An Uncelebration

Happy 4th of July, people. Someone told me a few years back that I should not be celebrating since Independence Day marks my country’s miserable defeat. So I ran a 5K instead. Not much to celebrate there, as I didn’t PR and I didn’t break 21 minutes, which is a silly goal for me to have right now because I haven’t exactly been short distance training.

Maybe I’m being too hard on myself. After all, I raced last weekend, then had to take a few days off because I caught strep throat. I biked and swam a bit and ran one short tempo during the week. I decided to race today because I hadn’t exactly overexerted myself over the past week. I thought the sub-21 was possible because my training and racing buddy, Bill, with whom I’ve run my last two races, ran 20:36 on the same course last year. (Or maybe they lengthened it, since he was almost a minute slower this year?)

The race was the Firecracker 5K in Reston Town Center. Had a fabulous 9 hrs sleep pre-race, ate a nutella sandwich (new pre-race breakfast; seems to work well and more portable than oatmeal, my previous choice), drank some black coffee, and drove to Reston. Picked up packet and encountered a slight problem when I got the timing chip. Instead of the D-tag, which slides around shoelaces, this race used the Ipico chip, which requires you to put your laces through holes in the cardboard chip. That wouldn’t normally be a problem, but I was wearing locklaces (the bungee laces triathletes use to get their shoes on quickly) on my Brooks Racer ST 5s. After a bit of fiddling I managed to untie the ends of the bungee laces and slip the chip through those.

While I was warming up I ran into Tracy, who was dressed for the 4th in a bright Nuu-Muu dress and flag hat and glasses. Here’s a nice pic of Tracy (Miss America) and me, looking suitably unpatriotic, since I’m not celebrating.

Boring race details: fast course with a couple of short hills and a few turns. Garmin was measuring a little off, and I should have paid attention to this if I really wanted to break 21 minutes because, while it told me my overall pace was 6:37, it also measured the distance as 3.21 miles. So, averaged to 3.1 miles my pace was 6:50, for 21:12 overall. Still, I’m not sure I could have run faster. I paced it well, running the 2nd and 3rd miles faster than the 1st. Hearing Stuart yelling at me in the last 100 did help me pick it up for the final stretch.

I was 20th female overall and 1st in my age group, so did not go home empty-handed. And I remembered what I like about 5Ks: you don’t sit around forever waiting for awards, because it’s all over so fast.

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Surprises and Challenges in Charlottesville

Racing friends, let me ask you this: you’re racing on single-track trail, are a mile from the finish, and hear an athlete coming up behind you. Glancing back, you realize the athlete is the same gender as you (i.e., your competition). Do you:

a) Run faster
b) Block him/her
c) Move aside and let him/her go by

Which did you pick? b)? OMG that’s a bit evil, even for me. c)? Did you come across my blog by accident?

OK, I think most of you would pick a). I know I would. In my mind, if another runner wants to pass me, she’s gonna have to fight for it. So I was caught a little off guard at Charlottesville Triathlon yesterday when the woman in front of me said, “let me know when you want to pass.” What? “You’re fine. Just run your race.” I replied, absolutely gobsmacked that this woman, who was obviously a good triathlete, was willing to move out of my way!

I wasn’t ready to attack at that point, anyway, because I wanted to wait until half a mile to go, when I knew I could make a move and hold on if she launched a counterattack. But when the trail opened up and I slid past, she just let me go. I pushed hard through to the finish, convinced she was going to come back and try and nab me right at the end. Heck, it’s what I would do.

Letting me go cost her $100. I beat her by 3 seconds and won a $200 gift certificate for placing 4th, while she took home $100. I just can’t fathom that one. Is she not competitive? Did she think she could catch me? Is she just a super-nice person? Probably. Maybe. I don’t know. She was very complimentary at the end and didn’t seem to mind being beaten like that at all. I would have been spitting blood. I would have stayed to chat but needed to get my bleeding ankle taken care of.

We had been given plastic disposable ankle bracelets for our chips, and I guess I put mine on a bit too tight as it cut into the skin around my ankle. I could feel some minor discomfort toward the end of the bike leg but it wasn’t until the run that I felt the searing pain of my skin being rubbed off and looked down to see the blood. I stopped to push the bracelet up my leg several times during the run, because despite my efforts to ignore it I just couldn’t run through the pain, but with a mile to go and 4th place in my sights, I managed to put it out of my mind.

