Friday, May 9, 2014

Race Report -- Esprit de She 5k

This race was the first 5k I did when I started walking last year.  I was so excited after finishing that race that I decided to try walking a half marathon and I'm so happy that I've made the decision to stay active even if I'm not fast.  I was really looking forward to this race this year and ultimately had a good race, but this series has so much room to grow.

Packet pickup was incredibly slow because something was wrong with their computers, and then I got stuck behind someone picking up packets for her eight thousand closest friends.  I think I only got impatient because I'd thought I would be in and out in a few minutes and didn't put #4 in his stroller.  We got a cute tank, little reusable bag and a few samples.  The race bibs are awesome and I have a little "founding finisher" designation.

Last year the race was held in Houston, this year it moved to Katy.  I'd thought the parking situation last year was less than great, but this year there was a half mile between the parking and the race start.  We had to cross a major highway, but there were police directing traffic.  I wouldn't have minded, but we'd brought the cheer squad.  #2 still can't walk very long distances and I should have had Christian drop me off with the kids close to the start because he ended up having to carry him on his shoulders while pushing #4 in the stroller.  I corralled #1 and #3, both of whom got poked with some sort of stinging nettles walking though a field.  We had four fairly grumpy kids on our hands by the time we got to the start. The kids did cheer up with free cups of yogurt and little signs they could decorate with markers to cheer us on.

We had one lane of several two-lane roads for the race.  Due to the time of the race, there was a constant stream of cars in the other lane, but safety was maintained.  There was one water stop.  Apparently they ran out of water for the back of the pack.  Tip #1 -- carry your own water if you're slow!  I always do at half marathons and at several races I've been pleased that I was able to pass by the aid stations while other people were standing there in a line waiting for cups to be filled.  The 10k was supposed to start at 7 and the 5k at 7:15.  Nothing started on time, we were sent of in random waves, and you couldn't hear the race announcements over the music.  I did hear that it was ladies' night and the feeling's right, but nothing about the race.  The 10k split off from the 5k at some point (I was doing the 5k) and when the faster 10k ladies rejoined us at their mile 5.5 they were unfortunately met with a very slow field who weren't letting faster runners pass.

I had coupons for two glasses of champagne and I saw other people eating boxed dinners of salads and sandwich wraps, but the lines were incredibly long and the kids were tired.  The post-race area was really crowded.  I'm not used to doing such large races.  #2 was using his walker and countless people were suddenly horribly embarrassed when they realized they'd shoved or cut off a mobility impaired kid.  Tip #2 -- look where you're going and just slow down a little, everyone!  Rather than walk back across a giant highway in the dark with the kids, Christian walked with all of us over to Sprouts and we grocery shopped while he went back for the car.  The kids actually had an awesome time weighing all sorts of produce and choosing new fruit to try.

My race
I have barely trained since #2 had his surgery.  We followed that up with all six of us getting Fifth Disease, which isn't dangerous but is annoying.  Still, I wasn't going to skip this race, especially since I had friends going.  I was trying for fast turnover, but I just didn't feel like I had any power in my legs.  I didn't have any knee pain so I kept pushing to a 37:43 finish.  That's 8:13 faster than last year!  One of my friends was with her daughter a bit behind me and they were using me as a rabbit.  I think that's the first time that's ever happened to me so they completely made my day.

There were a lot of ladies who probably had no idea about race etiquette.  People walking four abreast, people in headphones hanging out on the left edge of the course, run-walkers coming to an abrupt stop.  I want people to join and love this sport, but I didn't realize how much I value the almost universal compliance with these "rules" at most other races.  There was no effort on the part of the race officials to get people to line up in pace groups.  I will continue to do this race because it was my first 5k, but I hope that as they continue the series they will improve the race experience.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Sugar & Spice and Angie's Half Crazy! Half Marathons -- Race Report

When I registered for these two races that use the same course, I envisioned being able to improve my time in the two months between them through improved technique, increased fitness, and even a bit of weight loss.  It turns out what I got from these races was much more introspective.  But first, the race stuff!

For both of these races I drove down by myself at super early o'clock without my cheering squad.  Parking was easy and close to the start.  These races have entry caps, which keeps them very low key.  15 minutes before the start they'll exchange your shirt for another size if they have it and let you grab one extra piece of glassware.  I love race glasses and I have cats and children who break things despite my best efforts, so I definitely went for the extra from each race.  They are so well organized at FAB racing.

