Monday, 8 April 2013

April Fool's 1/2 marathon (I don't burn out, I shine brighter)

I raced a half-marathon on the Sunshine Coast this past Sunday. The week before the race was a bit crazy. Life happened, work happened, and not the best training happened. Instead of following Coach Ian's schedule, I did that little bit more: pushed the pace on the tempo, threw in some extra yoga classes, slept less and thought more. This had me wind up at VFAC practice on Thursday night, in the pouring rain. The workout was shorter, harder, and my body felt all edges.

On the run home, I was worried. I had the marathon in a month. My work is busy. My life just got a bit crazier. The story in my head started: I wouldn't have the energy, I wouldn't have the time, I wouldn't have the strength. I sent a panicked e-mail to Coach Ian, who told me (as nicely as possible) to back off the extra stuff and chill out and just see how the race would go (advice I took) and to relax (advice I'm not sure if I am capable of taking). 

how to taper (or not)
Friday I woke up, groggy, to rain against my windows. I dragged myself out of bed to do an easy 10k, listening to pink floyd (it seemed to fit the weather). That night, I ate my weight in chocolate covered almonds. Saturday I ran another 10k with Lucy. We were supposed to do some sprints every couple kms, but the timing kept getting messed up - our conversation was too interesting for me to follow my garmin that well. 

After an evening spent watching very bad tv and looking at cat pictures on the internet, I was feeling much more ready to race.

inspirational quote
I was telling myself this story: that I was too tired to race, my muscles weren't rested, my head wasn't there. There's an amazing webcomic that goes: "I have fireflies where my caution should be. Instead of slowing down, I burn brighter." Might as well take the little bit of crazy, the little bit of uncertainty, all that restless energy, and just push as hard as I could. Add to that the classic life coach Ramsey advice: "you don't have to feel good to race well."

getting there
Donovan, Barry and I took the early ferry over to Gibsons. Barry was able to enjoy a sleep-in until 4:30am - a great way to recover after racing the Diez Vista 50k the day before. His plan was to race the half-marathon as a relay with Steve ("rhymes with Stallion") Maylon. It quickly became apparent that the guys were a lot more relaxed about this than I was. While I was twitching on the ferry ride over from too much caffeine, Donovan took a nap, Steve was fighting through a hangover, and Barry was still wearing jeans.

pre-race music
Before races is pretty much the only time I ever go on youtube to watch my two favourite videos: the "inches" speech from "Any Given Sunday", and, of course, the 2011 NF 50 EC video. I also like to listen to Eminem. Or anything, pretty much, that is not "unchained melody". I guess Donovan was feeling low-key after his nap, but he chose this song as his pre-race music, and I think attempted to have some sort of romantic moment. It didn't quite work, and, with an hour to go pre-race, I was still pretty twitchy.

race time
The April Fool's half is one of my favourite half marathons: point-to-point, well-organized, and relatively small. The route starts with a downhill, then a couple rolling hills, one big climb for 3k, then more downhill. It's a net downhill course, but with enough climbs to keep it interesting. At the last minute before the start, I made my way close to the front - the course goes off gun time, and in something this short, my seconds would count.

I started off running behind Helen Ritchie, one of the very strong VFAC masters' women runners. I tried to keep up to her, but as soon as I had caught up, she found another gear and pressed ahead. I fell back, and decided to try to keep her in sight. 

On the ferry ride over, Barry was talking about his 11km relay leg and how he hoped to be finished it in under an hour. This was completely ridiculous - as he was running alongside me and chatting easily. I was really grateful for his company. I'm never good at the starts of races, and this one felt particularly tough. I tried not to look at my watch too much - and I didn't have to, as Barry was giving me splits every kilometer. I was holding the pace I needed to, but it hurt - a lot. I had no idea if I could keep it going for another 15-odd kilometers. So I shut my thoughts off and just tried to make it to the end of each km marker.

At the half-way point, Steve took over the relay. Barry asked him: do you think you'll be able to keep up running with the girls (that is me and Helen)? Steve and his hangover were not entirely sure. Barry, after running 11km, was now reasonably warmed up, so he kept running with us. It was really helpful to have a group to work with, especially as we were fighting a headwind the entire time (the only downside of a point-to-point course). I also run much better when there are people around - on my own, my thoughts can get loud, and I doubt myself. With Helen right next to me, I could hear her breathing and I knew she was working as hard as me, so I had no excuse to drop off the pace.

At 14k, there was one big climb for about 3k. Helen and I went back and forth the entire time, with Barry and Steve pushing us on. By this point, I was feeling quite rough. And possibly a bit irritable. I decided I wanted to run closer to the side of the road - instead of using words to communicate this to Barry, I instead just elbowed him over. I guess Barry is used to cranky females, so he took this in stride. On the final couple kms to the finish, I flew downhill as quickly as I could. Everything hurt, and I trusted my legs and my lungs to just open up and finish. 

It was a really good mental toughness day for me. I realized that my head is a muscle, just as important as the ones in my legs. Staying positive, for me, can be really hard some days. And it doesn't always come easily - I feel like my thoughts can sometimes coil into places that drag me down. It was a good reminder that I can be capable of so much, and that when I quiet my mind, my body will go where it needs to go. The race also showed me, again, how lucky I am to have such amazing running support. Barry was a huge help as a pacer, attempting to wind-block (unfortunately, due to my chocolate-covered-almond eating I was a pretty large person to block for), move walkers out of the way, and provide amazing encouragement in the face of a lot of crankiness. 

I really wanted to go sub 1:25 on the race - and I did! Thanks to Helen, Barry, and Steve, I was able to keep a pace that sort of scared the hell out of me. As an added bonus, I was 2nd overall female. It was really cool to be up on stage (like a "real" runner) and get some money and a gorgeous ceramic mug.

The rest of the VFAC team (and friends!) also had a great day. Nic came 1st, Dave 2nd, and life coach Ramsey came 4th overall in 1:16 (also 1st physio overall)! This means he is totally ready to sign up for the NF 50 miler with us for December. Donovan came 6th and squuezed under 1:18, despite doing training which (to me) seems to consist entirely of runs at 5min/km pace of slower. Helen was 3rd overall, 1st master. Mary was 2nd masters female, and Sabrina raced a 1:41, just weeks after her first trail ultramarathon. In the most hotly-contested race of the day, Barry and Steve won the relay division. 

Allison wasn't racing (Boston in one week!), but she came out to cheer and it was great to have her on the course. She was also the only person who seemed to like being sent cat pictures the night before the race.

We all went for lunch at Molly's reach, then grabbed the ferry back. Nic decided he hadn't eaten enough to celebrate his 1st place victory, and went off in search of ice cream. This also served to inspire Barry, who decided to skip his usual recovery food of cheese.

the non-PG-rated part of recovery food

Now it is 4am, and I have been up since 2:30am, where sleep was abandoned to twitchiness. I think this is what happens when I only have one glass of recovery wine.

My feet are also miraculously blister free, with no new black toenails, thanks to my zippy ultrarunner light socks (thanks FITS!). 

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