OK, let’s start at the beginning because I know I rarely do so I’m going to give it a shot. I headed down to Charlottesville Saturday afternoon, after watching my youngest son swim very well at his swim meet (2nd in backstroke!!!) and simultaneously hosting SRRC’s 7th anniversary breakfast. (When I planned the breakfast, I didn’t expect my son to qualify for an ‘A’ meet!) So there was half an hour or so when a bunch of runners were breakfasting at my house while I was at the pool. Luckily he was swimming in South Riding so I was able to bike the less-than-a-mile to the pool and back in time to at least mingle for a bit…then I kicked everyone out so I could go watch him swim in the relay.

So anyway, my team mate Annette and I drove to Charlottesville and headed straight to packet pickup. When I got my packet, something looked familiar, but I couldn’t work out what it was. It certainly wasn’t the hideous yellow swim cap that I was required to wear. Note to Charlottesville Tri Club: searching for a yellow bouy in a sea (ok, lake) of yellow swim caps is frigging impossible. Back to the something familiar…I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time but now that I’m home, I can. My number was 34. I was number 34 in my last race, too. That’s uncanny.

After getting our packets and stopping for a Starbucks, we headed to Walnut Creek Park to drive the bike course. After not driving the bike course at Strasburg and literally freaking out when I saw the elevation chart, I wanted no surprises.  Let me just say there were shrieks and gasps coming from the occupants of the car most of the way. Charlottesville has three things: UVa, Monticello, and hills. The 16 mile course was steep, twisty, and narrow. It started with a steep climb out of the park, then switched to rollers with a few nasty climbs for good measure. There was only one spot (relatively) flat enough to take on board a GU. The turns were sharp. Many downhills had blind turns. And I loved it. I hammered as hard as I could, riding an average speed of 18.3 mph for 4th fastest female bike time, so that matched my overall placing perfectly!

Crap…I’ve gotten out of order again. Oh well, I tried. Talking of crap, the bathrooms at this park were full of flies. And you know what that means. I have never ‘been’ in and out the loo so fast, and that wasn’t an easy feat, either, because I was wearing my new one-piece tri suit. Let me say first that, after racing in it, I love the one-piece and will never go back to a top and shorts. It’s great not to have to yank the top down or pull the shorts up while racing. You feel super-streamlined in the water and on the bike. It looks cool. It does, however, pose a challenge to using the bathroom as you have to unzip and pull the thing down. And all the while the flies were buzzing around, looking for something to land on…

Moving on to the first leg of the race, which pretty much means my race recap is backwards again: swimming is my weakest of the 3 triathlon legs but I worked hard at reaching, pulling, and rotating, got into a couple of fights as I held my ground in my attempt to swim as straight a line as possible between bouys, and ended up with the 17th fastest female swim time: 14:49 for 750 meters. It still sucks that I can’t be more competitive in the swim, but it gives me people to pass on the bike and run so in some ways it’s a benefit.

What was interesting about this tri was that, because it was small, all the women started together. That meant that I knew exactly where I stood in terms of my competition, just like in a running race, whereas normally in a tri you don’t really know how you’re doing compared to those around you because you started at different times. And that’s when three seconds can really count.

Team TPR takes on Charlottesville..and I definitely need hair help.

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Product Review – Honey Stinger Waffles

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could get an energy food company to make a product that tastes like one of your favorite foods? Well, if you’re Lance Armstrong, you can. You see, Lance was a big fan of these waffles that professional cyclists in Europe eat, and so he asked Honey Stinger if they could come up with something like that, and, being the nice people they are, they did. The result is the Honey Stinger Waffle. It’s organic and is available in honey or vanilla. I won a box of the honey flavor waffles from I Run Like a Girl’s blog! One waffle has 160 calories, 7g fat, 21g carbs, 14g sugar. I ate one before my track workout Wednesday and another before my swim Thursday. It’s a bit sweet but makes a nice change from gels.

Lance keeps his waffles in his back pocket. I'm not sure why but Honey Stinger feels this is good to know.

But I’ll tell you what. If Honey Stinger offered to make moi an energy supplement (after all, I am European), I wouldn’t ask for a stinkin’ waffle. Nope. Much as I like the waffle (and I do) I am tired of sticky sweet supplements that are either fruit or chocolate or some sort of dessert flavor. So you know what I’d ask for? Roast beef, potatoes, peas, carrots, and gravy. Nothing like enjoying your Sunday dinner and a run/ride at the same time. Talk about multitasking.