Sugar & Spice had stemless wine glasses and a nice grey tech shirt.  The race was so small they gave out extra shirts to anyone who wanted one as well.

Angie's Half Crazy! had so much stuff!  I also got double bling for having done two races in their series.  Yes, I got bib number 666.  Christian had run his first 50 miler at a race called Hells Hills the day before, so it was a bit of an oddly themed weekend for us.

The one thing this race doesn't have going for it is an interesting course.  It is flat and fast, though.  It's an out and back on roads, with sidewalk or paved bike path alongside for most of it.  The aid stations were always ready with tons of water and gatorade and the volunteers were really great.  At the AHC! half the turnaround point guy was throwing out unique comments to everyone -- mine was "Here comes a half marathoner!"  He made my day with his incredibly positive attitude.

They have breakfast burritos and at the AHC! race they had these awesome sno-cones.  So, so good.  They also have sports massage people there, but I'm always too lazy to wait in the line because I just want to get home.

My race
Sugar & Spice
I wasn't going to do this race because I was so worried about kid #2.  He'd just been diagnosed with Legg-Calve-Perthes disease and we were told his best treatment option was a femoral osteotomy.  This left me reeling and so very angry.  In retrospect, that's probably what drove me to my half marathon PR -- the need to burn off all of my unprocessed emotions.  I honestly don't remember much about this race, other than that my super fast friend Annette high fived me after the turnaround on her way to her age group win.  It felt so good to be out and not thinking about anything.  I also got the best race photo of me, ever.  I am telling myself that this photo is highly accurate and I always look like this while racing.

Angie's Half Crazy!
I also wanted to give up on this race, but this time because I was just so tired.  The intensity of caring for my Perthes kid, even once he was back at school, and keeping up with the others (toddler, I'm looking at you) was (and still is, actually) stressful.  I am convinced that my emotional, spiritual and physical wellness can all impact each other and I was feeling completely spent.  #2's wheelchair weighs, I'm guessing, 80 pounds.  Even Christian doesn't like to pick it up, and I lifted that thing in and out of the back of the minivan multiple times every school day.  My body eventually started complaining about this, and the nagging hip/knee pain on my bad side combined with my usual gym schedule being messed up led to less than optimal training.  I ultimately decided to go to give the kids the medals.  The night before there was a 90% chance of thunderstorms and I was convinced I'd drive down there for nothing but my packet. Still, I soldiered on because at least I can walk -- I feel like I should for anyone who is longing for that freedom and unable to achieve it for whatever reason.

So, with a threat of thunderstorms and an aching hip, I left my house before dawn.  I went to packet pickup and found my number was 666.  I'm not superstitious -- the number itself doesn't have any power, but it certainly has a connotation in our culture.  While I tried to figure out why they'd issue this number at all instead of skipping it like the 13th floor on buildings, I tried to keep warm while I waited for the race.  Normally I keep very much to my introverted self before races, but once you pin on 666 everyone has a joke.  This was actually really good for me to get drawn out of my gloomy mood and into the race atmosphere.  I started at my normal 12-ish pace and managed a mile before my hip and knee told me in no uncertain terms to slow down.  The good thing was that a 14-ish pace made the pain completely disappear.  I accepted my pace and walked on through the misty, cool morning.  I was thinking about my race number, the existence of sin and the nature of suffering.  I ultimately decided that getting my weird number was actually food for thought this Lent.

About mile 9 I started passing people that had given up their earlier paces.  One man and woman were doing a run-walk pattern that kept me near them for quite some time.  The man was talking about how he'd left the Catholic Church after deciding that the entire hierarchy was made up of actual, physical demons. I ultimately decided not to say anything because yelling at someone "My church isn't run by demons!"while wearing race bib 666 would probably not do anything to improve his opinion of Catholicism.  This is hands down the strangest thing that has ever happened to me in a race.  I finished with my first half marathon time over three hours, but I finished.  And the predicted rain?  It started pouring the minute I got back into the car.  

Oh, the pictures were awful this time.  I'm hoping I don't look like this whenever I'm racing.  Here's the most flattering of the bunch.

