Three Weeks of Races

I completed my 3rd race in three weeks yesterday.   That was definitely a first. 

Race one:  On February 23, I "got back on the horse that threw me" and ran the Race Judicata 10K in Percy Warner Park.  It is the toughest 10K course in the state of Tennessee.  My goals were to not resprain my ankle, to run hard and not walk any of the GIGANTIC hills, and to come in around a 10-minute mile.  I texted my friend Michelle, "10-minute miles or bust" the day before.   It was tough, but I met my goal!  I'm fairly certain my heartrate was at 110% of my max heart rate as I fought my way up a hill that was close to a mile long and later a shorter, incredibly steep one.  But determination won out.  I finished the race at a 9:55 pace.  Unfortunately, the course was short, so it was only 5.75.  I continued running after the finish until I was at 6.2, lowering my average to 9:53.  Yay!  For such a hilly course, that was a win.   I definitely had flashbacks to the Flying Monkey Marathon (I walked up the two terrible hills that I ran today).   On the downhills similar to the ones where I fell, I was very paranoid and couldn't just let go and let gravity do the work.  I think I will have to relearn how to run down hills or just overcome that fear of falling. 

Race two:  I participated in a little 5K race in my hometown called ReLove Haiti.  I planned to use it as a fitness test.   Race morning was snowy, with large, fat, wet flakes that just melted on the road.  It was about 33 degrees and very windy.   It snowed the entire race, which I loved.  I ran it hard.  I stayed with my friend Tim until about 2.5, then pulled ahead (that rarely happens to me!).  I finished 3.07 in 27:20, about 21 seconds off a PR.  I realized the Garmin wasn't quite at 3.1, so I continued (once again!) until 3.1, which was about 27:32 or so.  (I accidentally went to 3.13, so I'm estimating.)   I averaged about an 8:52 pace, which I can live with.  I was happy to be relatively close to my pre-injury running pace.  I ran a 5K in September in 27:11 I think.   I'd like to run one at an 8-8:30 pace later this year.   However, I came out with an age group 3rd place for ages 35-44.  I'll take it!

Finally, race three was yesterday:  Land Between the Lakes trail 23K.   I actually enjoyed this one more as a social event than a race.  I had about six Facebook friends coming to the race with whom I've talked running for a while, but whom I'd never met.  I'm a member of a page called Run365 as well as the Run It Fast Club (no idea why they let me in!).    Both have members all over the U.S.  Some are elite runners, most are regular runners like me.  It's a great running network.   I had dinner plans with 6 strangers the night before the race.  We managed to find one another at the restaurant based on Facebook pics, and I really enjoyed chatting with them.  We found common ground even outside of running.  They were just easy to talk to and be with.   I got to meet one of the runners from the club who is a bit of a "running hero" to me.  I'd been following his running escapades on Facebook, so it was nice to finally talk in person. 

Social networking aside, the race was kind of AWFUL.  My goal was to beat last year's 2:50 finish time (11:52 pace) even though I had only a four-mile longest run on trails and a 10-mile longest road run.  Last year, I was in the heart of marathon training with a couple of 14-mile and 16-mile long runs under my belt.  BIG DIFFERENCE. 

I got up at 4:42 a.m. after little sleep to have breakfast at my hotel.   Unfortunately, they ran out of coffee!   I had about 1/2 cup of caffeinated and the rest was decaf.  I'm accustomed to 2 cups of caffeine at least on race day.   Not a great start to the day.  I drove 5 minutes to the start and immediately got in the port of potty line.   Then I wandered around trying to find our Run It Fast group picture.  I needed to get back in the port o john line though, but by then they were extremely long.  I figured I could make it to an aid station.  Our group met up and took a pre-race pic, and it was time to start at 6:30 a.m.   There was about a 1.5 mile run on the road to the trail that was fine, but I noticed I felt less energy than usual.  Then we turned onto the single track trail.   The first mile on the trail was really crowded and a couple of people started to walk, so we all had to walk.  It was very stop and go, like being in rush-hour traffic.   I was getting frustrated.  We finally settled in at about a 10:30 pace.  I was (perhaps stupidly) pushing to run about 10:15-10:45 in those early miles.  But it felt HARD.  That should have tipped me off!  I generally know what kind of day I'm having in a race by mile 4.  By mile 4 or 5, I thought I might not be having a great day.  My legs felt heavier than normal, and though warmed up, I still felt low in energy.