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Complaining and Attention-Seeking

Don’t worry, I haven’t started a blog about my kids…or husband. No, the complainer and attention-seeker in question is none other than my stomach. I’ve often thought that running would be so much easier without a stomach, especially an attention-seeking, perpetually whining one such as mine.

My stomach complains very loudly the minute it starts feeling a little peckish, pushing me to the point of nausea if I don’t satisfy its needs right away. I have taken to carrying trail mix bars or crackers wherever I go to pacify it and keep it quiet. When I run, the attention-seeking starts. As the blood is diverted from my stomach to my legs, stomach suddenly decides it’s time to digest whatever I ate 2 hours ago, in a desperate attempt to gain some attention. And if I ate more recently than that, all hell breaks loose.

There’s also the nasty little reminders I get if I’m on an early morning run and ate late the night before. Stomach likes to sleep in and is not happy with the early starts, so will deliberately annoy me. Then, when I get home and try to eat something, stomach gets all stroppy, refusing to comply with my refueling plan.

This morning, stomach did not want to run track. I tempted its wrath by eating a Honey Stinger waffle before the workout, which I’ve never tried before. I also put an Orange Alert Camelbak tab in my water bottle, which is a bit fizzy. Stomach literally freaked out with the new food and the fizzy drink, and gave me a hard time for the entire workout. So pleasant.

Anyone else have a pesky stomach?

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Hot Enough to Hurl

Yesterday was not a good day for a couple of the elite runners at the Twilight 4 Miler in Ashburn. I saw one elite guy walking and another curled up on the side of the road at the halfway point, puking into the median . Such are the risks of running fast when it’s hot.

It was hotter than Hell when the race started at 7pm. The promised storms did not arrive to clear the air, the sun was blazing, and the air was stifling. Still, these are normal conditions for this race. We sign up knowing it will most likely be disgustingly hot and sticky, and factor that in when we predict our race time. Who didn’t say, “This won’t be a PR.” ? (Although I think I may have PR’d because I’ve only run a 4 miler once before…)

One of the hardest things about evening races is figuring out what to eat during the day. When I lived in England most races, especially cross-country, were around 2 in the afternoon, and I remember stressing all day about what – and how much – I was eating. These days I focus on staying hydrated. My latest thing is coconut water which has a ton of potassium. I also drank a couple of cokes because they stave off the headaches I can get when it’s hot and humid. I think I did pretty well although my stomach did feel a bit heavy so I may have overdone it with the hot dog and chips, but I ate those for a little sodium boost. Really, I don’t like that kind of food at all. It’s a sacrifice I make for running. 😉

This was my first time racing on the Potomac River Running Team so I was really nervous. I chewed all the nails off my right hand on the way to the race. (I was driving with my left hand or those nails would have been next…) I felt way out of my league in the PR singlet, especially when I saw Aaron Church, who’s also on the team (and who won the race). But then I saw Chris D in a PR singlet and – no offense, Chris – felt much better because I know I can keep up with him. 🙂

My only real strategies going into this race were:

1. Don’t go out too fast and die.
2. Don’t puke.
3. Run sub-7:00 pace.

As Meatloaf once said, 2 out of 3 ain’t bad. What I didn’t manage was to run under a 7:00 pace, but I did run the first 3 miles around 6:50 before the final, gut-wrenching, puke-inducing uphill mile slowed me to a 7:03 overall.

I never really felt comfortable during the race. I couldn’t get into that groove I usually find after the first mile, and the race was over before I knew it. So far this year I’ve run two half marathons, one full marathon, and one 50K, so I guess it’s no surprise that I’m not really comfortable in a sprint at this point. Still, I managed to place 14th female and 3rd in my age group, so not too shabby for my first time on the prestigious PR team, which also won the team competition (of course)!

I questioned my sanity at 5:30 this morning when I got up to drive to Columbia, MD to bike the IronGirl course with a couple of TPR team mates. This course is a hilly little bugger, so it’s good to practice it a couple of times. But the day after a race? I figured I could always take it easy…ha ha ha.

I only made it a few hundred meters when I had to return to my car. I realized, when I felt a nice cool breeze flow through my hair, that I’d forgotten my helmet. There were a lot of bikers around so I’m really surprised no-one yelled at me! Helmet in place, I returned to the course and biked 26 miles, repeating the super-hilly part of the 17.5 mile course because I am glutton for punishment. Added bonus: the roads were littered with roadkill so I tried to not breathe in most of the time, the smell was so disgusting.