What I Learned
I am honestly so blessed to be able to finish a half at all, and I'd love to see more people joining the back of the pack with me.  More and more races are walker-friendly and the feeling you get from crossing that finish line is such a rush.  I had my best and worst half time at this particular finish line and the exhilaration of being done was just as great for both.  That said, I'm going to address the pain I'm having before I go into my race for May.  I've taken two complete weeks off due to scheduling conflicts and complete unwillingness to go to the gym at night after I put the kids to bed.  Now that the wheelchair is gone (hooray!) and I'm helping #2 relearn to walk, I'm hoping my body will start to recover a bit, too.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Seabrook Lucky Trail Half Marathon -- Race Report

I know I haven't done a report for my February race, which was also awesome and I will get around to posting, but I wanted to write this one now because I was SO happy with the race.

I drove to Seabrook and got there probably a bit too early, but I was able to park at the school just down the street from the race start.  It was a nice bonus to see the early start marathoners take off, too.  This race hands out tons of stuff, including spray hand sanitizer and blinky shoe lights.  I'm not a huge fan of the black shirt since I'm super pale, but I'll probably wear it anyway because the race was so much fun.  I love making Mom of Four my custom bib name.  It sounds so overly sentimental, but my kids are the best thing I've ever put so much work into.  I like to be a bit of an ambassador for getting out there and doing something for yourself, even if you're toward to back of the pack.  Also, that medal is huge and heavy.  People who'd done the challenge to race both days got an extra medal on Sunday, so there were tons of people walking around clanking at the post-race party.  It was awesome.

The half marathon was two loops of mostly crushed granite trail.  While it's technically a trail run, the course surface was flat and non-technical enough that #4, who is all of 16 months, could have handled it.  This is good, since I'm not sure how much rooty, gravely steepness I could handle.  I leave that stuff to Christian.  The course went past neighborhoods, through a slightly wooded spot, and along a bayou.  The neatest part of the course was in Pine Gully park, which sits on Galveston Bay.  It was cool to look out on a big body of water, especially when the sky is foggy and it seems like vast nothingness.  The race does have two-direction traffic on some of these narrow paths, which was usually not a problem.

There were hot dogs, which is my favorite junk food ever.  They had vegetarian rice & beans if you didn't eat meat.  Also, an ice cream cart with strawberry popsicles.  I might have been a little too enthusiastic with my appreciation for the ice cream volunteer guy.  I'm pretty sure he thought I was crazy for being so happy about a popsicle.  There was tons of food and there didn't seem to be any sort of bib-marking that kept you from going back if you wanted, say, another popsicle.

My race
I've barely been training (total of 5 miles in the two weeks leading up to the race) since #2's surgery was at the beginning of March and my motivation to go work out after the kids went to bed was non-existent.  It was supposed to be raining at this race.  The only reason I went was that #2 really wanted the medal after I showed him the race logo.  Well, that and thinking that this is where it would be so easy to give up.  No one would say I sucked for giving up on my goal because I had to spend so much energy taking care of my kid.  Since I'm stubborn, I decided not to quit where someone would expect me to.  I was out of my preferred gel and had to dig through stuff Christian had won at race raffles to find enough to take with me.  Christian has roughly a million Hammer gels left from RWB trail camp and about the same number of Huma chia gels from their fundraising campaign.  I find both of these absolutely disgusting, so it was sort of funny to be surrounded by sports nutrition and hardly able to find any for myself.  I found some non-tested but innocuous looking vanilla gels and dragged my exhausted self to the car at 5 a.m.

While I was waiting for the race to start, a relay team sitting near me started getting dressed in costumes.  It's worth checking out at the race photo site to see these four guys dressed as Mario, Luigi, Toad and Peach.  The rain seemed to be holding off, but I'd chosen to wear a hat and leave my glasses in the car. Who needs to see clearly anyway, right?   It was still dark when we started.  I felt all tough, starting in the dark and being on a trail.  Look at my handheld!  I am hardcore!

