Sunday, April 6, 2014

Ron Hebert 8 Miler

The Sugarloaf Mount Athletic Club, my local running club, kicked off their 2014 race series today with the 8 mile Ron Rebert Race

One of the thing I've been most excited about since joining SMAC was the 14 great races that made up the race series. When Ron Hebert's race was announced, I signed up right away. I took training seriously and planned three quality runs a week: one with hills, one tempo run, and one long run. 

Last fall and into the early winter, I had had a bothersome calf injury that I got during a race in November. I kept running on it, and didn't let it heal properly,and it became a long-term bother. However, in January and February, after the holidays, I got serious about strengthening my calf so that I could do some more intensive workouts. Things were going great. I was doing hill repeats, which was making the calf feel stronger. I was doing 9:40/mile tempo runs. I in general run a 10:00/mile, and felt like I was getting faster and better on hills -- I was getting excited for kill it at the Ron Hebert 8 Miler. 

Then in mid-March, while doing a particularly strenuous set of hill repeats, I felt a sharp twinge in my left calf. I ignored it and finished the workout. Bad move. I had re-injured my calf. However, that weekend, I was feeling a bit better. I did a flat 8 miler. This proved more of a mistake because after that run, the calf felt much work.

Knowing that Ron Hebert is a hilly race and that hills bothered my injured calf the most, I took some easy weeks. I kept running three times a week but did flat 10:00/miles mostly on the treadmill. I did a couple of flat long runs at around 7 miles, which felt okay. The week before the race I had hoped to do a slightly hilly run outside. Tackling some hills felt bad. This time I was smart. I cut my planned 7 mile run to 5 miles, took some walk breaks, and just got myself home. During the week before the Ron Hebert race, I did some super resting only doing one more run and otherwise doing non-impact cardio. I also consulted with my aerobics instructor, who is also an RN. Based on her recommendations, I did calf stretches twice a day, holding each stretch for a minute, which is way more than I normally would have. I also did extensive work with my foam roller and massage ball (or as I like to call it the ball-o'pain).

I also adjusted my expectoration regarding the race. Knowing the the Ron Hebert race was challenging with 200 feet of elevation gain in the first half and then continued rolling hills, I had been hoping for a finish of 1:20, meaning I'd run consistently 10:00/mile even on hills. The hill training I was doing was in preparation for that goal. However, my new goal was different: finish the race and don't get hurt! 

I had the second SMAC race planned for the end of April and, most importantly, the Ragnar Relay planned for the second weekend in May during which I will be running three legs during a 48 hour period. The legs are 5-5-3 miles and flat, but I need to be in good shape for that since my legs will get tired. 

I decided to make the following plan for the Ron Hebert race with all these things in mind:
  1. Do run walk intervals if I noticed any pain. I chose 4:1 run to walk intervals like I did for my first half marathon. This would help take the stress off my legs.
  2. Walk hills as needed!
Sure I wanted to run the race fast; but more importantly, I wanted to stay safe. Whatever time I got would be fine. 

With all this in mind, I woke up on Sunday morning ready for the run. I was a little nervous because I knew I was likely under trained and overly enthusiastic. I hoped I could keep to my plan and finish the race without pain. 

Fortunately, it was a lovely day for a race. The weather was clear and sunny if a bit cool with a light breeze and temperatures in the lower 40s. Still, I knew the temperature would climb over the course of the race, and I would be fine. I tend towards being chilly, so I wore a long sleeved tech shirt, running tights, and a hat. People at the race were dressed anywhere from something similar to what I had on to just shorts and a t-shirt. It all depended on how they felt about running in the 40s. I found my outfit to be perfect for me. 

The race started at the JFK Middle School in Florence/Northampton. I arrived around 20 minutes before the race start. The race was a small one, and I was pre-registered, so I didn't see getting there very early. This was also the first race I had gone to by myself. Seth was traveling for work and in Anaheim. Again, fortunately, my couple-friends, Maddy and Dave, would be at the race. Maddy was volunteering and Dave, a fellow SMAC member and most excellent runner, would be racing. Maddy also took some awesome pictures, which are included in those posted on this blog -- thanks, Maddy!