Surprisingly, when I got back to the car, my legs felt fresh so I thought I’d turn the ride into a brick and run part of the course. I ended up running 2.5 of the 3.3 mile route, avoiding the killer hill since I am not completely masochistic.

On the drive home I gave everyone a treat when I jumped out of the car wearing just a sports bra and boyshorts to retrieve my cell phone from the trunk. Nothing like waking a few people up on a Sunday morning!

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Reflections and Pictures

Lately I’ve been reflecting on my four years as president of South Riding Drinking Running Club, since my tenure will be over in August. We still have the reputation of being too fast for the average runner, based on comments we get, such as “you’re too fast for me!” or “I’ll join you when I get faster.” But after last weekend, when we were all too busy wine-tasting to even notice the awards ceremony, let alone realize that we had won the team award (there goes my attempt to convince people we’re not speedy!), I’m hoping that people realize we’re just a group of people that like to have fun and don’t take ourselves too seriously!

Speaking of  VA Wine Country Half Disaster Marathon, Brightroom published pictures Thursday. I always jump to the site right away because I like to see my terrible running form and decide if I made a good outfit choice. I am rarely aware of any camera on the course so don’t expect to see me smiling. Here I am running with my bodyguards:

My arm swing sucks. Totally inefficient. Shirtless dude was drafting off me for 12 miles, then overtook and beat me by 33 seconds. My team mate Bill (on the right, the one with the good arm swing) didn’t like him at all because he had noisy feet.

So halfway through the race I decided to change my outfit…and hair…and legs…

Someone at Brightroom isn’t paying attention. I think I need to get in touch with Bess here because she might like to see her pic, which I have now posted on Facebook. I looked her up, guessing her number was 69 while mine was 59. She’s 53 and she ran 1:47, placing first in her age group! Way to go, Bess! Sorry for all the rude comments…

And here I am at the finish. I don’t always do the arm thing but the crowds were spectacular, screaming my name and cheering me on, and I felt I ought to respond somehow. It’s amazing how freaking heavy your arms are at the end of a race.

I wore the skirt because it has a ton of pockets to hold GU, S-caps, and my credit card. Never know when you might want to shop during a race. I don’t think it’s all that attractive because it’s kinda baggy, but it has been tried and tested on the marathon and it worked great. It’s pretty lightweight and just has a shorts liner rather than those annoying boy shorts that creep up your legs.

Saturday I am running Twilight Four Miler in Ashburn. It will be my first race on the Potomac River Running Racing Team. I am hoping I don’t look too much of an idiot. There are some fast people on that team. I am not one of them. I’m sure when people see me wearing my PR race singlet they will think I stole it.

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Warning: Angry Runner in Wine Country

Half Marathon wine glass and medalAbout 4 miles into the Virginia Wine Country Half Marathon, I turned to my team mate Bill and said, “Do you feel like there’s a party going on and we weren’t invited?” I was referring to the fact that about 75% of the participants in the race were running for Team Challenge, and 100% of the supporters were cheering for them…and only them.

I’ll apologize upfront for complaining about a charity running organization. Clearly, Team Challenge does a lot of good, raising money for individuals with crohn’s and colitis, getting people to run or walk who otherwise might not have the motivation, and raising awareness. But when you go to grab a cup at a water stop and the volunteer is so busy yelling “Go Team Challenge!” that she forgets to let go of the cup, and when you finish the race and there’s a sea of tents with refreshments and recovery aids, all marked “Team Challenge” and absolutely nothing for everyone else, it becomes a little frustrating. It actually felt like the entire event was catered to Team Challenge and we were just there to add numbers and pay for the support.

On the bright side, I had a decent time (1:38:42, a couple of minutes off my PR) on a challenging course, which started downhill for the first couple of miles and rolled for the remainder, with a couple of steep climbs for good measure. Weatherwise we were incredibly lucky – it was sunny and warm but not humid. The best part of the event by far was the post-race wine tasting. This was included in the race fee, and we definitely made the most of it, sampling wines from many local wineries including Tarara, Bluemont, Hiddenbrook, Loudoun Valley, Fabbioli and others that became a bit of a blur as we drank more!