I was running along with a fully bladder hoping for an aid station with a restroom.   I didn't see one at the mile 4 aid station, so I kept moving along.  I was gelling about every 3.5 miles in hopes of finding that missing energy.   I tripped for the first time in about the 3rd mile.  I didn't fall, but it was unsettling.  I tripped on a root again a few minutes later.   Then in mile 6, the one thing I didn't want to happen happened--I rolled my left ankle--the one that had just healed.   That familiar burning pain came immediately back and stayed with me for the rest of the race.  I think that was when I lost the MENTAL GAME.   I felt scared that I had reinjured it and knew I had 8 miles to go on it--similar to when I sprained it in the marathon at mile 10 and had to run 15 more miles.   It hurt, but was manageable, so I was sure it wasn't as bad as the first time.  

I finally got to mile 8, where there was a lone restroom and about 7 people in line.  My bladder was hurting by now.  However, I thought I might be on track for a PR still at that point, so I couldn't afford the time.  Instead, I saw a road that went alongside the trail.  I went down that road a few yards (passing two gentlemen who had just done what I was about to do) and tried to find a discreet place.   I hiked through some brush and found the fattest tree I could.  I tried to hide behind it and finally relieved my bladder.  The funny thing is that I could SEE the runners on the trail, so that means they could also see ME if they chose to turn and look.   But none of them looked (that I know of).  In these situations, you just do what you've got to do!   I felt better.  

Shortly after my pit stop, the trail turned much more difficult.   I remembered these hills from last year, when I really didn't think they were that bad.   I was apparently on crack when I ran it last year.  They were TOUGH.   Between 8 and 11, I began to fall apart.  By mile 10, I had lost the mental game and was walking all the hills.  I was just plain over it.  By mile 11, I had lost the physical game-- my legs had just left me.  I hit THE WALL.   I simply had no energy, and no amount of caffeinated gels seemed to help.  My muscles were tight and began to cramp, especially my glutes and calves.  I generally don't cramp up in a race, but I did in this one.  I tripped HARD on a rock in mile 11, went airborne briefly, and landed awkwardly on my right leg.  I wrenched my back a bit in the landing and everything just tensed up.  After that, basically everything from my lower back to my feet hurt.   I was running some/hiking some.   I just wanted to be finish.

The worst part--- in the last mile, I could see a RACE WALKER ahead of me.  AHEAD.   And he was approximately 75 years old.   Awesome.

I finally finished  17 minutes off last year's time.    But I made it.  I had a shower and a brief nap and went back to watch the marathon, 60K, and 50 mile finishers.   It was really inspiring and made me want to come back and redeem this race next year.   I should probably train for it next time.  

Still, I enjoyed my mini-vacation to Kentucky Lake.  I watched the sun set the night before the race sitting alone on a jetty over the water.  It was amazingly peaceful.  I enjoyed my solo hotel stay and just a break from grading papers, walking the dog, cooking, cleaning up after 3 kids, and just life in general.  I made six new friends, and I spent a few hours enjoying a beautiful trail with some incredible views of the lake.   I was inspired by the determination of the ultramarathon finishers, especially the ones who completed the 50 miler in better shape than I was after 14.  I don't know how they managed to sprint that last 1/4 mile. 

Today, mainly my right foot hurts.  The ankle feels ok, which is a relief.   I'll live to run another day. 


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