The first few miles were uneventful, just a bit wet.  They had signs with jokes and trivia questions posted along the side of the course.  The wooded portion of the course seemed cool until a HUGE GUY came barreling around the corner cutting into the side that should have been not for him.  I'm not a tiny person and it startled me so badly.  I tried to be extra noisy going around the other blind turns.   I was going along at an easy pace and then the rain started. Drizzling at first, then pouring.  Wearing a hat proved to be the best decision ever when there was rain constantly dripping off the brim.  Having those few square inches of my face kept relatively dry made all the difference in the world in my mood.  Then the thunder and lightning started.  I was about as far as you could get from the race start at that point and was worried that they'd call off the race and keep us from starting another lap.  I was mentally rehearsing what I was going to say to the keeper of the bling about how I needed to give this medal to my kid who'd just had a femoral osteotomy and cannot even WALK, but the storm must have been far away enough that they let me start my second loop.  Incidentally, I was lapped just before the end of the first loop by the women's winner.  She is thirteen years old.  Good to know she's almost exactly twice as fast as I am.  The other great thing was the aid stations, which just so happened to have my favorite gel in the world.  They also had candy and Girl Scout cookies, which is maybe a trail thing?  Christian is always talking about how they have a huge amount of food on the course at ultras, not just sports nutrition stuff.  Speaking of ultras, you could spot the hard-core people throughout the race.  They had on their hydration vests and were wearing buffs and serious trail shoes.  These are my husband's people.  You could also tell the total roadies, including a really fast guy running in what seemed to be a tri suit.

On the second loop, the course was much wetter.  There was no avoiding the puddles this time and I got thoroughly wet.  ANOTHER GUY almost ran into me at the same exact corner even though I was hugging the edge of the path as closely as possible.   He was wearing nothing but running shorts with flames on them.  This is the stuff of nightmares.  It made me miss my nice ladies only races.  I get that people want to do well, but if you know there's two way traffic, stay on your side!  Shortly after that I looked at my watch while approaching mile marker 9 and calculated that if I maintained my pace I would finish at 3:03.  I argued with myself that both the distance of a half and the concept of an hour are both completely arbitrary, but I decided to pick up the pace as much as I could to see if I could break three hours.  I put on my best race walking form and went splashing along the trail.  A fast guy, who I think was actually being nice and not making fun of me, told me I was the best power walker he'd seen all day.  I was doing about a 12 minute mile at the time, which isn't too shabby.  When I passed mile 12 I could feel a blister starting, but I also knew that I'd make my time goal.  See how happy I was to finish, even though I was cold and filthy?  Something about the race atmosphere was just so positive that very few people were bothered by the rainy weather.  Or maybe I'm just smiling because the announcer at the finish line pronounced "Brynne" correctly.

Note that I strategically cropped this -- my days of awesome race pictures are over until black tights season returns.  I am so pasty-looking in my shorts, and I'd also worn the only pair of crew length running socks I had as defense against the gravel.  They are black.  It was not pretty.

What I Learned
Hats are the best thing ever in the rain.  Next time I do a trail race, though, I need to bring different shoes with me to drive home.  I was really, really muddy.  I didn't try to clean any of it off, though, since I needed to show off my trail-ness to Christian.  He was duly impressed with my filth, which didn't put #4 off of clinging to my legs like he thought I had left forever and couldn't believe I was back.  I am definitely planning to return to this race in the future, since it was well organized and fun.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The family that races together...

Christian and I are incredibly happy to be fit again and races are such a fun motivation.  So many races have a kids' 1k or mile race, too.  The kids get shirts, medals, post-race bagels -- all the fun that goes with paying to run (or walk!) with a bunch of other people.  #2 kid had been having hip pain on and off for the last six months, but it always seemed to resolve.  The x-ray came back completely normal and we figured it was just a fluke.  We never, ever push the kids to try to accomplish anything athletically.  It's all what they want to do, at their own pace.  #2, especially, played harder in the back yard than he did on the soccer field or the race course.  When the limp came back with a vengeance after it seemed to get better over Christmas vacation, we headed to the pediatric orthopedist.  He has been on restricted movement while we figure out what's going on with what seems to be Legg-Calve-Perthes, or the hip joint destroying itself.  The good news is that the hip bone will regenerate, the bad news is that it takes years and he's not supposed to run or jump, ever.  The goal is to have the bone reform in the proper shape to avoid arthritis later in life.  Have you ever tried to keep a six-year-old from running and jumping?  It's contrary to their very nature.  And now that we've been through the MRI and back to an even more specialized specialist, it looks like he may be in for years of treatment involving multiple surgeries.  There are no good answers.  We're being pressed to make a decision about surgical treatment by early next week and I can't even wrap my head around all of it when the experts do not agree on the treatment for 6-8 year old kids.  He's hurting, he's scared and I cannot make it go away.

