Monthly Archives: July 2011

How to Annoy a Runner

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Looking for a surefire way to really get under the skin of your favorite runner?  It’s easy.  After she completes her next race, make sure the first question you ask is, “Did you win?”

Oh, I’m sure you mean well.  What you really want to know if the race was a success or not.  But what most people (particularly  non-runners) fail to realize is that 99% of the participants in a local road race enter without any hope of winning.  At least not “winning” in the sense of being the first one across the finish line, and probably not even having the fastest time in their respective age group.

So why on earth would you enter a race if you know you will … well … LOSE???

Because most runners I know don’t buy into the concrete definition of the terms win and lose.  We don’t agree with the whole second-place-is-first-loser mentality.  We don’t share the feeling that our personal sense of fulfillment can only be achieved in exchange for the failure of all others.

I love the thought expressed by John “The Penguin” Bingham in his book No Need for Speed.  He says, “There is a difference between a win and a victory … You may never have a chance to win a race, but you will have ample opportunities to be victorious.”

As I toe the starting line of a race, or more accurately, a spot somewhere far behind the starting line with the rest of the not-so-speedy, I am surrounded by runners who desire to be victorious.  Some are trying to achieve a certain finish time or average pace. Some are trying to soothe inner conflicts over age, weight, low self-esteem, or some other unseen adversary.  Some are just trying to reach the finish line in one piece.

It is very exciting to be surrounded by such a spirit of unbridled expectation and anticipation.  The atmosphere seems much more cooperative than competitive, as if we are all united in one common bond.  It is electrifying!

That’s not to say that we’re not EVER competitive.  One of the greatest victories in my first 10K was passing several runners during the last mile.  (Including one, ahem, older gentleman who had been ahead of me the entire race and tried to pick up the pace so I couldn’t scoot around him.)  But it wasn’t the fact that I beat those runners that made me proud.  It was the realization that I had paced myself properly in the early miles and was able pick up speed in the later miles.  It was my own satisfaction that my hard work and training was paying off.

I finished that 10K knowing that I’d left it all on the course, running the best race that I could on that particular route on that particular day.  So don’t let the fact that I finished in 154th place fool you.  Ask me again if I won, and I’m going to answer with a resounding YES!

When a Good Run Goes Bad

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Yesterday’s run was terrible.  Probably one of the worst I’ve ever had.  I don’t expect every run to be a glorious experience of physical perfection, but yesterday was about as far from that as possible.

It started out on the right track.  I had all of my clothes and gear laid out the night before and got to bed at a fairly decent time.  The alarm went off at 5:30 and it only took me a few seconds to decide to get out of bed.  (Yes, 5:30.  In the morning.  When it is still dark, and smart people are still sleeping.  If I want to squeeze in a long run and get back before my family is stirring, that’s what it takes.)  I laced up my shoes and hit the road.

I took the first two miles at a slow pace, trying to work through any stiffness that had accumulated during the few days of rest since my 10K race.  I felt a little clunky and off-balance, but that happens sometimes.  It’s typical to take a few miles to get warmed up…or so I thought.

But by the end of mile three (and after wrong turn that forced me to backtrack a quarter-mile) my entire left knee and hip had tightened up.  It felt like my left leg weighed 10 pounds more than my right, and was getting heavier by the minute.  Since I was running an out-and-back route, I had to make a decision.  Keep pushing to the 4.5 mile turnaround point (for my planned 9 miles total), or cut it short and start heading back early.

Thankfully my brain overruled my ego and I turned around, because things kept going downhill.   My side cramped up so badly I had to stop running, and even walking was painful.  It was the first time I’ve ever considered calling my husband to come and pick me up, or even knocking on the door of a friend that lives along my route and begging for mercy.  But I kept moving forward, slowly, until I could finally pick it up to what felt like a snail’s pace.

The last two miles was a slow and stiff plod, but I kept putting one foot in front of the other.  I was so mentally focused … but instead of my usual concern about pace, it was now a matter of getting home in one (uninjured) piece.  Let me tell you, the paper box at the end of my street was never such a welcome sight!  I had to restrain myself from kneeling down to wrap my arms around the morning edition of the Chronicle-Telegram in a grateful embrace.

