast runners in a Boston running club, and it came out of nowhere and felt easy.  And then I overtrained myself into a vicious knee injury, but that's a (boring) story for another day (or maybe for never, come to think of it).  I dream of getting back to that time.

But you know, my race today FELT just like that race.  It was about 4 minutes slower, as it turns out, but  it felt the same--kind of effortless through 4 miles, then putting the hammer down progressively for the last 2, complete with a totally respectable finishing kick.  That the end result wasn't quite what I'd hoped for has got to be just a result of where I am in my training, so I'm accepting that and moving on.

Here's how it went down.  I drove into Boston this morning and got to my favorite parking garage just after 10.  I had my yearly conversation with the parking attendant about how, since it's a holiday, they really ought to offer holiday rates ($12 for the day instead of $39 for anything over 3 hours).  He pointed to all the other cars, and said, "Lots of people are working."  "The state offices are closed," I pointed out.  "My husband works for the state.  He has the day off."  (Which is why, as we have this discussion, he's at home with 2 children under 8, settling in for a day of fun and bickering.)  We amiably agreed to disagree, I locked all my valuables in the car, and headed off to the Boston common.

Somehow, in a race with 8,000+ runners, number pickup is always a breeze there.  I got my stuff, found a shady spot, and sat down to people watch for the better part of 45 minutes.  I took a photo for two mothers who were about to do the race, each with a stroller containing multiple children.  I drank Heed.  I stretched lightly.  I used my favorite bank of Porta-potties, though I was slightly disappointed to see that, unlike in years past, other runners seem to have figured out that this bank exists.  A little after 11, I started my warmup, which again included some interval stuff, since apparently my body likes that.  I ate a caffeinated gel.  And then at "first call for 7-minute pace," I headed up to Beacon Street.

Where the aforementioned clusterf*** was in full force.  It's always a madhouse, but this year part of the herd decided to scale the grass hill and climb over the railing to the one staircase they let you out of, so it was worse than usual.  No biggie--I figured they wouldn't start the race without us, and once I got up to Beacon Street, it wasn't hard to cross to the other side and jog down the sidewalk to my corral.  On the way there, out of 8,000+ runners, I managed to bump into a friend from my hometown and say hi and good luck to her.

I found my corral, which was as usual sparsely populated (plenty of women will seed themselves at 8:00 pace, but apparently 7:00 pace scares people off.  As it should have me, apparently), just as the Boston City Singers launched into the national anthem.  And then we started.

For the first mile I was supposed to keep my HR at the top of Z4 (in a Frielesque sense of the word).  I tend to go out too fast, and my HR also takes awhile to equilibrate, so this was good advice. I went through Mile 1 in 7:05 and felt terrific.

My instructions were then to keep my HR in Z5a through Mile 5.  This required me to IGNORE everyone around me--I got passed a lot in the next couple miles.  But it actually felt like the right 10K pace to me--pretty easy, but quick.  I felt like I was running 7's.  In fact, into a headwind, I was running more like 7:30's.  But I didn't actually know this, because since I had a HR plan, I ignored the splits.  This took a little doing--no looking at the clocks, no listening for the time that was called out, and no looking at my watch except to occasionally check the HR.  I  had some idea I wasn't quite at 7-minute pace, but I really did let go of it.  Last year I had specific splits in mind, and it nearly made me bleed out my ears, because with the headwind I would increase effort, watch the split go up, and go nuts.  This resulted in my dropping a 6:40 around Mile 4, which didn't do much for my Mile 5 and Mile 6 splits.  So I resolved to ignore the output and focus on the input for a change.

Just before mile 3 we turned around so we now had a tailwind.  I figured this would impact my splits in a positive way.  Ha.  I ran another 7:30ish mile.  Not that I knew this at the time.  For most of the first 3 miles, people (women, in most cases--though there are a few guys who run this, oddly enough) passed me fairly regularly.  I just let it go.  And then when I got to the Mile 4 marker, and I still felt really good, I increased my effort.  Not a ton--my average HR for that mile went up only 2 bpm--but enough that I started passing people back as we went over the Mass Ave bridge.  I also knew that they take some of the race photos here, so I was inspired to stand up straight and not look like a pathetic slacker.