I seriously considered scrapping all of my race plans in solidarity with my poor kid.  It's just so not fair that he can't join in!  No baseball/soccer/basketball teams, no races, no medals, no team uniforms, no race shirts! But ultimately he needs a mom and I need an outlet so I'm going to my race even though it all seems so trite now, shirts and medals and such.  I'm going tomorrow out of pure selfishness, to get to that point that comes for me at mile 9 where the only thing I can still think about is putting my feet in front of each other as fast as they'll go.  I need an empty head and I can't think of a better way to get it since I can never convince myself to work as hard just walking around our neighborhood as I do in a race.  #2 kid will totally be getting my medal tomorrow and maybe for years to come.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Race 3 : February 2014

Sugar & Spice Half Marathon

February 16, 2014
Clear Lake, TX
4.5 hour course limit

Why This Race?
You may have noticed that I absolutely love women's races.  So with one so close by, I had to choose it for February.  This year not only will there be medals and tech shirts, but wine glasses!  Christian has a collection of pint glasses from races and I am all too excited to add my girly wine glass to the cabinet.  There's also supposed to be a special twist at the finish line and I'm a sucker for surprises.  This will be my last all-women's half until I come full circle at RunGirl again.

Unlike the Cocoa Women's Half, which I thought was flat and turned out to be very much not flat, this course has something like 40 feet of elevation gain.  FLAT!  I'm learning to check things like that before I choose races, but I may have a few more hilly courses coming my way from a registering frenzy I had before I learned this lesson.

I was going to set myself some crazy goal like a PR because the course is nice and flat, but now my goal is just to finish.  I missed my long training walk this race cycle (at the Texas 10 College Station race) because 3 of the kids and I got a horrible stomach bug the night before.  Never in my years of mothering have I had a night like this and I'm hoping to never have one again.  As I'm editing my goal before I post today, I cannot imagine moving from this chair, much less doing a half marathon.  Getting to the finish line is going to feel incredible if I manage that in two weeks.

Turnover!  I am working on my form and I recently found that my cardiovascular system is being challenged much more than before.  I'm going to try to do some of my shorter workouts at a much quicker pace while keeping my long walks slow.  I can hit about 180 steps/minute and close to an 11:00 min/mi for short periods of time.  Knowing that's possible for a mile makes me think it's possible for longer stuff as well if I just put in the time.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The road more travelled...

I've been running since I was a kid.  I started, grudgingly, when I was about 10 years old.  My dad would drag me out on our bikes, and ride to the 1 mile grass loop at Cal State Bakersfield (go Roadrunners!).  I usually had to run at least one mile, which elicited a lot of complaints from me.   I grew, and I started up again when I was about 13 years old and now living in the Taylor Street neighborhood of Chicago.  My parents now both worked, and during the summer I had ample time, and few friends as we lived in (a) graduate student housing (read: no kids around, at least my age), and (b) we just moved from NYC.   After getting board of hanging out at home and playing Nintendo 8-bit, I started running during the heat of the summer.  I started with one or two miles and began moving up to longer distances - about 5 miles or so.  

I had speed work of necessity.  At that time, our neighborhood was bisected by public housing.  So a pasty white boy with a Los Angles PD t-shirt running through the projects didn't go over to well (took a bit to figure out why...).  Anyway, I booked it through the houses.  I'd run towards the loop, under the elevated, and basically roamed the industrial wastelands west of the Loop.  I kept doing it, even as I made friends and played tennis, then signed up for JV wrestling in high school.  I kept doing this high school, into college in Colorado, marriage & moving to upstate NY (with some brief flirtation with triathlon and vegetarianism - both failed), and back to graduate school.  In Boulder.  The running mecca. 

So most of my life, at least until college and graduate school, all my milage was like 99% spent on roads.  I gave no thought to surface.  If it was there, I ran on it.  Not quickly, but rolled along like a tank.  I ran trails in college and graduate school - and when I began running again in late 2012 I started running on some local trails within running distance to my house and work.   

I've sped up more in the last couple months then I've ever done in my life.   Probably because I've lost weight and gone over my personal max of 40-50 miles per week.  In December I scored a 2nd place overall at a local half-marathon at the Houston Running Festival - a 1:42:23!  For a guy that looks like a rugby player that was pretty quick.  I'd never held sub 8 (7:49 min/mi) for that long.  I also decided to try a full marathon.  Today I ran a marathon - the USAFIT/Memorial Hermann marathon out in Sugarland TX.  I had never really given much thought to the surface I was running on - it was road or trail.  Or a little of both - kinda like the Osmonds.  