But as I reached home, the euphoria of survival wore thin and I started feeling sorry for myself.  I had fallen short of my goal and only completed seven miles, which was not what my training plan called for.  And then it hit me.  Only seven miles?  Since when is seven miles something to be disappointed in?  And my pace for this seemingly disastrous run, including all of the walking/jogging/limping, was still faster than what my racing pace was last spring over a much shorter distance.

I’m glad I was reasonable enough to slow down and cut my run short, living to run another day, instead of trying to be a hero and ending up with a more serious injury.  (That whole “no pain, no gain” idea is a really bad idea!)  Thankfully, after a little ice and ibuprofen, I’m feeling ok.  Hopefully it was just a result of taking too many days off and then jumping back in to a long run, in combination with slacking off on my stretching and cross-training.  Lessons learned!

No matter how carefully we plan, sometimes good runs go bad.  But giving up is not an option.  So tomorrow morning, I’ll lace up my shoes and hit the road again … carefully.

Running vs. Racing … Don’t be a dummy!

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Yesterday was the first 10K race I’ve ever entered.  Sure, I’ve run that distance (6.2 miles), or even more, during training runs.  But running six miles and racing six miles are two different animals.

Usually when I set out on a run I do have some type of goal in mind:  complete a certain number of miles, maybe a certain average pace, but many times it’s not even that concrete.  When it comes down to a race,  however, it’s about one goal:  the time on the clock when you finish.

Previously I’ve only run races at a 5K distance (3.1 miles), and there is certainly strategy involved.  But it is a shorter race that many experienced runners can pound through at a pretty steady clip.  It’s hard and fast, and then it’s over.  (Ok, maybe I can’t pound through the entire distance at a hard pace, but I’m not exactly a great runner!)

Moving up to a 10K stretches the race out over a greater distance, meaning you are much more likely to have variations in elevation.  (Translation:  Hills!)   We mortals are looking at somewhere in the range of at least a 50-60 minute race time, so it’s not really possible to push a fast pace for the entire time.  And that’s where strategy comes in, or as I like to call it, not racing like a dummy.

I felt that yesterday’s race started off with me being a dummy, but thankfully I got a little smarter after that.  Here’s a rundown of the ups and downs (some literal) of my first 10K!

Before my first 10K - Medina Twin Sizzler - 7/4/11

Dummy Moves:

Not training in warmer weather  – When you sign up for a July 4 race, you can pretty much expect it to be a hot day.  While I have been doing a lot of running outside, most of it is early morning when the temperature is still around 60-65 degrees and not terribly humid.  This race was scheduled to start at 9:00 am, which means by the end it was pushing 75 degrees.  I should be thankful that it wasn’t actually warmer than that, because I would’ve been in BIG trouble.

* Not investigating race details in advance  – I didn’t bother finding out where parking would be, how many water stops there would be, or how the course was laid out.  Had I done so, I would’ve added more serious hill training to my workouts.  Knowledge is power, when it comes to racing, and I feel better at the starting line if the race morning is stress-free and I know what I’m getting into.

Smart Moves:

* Packing heat – Ok, not that kind of heat.  What I mean is some type of hydration and nutrition to use as necessary.  It may seem like overkill to some racers, but a pick-me-up packet of sport jelly beans and a swig of Gatorade was exactly what I needed about halfway through when fatigue was starting to set in.

* Pacing, part 1Not going out too fast – It is so easy at the beginning of a race to be all pumped up, find yourself running with some strong runners, and really push the pace right off the bat.  I think that one of my strengths is the ability to avoid this, and start off at a strong-but-not-too-strong pace.  My husband, who has battled this tendency in the past, stuck with me this time and was very grateful once the later miles rolled around!

* Pacing, part 2 … Kick it up a notch when you can – The fourth and fifth mile of this course were mostly flat or even downhill, so it was time to pick up the pace.  (Thank you to the guy shouting from the sidelines that let us know we were entering the “easier” miles, otherwise this dummy would’ve been clueless!)  I knew that I could push it a little harder.  And it was a lot of fun to pass several runners in that last mile.