When I hit Mile 5, I gave it everything I had, as per my instructions.  It hurt, but in a good way--I knew I could keep it up, and by this point I was passing people pretty regularly.  I passed back a lot of the women who'd passed me in mile 2 and 3, and that felt good--I truly felt like, if I'd gone out faster, I would have been one of them instead of me.  No one passed me after Mile 4.  Two of my friends came out to cheer me on along Commonwealth Ave--I had hoped they would, so I was looking out for them.  (To be honest, 2 years ago I went out way too fast and felt like total s*** at this point, so I was, um, fairly grumpy when I saw them, which made me wonder if they'd ever come back to cheer me on again.  But one of them is still paying back her karmic debt for not coming to cheer me on when I ran the Boston Marathon in 1995, so I guess she had no choice, even though she's 6 or 7 months pregnant.  Thanks, Rebecca!)  I had enough energy to wave, and to flip them off when one of them yelled, "Run faster!"  Which amused all the other spectators.

The finish of this race, if you haven't done it, is a festival of long straights.  First you have the long straight down Commonwealth, where you can count down the blocks by the alphabetical cross streets.  Although today I actually felt so good, I didn't even do this--I just focused on the green blur of the Public Garden in the distance and tried to mow down the runners between me and there.  Then there's the short  bit on Arlington, a short bit on Boylston, and the long straight down Charles.  I worked hard at "chunking" the finish--that's a term I think I read on the USAT website about dividing your effort up into manageable chunks, though I like how it also evokes the feeling one has during the last mile or so of truly wanting to, um, chunk.  But today I just focused on one piece at a time.  When I made the turn onto Arlington, apparently I had just passed someone named Annie, because someone cheered for her and said, "Only 2 turns left."  I focused on that, and made myself accelerate at each turn.  (Which is a relative term here--turns out my big surge at Mile 4 had given me a 7:20 5th mile.)

When I hit Charles, I picked it up once more and focused on the crosswalk about halfway down.  I told myself I would do one final pickup there.  And when I did, I passed yet another woman who had passed me earlier.  And she responded and passed me back.  I kind of laughed, because I was so surprised (although I suspect at this point in the race, it sounding more like chunking), and then I dug down and passed her back.  And when I say "dug down," I mean that I really had to do that thing where you kind of dip your head down to accelerate.  Only maybe you don't do that.  And I really hope they didn't snap a picture then--I know they get pictures down that last straight, and those have never been my most flattering ones--but pretty or not, I found that extra gear, passed that woman, and passed one more as well.  I definitely have an ego thing about my kick, and it's almost certainly unjustified at this point in my life.  But I still have the mindset, if not the actual fast-twitch muscle, of a middle distance runner, so it's kind of a point of pride that no one should beat me on a finishing kick.  For me the trick is to commit to it in the first place, but once I've done that, I'm all in.  Someday soon I'm going to try this out on a 25-year old and it's not going to go well for me.

And then I almost took out Joan Benoit Samuelson.  Because the other thing I love about this race is that Joan runs it, kicks most of our asses, then stands at the finish line and high fives all us pedestrian types as we cross.  I have been known to gush incoherently, "You're my hero!" because she totally is.  I started my running career, such as it is, in the early 80's, so I kind of grew up with Joanie.  I also went to a NESCAC school, just like she did.  And there the similarities end.  But she is just. Freaking. Awesome.  She ran the Chicago Marathon yesterday--in 2:47:50!--and then ran today's race in what was for her a fairly slow time (40 minutes and change), then took up her usual high fiving position.  And because I finished with a hard acceleration across the line, I hit her hand, um, a little hard.  But you know, despite her elvish looks and what I figure is about a 40-pound differential between us, she's actually quite tough (hence, you know, the 2:47 marathon yesterday), so she absorbed it without incident.  Phew.

Final 1.2 miles: just a hair over 7:00 pace.   Average pace: 7:18/mile.

I think I've said enough about the meta-analysis of my total time.  But I will also say this: I read blogs of other runners, and I am totally inspired by them, and these other runners write of immense amounts of suffering they undergo during races.  As I mentioned above, I am a former (now REALLY former) middle distance runner.  I ran cross country, but frankly, I sucked at it, because I have never been good at that suffering thing.  I am actually a much better distance runner now than I was in college, because despite the 40-year-old body, I've gotten a little better at suffering.  (And no, it's not the whole childbirth thing--I had an epidural both times.)  And although I was generally kind of a mediocre middle distance runner, when I did race well, it was because I could tolerate suffering for like 2-5 minutes, max.  I can tolerate a lot during that time, and at one point I had some leg speed to go with it.