Man, was I wrong.  The whole marathon was on concrete - and it trashed my legs.  Even my Hoka One-One Stinson Tarmacs couldn't ameliorate the pounding.  Then I realized, that all my runs - even runs longer than a marathon distance or in the vicinity - were always on mixed surfaces (concrete and trail), or trail.  

I ended up finishing in 4:16:17.  I was hoping to finish in sub-4, and perhaps a year ago I would have been beating myself up during and after the race.  Today, I was just happy to finish.  I finally ran a marathon.  I no longer wonder what they're like, even though I've run farther.  Mentally, I feel it was tough because of the long straight views and unchanging surface.  The aid crews were fantastic, the organization and operation of the race were phenomenal, and Sugarland PD was great about keeping traffic at bay and keeping runners/walkers safe.  The race even accommodated longer marathoners by even having a 4:30 AM start and 12:30 PM finish - roughly a 18 min/mi pace.

Did I mention the medal was pretty swanky?  The little star that sits over the greater Houston metroplex actually spins. 

So, in closing, I think I had a one-morning affair with a road marathon.  Maybe I'll try one again, but I think for the sake of my legs, sanity, and love of dirt - I'll stick to the trails.  Not a slam on roadies - I still will do a lot of my runs on hard surfaces.  I just don't know that I want to do another for a while.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Choco Loco 5k -- Race Report

So I think my new goal is to do at least one extra race every month.  There's always the free Houston Wellness Project 5k to do, so I think it's pretty reasonable.  January's bonus race was the Choco Loco 5k.  That means that I've done two chocolate-themed races in a 7-day stretch.  I am very, very loyal to my favorite candy.

We picked up packets during the week, so it was nice to not have to show up any earlier than necessary in the cold.  We got to the site 20 minutes before the race start and still found a close parking spot.

There's something fun about walking on streets that are usually super busy but for a brief time get completely closed to traffic.  There were tons of police on the course to ensure driver compliance.  The mile markers seemed to be where they belonged!  There were three water stations, too, so there's no way anyone could have ended up thirsty.

This was the reason we'd chosen the race.  There were cookies, brownies, strawberries, all to be dipped in a chocolate fountain.  Also, Katz coffee!  Some people said the volunteers were rude in the food line and I'm sorry they felt that way.  Being a back of the pack person, I'm glad that they were trying to keep people in check so there was something left for the stragglers.  Maybe they need some signs so there's no ambiguity?  The finisher shirts were regular t-shirts, but I really like them.

The kids' k shirts were the same design in a different color and the medals were the standard for the company that runs these races.  I like that they give medals to the kids and they're amassing a collection of them with different colored ribbons.

My race
Since I technically set a 5k PR in the last 5k of my first half marathon, I decided to do an actual 5k race to have an official new PR.  To help me with my goal, I recruited #1 to be my pacer, since his 5k PR is a few minutes faster than I was hoping to accomplish.  He was thrilled to help and wanted to know exactly how much he was allowed to trash talk to motivate me.  Unfortunately, he got a horrible cold the day before the race and had to cheer from the sidelines.  Also, it was very, very cold.  Normally we are super gung-ho about taking everyone out (remember the super cold turkey trot?), but with #1 sick and #4 thrilled with his ability to remove hats and mittens, we ended up keeping the kids in the car while I did my race, then quickly swapping out Christian with #2 and #3 just before the kids' k started.  This didn't allow for much photo taking, so my moment of PR glory will live on only in my memory.  I finished in 35:22, which is an improvement of 5:51 since last June!  I'm really pleased that I'm able to walk a 5k this quickly and I still think I have room to improve my walking form.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Cocoa Women's Half Marathon -- Race Report

We arrived around 6:30 for the 8:00 start. We had no problem finding free city parking about a block away and packet pickup was easy breezy.  There were so many bathrooms that there was barely a line even minutes before the race.  The start/finish area was in a lovely little plaza at La Villita, which was great for the kids to play while they waited with Christian.  There was a small pink tote bag, a women's tech tee and a really pretty race number.  They had Hershey's kisses out on the tables, which my kids definitely appreciated.

It was very, very cold waiting for the race.  The kids were bundled up for waiting outside, but I was dressed for the race.  Christian ran back to the car and got me a blanket.  I think he got the nicest picture of me while I was standing there shivering after I'd wrapped #4 with the blanket so he'd stop trying to take off his shoes and socks.

