Racing to Train, Training to Race
Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010
Three weekends, three trail races — a marathon, 30K and then 50K. I’ve never entered so many events with such high cumulative mileage in such a short time.
First it was the hilly Headlands “Marathon” (more like 27+ miles due to a long course and me veering off course; finished 2nd female in 4:35. See last week’s post). Then two weeks ago, it was the Sequoia 30K (1st female, 5th overall in 2:54). And finally, yesterday’s Skyline 50K (2nd female, 19th overall in 4:46).
I used to enter races with careful consideration and focus my training on them. Now, I’m doing the opposite and exploring the benefits of racing to train; that is, of having fast-paced but not very goal-oriented long runs (the races) part of a longer training plan. I’m trying to demystify the entire experience of pinning on a race bib, lining up at the start and running fast with others. So far, so great. I am running better and faster on the weekends than I would if slogging through a long run on my own. And I’m surprised to discover it’s FUN — it’s genuinely exciting, for example, to hammer on the French Trail with a pack of others pushing the pace. Since I didn’t put much effort or care into training specifically for these events, I felt less invested in them and consequently ran stress-free. I had a time goal only for yesterday’s Skyline 50K (sub-5 hours) and paced myself accordingly.
Skyline was only my fifth 50K, so I still feel like a novice at this distance. I woke up groggy with a tickle in my throat and concluded I had the onset of my son’s head cold, so fatigue and anxiety threatened my morning. The worries evaporated at the start, however, when I reunited with a longtime friend and mentor, Lisa Felder, partner of coach Alphonzo Jackson and the leader of Team In Training’s inaugural ultra group, which ran Skyline 50K as their first ultra race. Normally Alphonzo is my good luck charm before races, but this time it was Lisa. I had not seen her since she underwent treatment for breast cancer earlier this year, and tears sprang up in my eyes as we hugged because I was so glad to see her and so inspired by how she has successfully fought back.
“What I’m doing today is easy compared to what you’ve done,” I told her. Seeing Lisa before the race gave me the perspective to just go for it, just enjoy it, and don’t waste time worrying about a throat tickle or any other minor inconvenience. And then, as if to test me, the bladder in my hydration pack sprung a leak and began slowly dripping down my back, which continued like Chinese water torture through all 31 miles. So be it, I told myself, and tried to make the best of having the back of my shirt and shorts soaking wet. It turned out to be a benefit later in the race because I could reach back and use the damp fabric like a wash cloth to clean and cool my hands when they became sticky with sweat and Gu.
The starting line scene had an infectious positive vibe that further helped my frame of mind. I admired my friend Jennifer Ray while watching her manage the race director duties with humor and aplomb, and I hugged lots of people I hadn’t seen in at least a year. Hey, maybe it’s not so bad to end our round-the-world trip after all, because this is a pretty fantastic community to live in and great greenbelt to run through!
Once the race got going, I ran strong and steady and chug, chug, chugged up the hills. I was delighted to see Morgan and my son Kyle manning the first aid station. I did some of my best downhill running ever over the rutted, highly technical portions thanks in part to having a guy on my heels, Dan Fabun, who to my embarrassment witnessed me peeing upright like a horse on the side of the trail, so I ran hard to regain my self-respect and not slow him down. Only two miles out of all 31 were unpleasant, during which I obsessed about whether and where in the poison oak-covered hills to go No. 2 and ultimately lost a good minute while taking care of business. That was the low point, and I also could have done without the painful, deep bruise-like blister that developed under the calloused ball of my left foot. Other than that, I felt as fresh as a daisy.
The best thing — which I will try to recall in future races — is that I hit the last five miles, did the math, and realized my sub-5 goal was in the bag. I also knew from asking volunteers at the aid stations that the lead woman was several minutes ahead and therefore too far to catch. I could have relaxed and finished at an easy pace and almost certainly still would have made my goal and finished 2nd (1st in age group). Instead, I challenged myself to lower the goal by another ten minutes and ran as hard as I could. Crossing in 4:46 — nine minutes faster than my previous 50K PR, and less than three minutes behind the first woman, 27-year-old Katie Murphy — I felt elated and, admittedly, proud. (Of course, five minutes later I started critiquing the 31 miles and seeing places where I could have gained time. I really shouldn’t be so chatty at aid stations, for example, and I always feel I could and should go faster on the Golden Spike Trail.)
The only downside to all these race-pace long runs is that my weekly mileage dipped significantly, since I took extra time to recover after the events and to rest the day or two before. I hope to get it back up these next couple of weeks. Here’s a recap of the past two weeks (please check out the Week 1 post if you’re wondering what the following is about).
Number of days and time spent running: 5 days; 6 hrs, 15 min
Longest run: 18 (Sequoia 30K)
Speed workout? Nah, blew off track. But had a midweek run on Strawberry Cyn firetrails where I ran tempo pace for the second half of it.
Cross training? Yes, two times to gym; lite cardio along with arms, core, and lower-body balance/PT work.
Number of days and time spent running: Only 4 (gasp!) since I cross-trained Tuesday (legs had second-day soreness from Sequoia 30K) and then did mini-taper for Skyline of easy cross training Friday and total rest Saturday. 8 hours, 5 min total running.
Longest run: 31 (Skyline 50K)
Speed workout? Yes, nice solid track workout Wednesday — not too fast since I didn’t want to overdo it before Skyline. Did 1 x 3200 at 10K pace, 1 x 1600 at approx 5K pace, and 2 x 800 (final 800 in 2:58).
Cross training? Yes, two times at gym focusing on easy cardio to warm up and loosen legs, plus strength training of arms and core, and lots of balance and ankle flexibility/strengthening work.
What I did to prevent injury: Recovery days and foam rolling, balance/PT work — but not enough. Need to be careful. Right ankle is “talking to me.”