But if I am truly suffering at Mile 2 of a 10K, it's just not going to happen.  I want to be tough, and I want to be able to be all Zone 5b or 5c for the whole thing, but it just ain't happening.  When I ran 41:13 (oh, did I already mention that time?  Silly me), it felt effortless.  Only in a sense, obviously--had it truly been effortless, I would have stepped it up and broken 41 minutes.  I gave that race everything I had that day, and I feel like I gave my race today the same.  But for me, that means a gradual build--when I do that, I have the legs, stomach and lungs to give it all for the last mile or so.  When I don't, I am what the kids today would call a hot mess.

Maybe this is an excuse, although I do think there's something to the science of HR zones and what anyone can sustain for a given length of time.  But for me, the path to getting faster is simply to increase the speed I can go in those zones, as pedestrian and unexciting as that sounds.  When I run well, it really is a weird combination of effortless and hard, until the last mile, when it's just hard.  But fun.  In a sort of chunky way.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Hatfield Harvest 5K

As I alluded to in my last post, I did a 5K last weekend and was underwhelmed by the results.  After talking to my coach, I decided to jump in another local 5K this weekend, the main goal being to test out whether it would help me to do a longer, harder warmup.

What I learned is this: yes, I definitely feel better after a more intense warmup (sort of like an abbreviated track workout without the track).  In fact, I felt so much better that I breezed through the first mile probably 15 or 20 seconds faster than I should have, which didn't really seem like an issue until about mile 1.5.

Here's how I looked at about mile 2.9:

It's a little hard to read my expression, but I think it says something like, "S***, I took that first mile out too fast."

If you look hard, at the far right of this picture you can also see a runner in a green shirt.  About 100 yards later, she passed me, about 200 yards from the finish.  I said, "Good job," and resigned myself to finishing as the 3rd woman (it was a very small race).  Then I did a double take (only without actually doing any double-take type movement, because that would have required me to expend energy, of which I essentially had none at that point), thought "What the f*** am I thinking?" and dug as deep as I could to pass her back.  This left about 100 yards of staring at the finish line straight ahead of me, trying to keep up my kick, trying not to think about how much I wanted to throw up.  I resorted to running through Adam Lambert's "If I Had You" in my head, and promised myself I'd get to the finish line before I had to mentally sing the line about "girls in stripper heels."  And I did, but probably only because there's a bit of instrumental bridge before that part of the song.

After both Ms. Green Shirt and I were able to stand upright and walk (thankfully, we were NOT wearing stripper heels), we congratulated each other.  It was close to a PR for her, and while not quite that for me, my race was definitely 10 or 15 seconds faster because of her, and I was perfectly happy with the time.  Unfortunately, I had to hightail it out of there to take the kids to my son's preschool potluck, so I could not stick around to collect the pie I think I might have won.  (It's possible I won a bag of potatoes instead.  Awesome prizes, either way.)

Other thoughts about the race:

1) Most of it was on dirt tractor roads through fields and/or along the dike by the Connecticut River.  Beautiful and fun, but I don't think very fast.  By mile 2 it was really taking it out of my legs to deal with the uneven terrain,  puddles,  etc.  Not that I'm complaining--it was a gorgeous course, and it certainly gave me something to think about other than the Darth-Vader like sound of my labored breathing.

2) I loved the low-key vibe of this race.  The starting "line" was the end of a driveway where the pavement started.  The course was well marked, with bored-looking (can you really blame them?) boyscouts at all turns.

3) I ran into several people I knew at the race.  The best was the guy who sheepishly admitted that his wife didn't know he was doing it--he told her he just went out to pick up applications for them for another race in a couple weeks.  We agreed that if the odd 5K is the biggest secret you're keeping from your spouse, your marriage is probably pretty solid.

4) The first-place woman was also first place overall.  Gotta love that.

5) When Adam Lambert says he's "got the right amount of leather," exactly what is that amount?  Is it safe to assume that Adam and I have different calibrations for this?

As you can probably tell from the photo (on the off chance you don't live around here), it was an astoundingly wonderful fall day.  The only bad part of the whole day was when, on our way to said potluck with a crockpot full of black bean soup on the floor of the passenger seat (you can see where this is going, right?), someone pulled out in front of me and forced me to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting them.  The resultant tsunami of black bean soup required a lot of cleaning out of the car, and I still fear there is soup in places I can't reach.  While my kids assured me, "But it smells really GOOD, Mommy," I have a feeling they're going to rethink that in a week or two.