The race start was for both the 5k and half marathon and there was no chip mat at the start, so you only got your gun time.  Odd, but I do wear a watch so I made sure to start it right at the line.  I am not fast, so I started at the back.  A whole lot of casual walking pace 5k ladies had started near the front, but after a few minutes everyone was sorted by pace.  While some of the front runners had problems with the course marking, by the time the slower crowd came through it had all been resolved. We started through the historic King William neighborhood, which was full of beautiful old houses. We then moved to a river multi-use path, which was far less scenic and much more hilly. Some of the aid stations didn't have enough pre-filled cups of water, but I always carry a handheld water bottle with me. I did end up needing to refill it, but it was nice to be able to skip an aid station with a line because I had my bottle. I think Christian influenced me in this, since most trail ultra runners carry their own hydration.  The mile markers were definitely not placed accurately.

The food line was long, but very much worth it.  Truffles, chocolate covered strawberries and chocolate chip pancakes were the highlights for me.  Although it's only my second one, this is now my favorite medal since it's a cup of hot cocoa with sparkles.  Future races will have a tough time topping this.

My race
I was feeling good going into this race and for some reason though it would be very flat since it was downtown San Antonio. For the first few miles, I was happily distracted by the beautiful details in the older homes.  Interesting roof designs, stained glass windows, beautiful porches! I was also keeping a pace that was about 30 sec/mi faster than my last half.  This is going to be awesome, I thought to myself.  Flat and fast!  Then came the river multi-use path. It got very industrial very quickly (my, what scenic underpasses) and there were (gasp!) frequent little hills. I do not do hills, even tiny little hills. I tried them once months ago and my knees hurt for days.  Christian and I had been talking about people who DNF to keep their ranking higher on race results websites earlier that morning and counting our blessings that neither of us had ever had to DNF.  Right before I left he joked that unless I had a greenstick fracture I'd better finish the race.  So I kept on, wondering how my knees would feel. Much to my surprise, they felt okay. I did start to slow down because I don't train on hills, ever, and my legs were really feeling it.

With my legs hurting and the industrial scenery, I started to be less than thrilled about having over 8 miles to go. I decided then that I was going to find very single possible positive thing I could about being on the river path.
1. It was an absolutely gorgeous day.  Sunny and just warm enough -- one of those winter days that makes you glad you live in Texas.
2. I got to see Mission Concepcion, finished in 1755.
3. There are lots of little river crossings on the path.  One bridge was made of rocks painted in rainbow colors.  One had little line drawings of animals that had been pressed into the concrete.
4. The path had flat metal markers in the concrete every tenth of a mile, which let me check my pace.  Since the course mile markers were wiggity wack this was nice.
5. When I saw the race leader on the "back" when I was on the "out" for the part of the path we used twice, she was wearing Team RWB.
6. I was holding pace with a pair of run/walk ladies who complimented my walking speed.
7. They had these little manmade structures in the river to make the water flow in a way that let you hear the sound of it rushing.  There were 3-4 of these little spots every mile.  Rushing water is one of my favorite sounds in the world.

As the river path headed back into downtown, it got much nicer.  By this point there were lots of people just out for a casual walk and the race field had thinned so much that it felt odd.  I finally made it back to the street for the last half mile and despite having slowed by about a minute per mile from my early race pace, I felt good.  I felt much better, actually, than I had at the end of the RunGirl 13.1 race.  As I rounded the next to last corner, Christian and the kids were there to cheer for me and I was so happy to see them.  I gave them some of my trademark end of race goofiness and poured on everything I had left to get to the finish line at a good pace.

I finished with a gun time of 2:49:47.  My watch time that took into account my starting near the back of the pack was 2:48:41, or 12:52 min/mi.  I was so happy to have finished less than four minutes slower than my previous half, despite the hillier conditions.

What I Learned
I can, in fact, handle minor inclines and declines.  Not real hills, but after thinking I couldn't do them at all it was a nice surprise.  I have resolved my flying elbows issue and am now moving onto my hunched forward shoulders issue.  I was pleased with my conscious choice to find everything good about the river path instead of being upset that I was walking under underpasses.  I ended up ordering pizza for dinner and we went out to dinner after my first half back in December.  In the future I need to make something before the race so I don't give up on making dinner because I'm tired.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Pre-race, second time around

I'm so much more confident about this race than I was about my first.  With a four hour limit and a chocolate feast waiting for me at the finish, I'm planning to slow down a bit so I have more of an appetite!  The weather looks awesome (forecast of mostly sunny, 48 °F at race start, 62 °F at my projected 3 hour finish) and I'm so excited to get back out in an all-women race field.