After - The best tasting popsicle ever!

In the end, I finished at just over 59 minutes.  Considering my goal at the beginning of the year was to run a sub-30 5K, and now I’ve done the same thing at twice that distance, I’m quite happy.

And the best part of racing a new distance?  An automatic PR!

In the beginning…

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… so begins the book of Genesis.  “Genesis” is defined as the origin or formation of something.  Just as that awe-inspiring creation account didn’t happen overnight, the creation of a runner can be a long process.  For this particular runner, it was a REALLY long, slow, and sometimes very frustrating process.

      From my last entry, you know I was a slow, lumpy, not-quite-thirty year old determined to make a change.  It was also the time of year that those of us in northeast Ohio are feeling extra lethargic after spending an entire fall and winter cooped up inside, eating comfort foods, and watching our favorite sports team(s) break our hearts.  Usually it is May or even June before the thaw wears off and I shake myself out of a coma, only to realize I’m sadly out of shape for participating in the (extremely short) season for outdoor activities.

     So last year I was determined it would be different.  I would start getting in shape before summer rolled around.  And what does a slow, lumpy, not-quite-thirty year old who hates running do?  She signs up for a 5K, logically.

     A 5K, for those of you that can’t do random metric conversions in your head, is 3.1 miles.  Not exactly an epic distance, but for someone who couldn’t even jog a half mile, quite a daunting task.  I had no delusions of grandeur, there was no chance of finishing with any kind of impressive time.  I just wanted to be able to run the entire distance without walking.  Oh, and not die.

     I knew the only way to complete such a crazy stunt was to pre-register for race, forcing myself in to a deadline.  For those of you that don’t know me, follow-through is not always one of my best qualities.  (Just ask my husband about our half-painted bedroom … and the scrapbooking supplies strewn all over the basement … you get the picture.)  But once I clicked the send button on that online application, the fee was non-refundable.  If there’s anything I hate more than being out of shape, it’s wasting money!

     So I started by alternating short running spurts with longer walking segments.  Actually, I use the term “running” quite liberally.  It was more like a slightly faster than snail’s pace, lead-footed jog.  But the first time I plodded through one continuous mile, I was elated.  In retrospect, I think the fact that I was so bad at it was actually part of the appeal.  I enjoyed the challenge, and it made me work that much harder to improve.

     As the weeks passed, the running segments got longer and the walking got shorter.  I usually made it about two miles, although one particularly good day, I pushed it over three.

     And so as May 22 approached, I felt mildly prepared.   And a little bit scared.   I didn’t want to make a fool of myself, and I didn’t want to stand out as newbie.  (I even read articles online about how NOT to look like a rookie, which pretty much sounds exactly  like something a rookie would do!)

Before my first 5K - May 22, 2010

     Standing at the starting line and looking around at my fellow racers, I realized I had worried for nothing.  Although there were a few uber-toned road warriors, plenty were average joes, with a generous sprinkling of senior citizens, moms pushing strollers, and overweight middle-aged men squeezing in to twenty year old running shorts.  I felt much better.   (Little did I know those senior citizens would blow past me and never look back!)

     I managed to settle in to a steady pace and held it for the first two miles before I was really feeling it.  I was very tempted to walk, but I knew if I did I’d never be able to start running again.  So I just kept churning along.  Hot, sweaty, but determined not to quit, that last mile took every last bit of effort I could muster up.  Crossing the finish line was an amazing feeling, even if the picture my husband took makes it look like I’m about to collapse.

Approaching the finish ... looking exhausted but feeling great!

     And so, I finished my first 5K, with a time of 36:20, or about an average of a 12 minute mile.  I wasn’t in last place, in fact, I was right about in the middle of my age group.  And I didn’t die.  But I did take a three hour nap that afternoon, and I was sore for a few days.

     Later that week something crazy happened … I started looking for another race to sign up for.

I survived!