Somehow I managed to miss the post-race awards ceremony (not actually sure if happened at all because we were close to the stage the whole time) so I didn’t get my bottle of wine for placing 3rd in my age group. Hopefully I can pick that up later. In more exciting news, my team, South Riding Running Club, place 1st in the team competition, beating 50 other teams! Not sure what we win but there is a prize…maybe it’s a winery tour?!!

SRRC members

Gathering at Starbucks at 5am

SRRC post-race

Medals and wine post-race!

After signing up for this race, and encouraging members of my running club to form a team, I realized that the race would probably be more about the hoopla surrounding it than the running. Destination Races, the event organizer, marketed several race weekend events such as a special packet pickup, a pre-race dinner, and a finisher’s party, all at an extra cost, on top of the $85 – $95 race fee.

OK, gripe warning: here are the negative aspects of the race. Don’t say I didn’t warn you if you start thinking I’m a miserable whiner.

The race started 30 minutes late. We were waiting for a busload of runners to arrive. While race delays are sometimes inevitable, and I do feel bad for the runners on the late bus, this is inexcusable. For many runners, the warmup and pre-race nutrition are all planned and executed based on an anticipated start time, and a 30 minute delay can wreak all sorts of havoc. Not to mention the fact that roads had to be closed for the event, and would now be closed an extra 30 minutes. During one part of the race we ran past a huge line of angry drivers, most of whom were yelling into their cellphones as they discovered Route 7 had been closed and they’d be stuck for a while.

After waiting at the start line an extra 30 minutes, I was in need of water once the race started and searched eagerly for the first water stop. It came in sight at about 2 miles. At the bottom of a hill. The worst place to put an aid station is at the bottom of a hill. The last thing you want to do is take on board anything when you’re about to divert blood away from your stomach to your legs, which is what happens when you put forth the extra effort to climb a hill. So I grabbed a cup, pinched the top, and carried it up the hill, drinking it when I reached the top. At the next aid station I attempted to get water and came across the exuberant “Team Challenge!” volunteer who didn’t let go of the cup, followed by the next volunteer who lifted the cup to give it to the person behind me! Finally I grabbed a cup of Heed, which wasn’t what I wanted but was better than nothing. Aid stations were only every 2 miles and I could tell I was getting dehydrated, so I decided I needed to take 2 cups of water at each stop. So at the next stop I grabbed a cup from one volunteer, then reached out another hand to grab a second from the next volunteer, who pulled it away! What, was there a one cup limit?!

I mentioned to Bill, who was still running with me, that I couldn’t believe a volunteer had pulled a cup away from me! Then the same thing happened at the next aid station! At another aid station there was one volunteer with one cup of water, which she happened to hand to the woman in front of me. I ran through without managing to get anything. Thankfully Bill had grabbed some Heed so we shared that. I was running angry and didn’t think I was very good company, so I told Bill to feel free to go ahead any time. He stuck with me which was either really nice or really nuts…or maybe he just found my antics entertaining. At any rate, he was a great racing partner and I’m really glad he stayed with me. Bonus: he got a PR, so maybe running with an angry girl has its benefits!

Being the angry runner that I was, I was getting more and more frustrated with Team Challenge. There was a walking division that had set off at 6:30am, and about halfway through the race we began catching up with them. It was frustrating having to run around people walking several abreast across the entire road, and I just wish they had been given some instruction as to how they should keep to the side of the road and walk no more than two abreast. Granted, some of them cheered us on, which was really nice, but others had their headphones on and didn’t even hear us coming.

OK, gripe over. I know, you thought it would never end. But I do like to end on a positive note…

Considering the hills and the water stop fiascos and dodging walkers, our pace was pretty consistent. Our faster miles were in the 7:20s and the slowest 7:40, for an average 7:30 pace. I was actually very surprised we managed to run under 1:40, because at one point during the race I tried to calculate our finish time and thought there was only a slim chance of going under 1:40. Then again, I think my brain got addled with the heat and dehydration… Coming into the finish was great. The crowds were huge and loud and for the first time I heard people shouting my name. Like many longer races these days, our names were on our bibs, but unlike other races, I didn’t hear anyone shout my name during the race. I had to pretend it was “Team Challenge” since that was all we heard.

I’m still asking myself if I would run this again. As a team, we had a lot of fun after the race. And if I did it again at least I’d go into it knowing what to expect. I’d probably carry my own water…and maybe steal a Team Challenge shirt. 😉

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