-- Since my last half --
Training miles: 76
Longest walk: 8

My biggest concern about my gear this time is that I think my shoes are pretty well worn and I don't have time to break in a new pair.  We went to the Houston Marathon expo is this weekend and I got two new pairs to add into the rotation.  The Cocoa Half will probably be the last race for my Gel Nimbus 14's.  These shoes took me through the exciting weeks of building my longest distance ever from 6.2 up to 13.1 miles, so I'm pretty attached to them.  Gel Nimbus 14, meet Gel Nimbus 15.

I've been thinking a lot about my long term goals and for some reason running again will not stop lurking in the back of my mind.  Christian pointed out that before I started walking longer distances I complained about knee pain when climbing the stairs with #4 in my arms.  I haven't mentioned that in months and my walking hasn't led me to take any ibuprofen or even use my former BFF, the magic self-heating knee wrap.  If I can keep building strength and stick to my nutrition, maybe I will be running 5k's with kid #1 by the end of the year.  I saw a motivational picture that said "The voice in your head that says that you can't do this is a liar."  While that's certainly not true in extreme cases, I'm not as far gone as I once thought I was.  I wouldn't ever have my kids give up on their dreams and the only way I can teach them that is to pursue mine.

San Antonio, here I come!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Weight Weight Don't Tell Me

Fun fact: I was on NPR's Wait Wait Don't Tell Me in 2002.  I won, but never redeemed, the prize of Carl Kasell recording my answering machine message.  The only question I can still remember was about Led Zeppelin.

Now -- onto something that I cannot seem to resolve as I'm putting in more miles and starting to think about faster paces.  I am technically at a healthy weight.  I don't eat much in the way of garbage food.  I am, however, 20 pounds over what I was before I got pregnant with #4.  I did Weight Watchers in 2011 and got incredibly motivated to follow it, but now I cannot seem to get back on track.  #4 is still nursing and hasn't slept through the night since he was 6 months old, which is probably part of why I'm still feeling so hungry all the time.  I know that a lower weight will mean less stress on my knees and faster times, so I'm not just fixating on some number on the scale.  I can make myself walk in the cold, in the rain, in the Houston summer heat.  Why can't I make myself eat slightly less?

Christian, who has already lost 60 pounds, wants to lose about 20 more, so I'm definitely not alone in this.  My first goal is to take some time to plan ahead so I don't end up eating, say, almond butter out of the jar at 4 p.m. while I'm starting dinner because nothing else is readily available.  It's not junk eating, but it's clearly not what I should be doing to optimize my limited athletic potential.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Race 2: January 2014

Cocoa Women's Half Marathon

January 19, 2014
San Antonio, TX
4 hour course limit

Why This Race?
When I came up with the idea to do 13 races in 13 months the Aramco Half Marathon in Houston was sold out, except for charity entries which are REALLY expensive.  (Note: If I ever become super wealthy I'm totally going to do charity entries because they come with the promise of things like private pre-race bathrooms.  Sounds pretty luxe.)  Christian is already registered for the USA Fit Marathon in Sugar Land later this month and we don't have backup to watch the kids so we can race on the same day.  That left me with no local choices.

Looking around races in Texas I found the Cocoa Women's Half.  Women?  Yes, I am one!  Cocoa?  Yes, I love it!  San Antonio?  Yes, it's our favorite local trip town!  The new part for this is traveling to a race.  Since I'm bringing my whole cheering section along, this should be a fun and challenging trip.  I've also never done a race through a downtown area and the course switches direction frequently.  Since I'm not as far toward the back of the pack as I thought I would be, I think I should always have someone to follow.  Also, the kids have no school on the following Monday so we can catch up on what we don't get done due to a busy weekend.

I am hoping to go below three hours again, since we're still in the nice cool weather part of the year in Texas.  I'm also focusing on efficiency of movement and seeing how that affects both my pace and my perceived exertion.  

I am pretty much doing the same as my first race, to go out a bit conservatively and try to keep my pace steady.  Although the RunGirl 13.1 course wasn't hilly by Christian's standards, it did have a few hills.  I train completely flat here in the interest of knee preservation.  Since this is a downtown course it should be flat as well, so it will be interesting to see how that changes things.  I'm not sure if I'm going to push as hard as I did last time.  I'd like to finish smiling!