After getting to the school, I easily found convenient parking and wondered over to the far side of the school for check-in, which was taking place in the cafeteria. There I met up with Maddy and Dave, took a quick bathroom trip (small race = no lines = awesome!), and then headed out to drop off my hoodie in the car before the race. I had also brought a water bottle to run with but decided to leave that in the car too deciding they would definitely have water on the course and with the day being cool I wouldn't get too thirsty. They had water at miles 2, 4, and 6, so this worked perfectly. 

I then joined everyone, as we lined up along the road in front of the school to start. Ron Hebert himself made some brief announcements. It was pretty exciting to receive a send-off from the man who the race is named for. I had eaten brunch with Ron at the SMAC kick-off back in January, and was pleased to see him again -- he seems like such a cool guy!

And we were off! We started by heading down the street towards Look Park and along route 9. For the first mile or so there weren't any huge hills. I started off kind of fast at 9:30/mile and tried very hard to make myself go slower after noticing my pace about a half mile in. I was thinking I would do my run segments at maybe a minute and a half slower than that, and wanted to remind myself of my goal to stay safe.

As we finished mile one, still running along busy route 9, we encountered the first hill of the course and the most major one. I'm listing the route and elevation chart from my GPS below. (Note: My GPS dropped out at mile 6.21 and didn't come back until the very end of the route, so the last bit of the route that is all in red is inaccurate.) Looking at the GPS information, you can see the first hill in blue fairly clearly. I'm also including, below, the course information linked to from the SMAC website, which I feel is more accurate.

The first and biggest hill was actually well placed. It was far enough into the run that I was warmed up but not so far that I was hugely tired. I was feeling good and had not taken any walk breaks yet. I decided to run up as much of the hill as I could still remembering that I had about three more miles of uphill running, at various grades, to do until there was any downhill. I tackled the hill at a very moderate pace, having finally settled into my target pace of around 10:40/mile - 11:00/mile. I had my breathing under good control. That's the funny thing I had noticed about having an injury -- you feel like you can go faster but your legs say no. My cardio was still great. I had done a lot of hill training and my lungs and heart remembered it. About 3/4 of the way up the hill my calf started cramping at a level that I deemed enough to want to lay-off. I took a walk break. 

This walk break did not help as much as I would have liked. I decided that the continuous running would likely be too much for my body, so I set myself up for doing some interval. I would run for 4 minutes and then walk for 1 minute, just like I had planned. 

After tackling the largest hill of the race, we crossed from Florence into Williamsburg. Here, the course continued to slope up but at a more gentle grade. My calf started to recover with help from the run/walk method. At this point, I also crossed paths with an awesome runner who was wearing a pink fur trimmed sash -- it was her birthday! I excitedly wished her happy birthday and told her it was my husband's birthday as well. This nice conversation lifted my mood and kept me going as we gradually continued our uphill run. 

I reached the 5K mark. I was three miles in and feeling fine; my calf has stopped acting up as much and was a dull ache, which I deemed "okay" from past experience. At this point, the course took a right turn and brought us through a more rural residential area. I was happy to leave busy route 9. Here, and throughout the course, the runners were spread thinly in the back of the pack where I was. My two main companions were "birthday lady" and "green t-shirt lady", I woman who had been run/walking just like me. It was nice to have people around, even if it was just a couple. 

The hilly course continued through the more rural and residential areas. My feet, unaccustomed to road running after a winter spent inside on the treadmill due to the Polar Vortex, where fairly displeased and had a pins and needles feeling (like being "asleep") from the pounding on the less forgiving asphalt. Still I kept on it. I was running slowly, taking my intervals for walking, and just trying to enjoy the nice weather and some time outside. 

My mind was busy though, thinking, "I wish I could go faster. I wish I wasn't so slow. I want to do better." I was a bit discouraged at this point. I was going slowly and I know it. When I meet other runners who aren't as fast, I always think that they are great. After all, someone who is slow has to run for way longer to complete the same distance as someone who is faster and spending all the time on your feet isn't easy. Unfortunately, even though I know that someone who runs a 5K in 25:00 and someone who runs it in 30:00 are both going the say distance and working hard, I always feel ashamed for being slow. I knew I had to go slow today, but still it made me feel discouraged and down on myself. I knew I really need to go at the pace I was going, but my mind was telling my body that it wasn't good enough. I had to turn my thinking around. 

Soon thereafter, I hit mile 4. I only had four miles to go and the hilliest miles were behind me. I also had the opportunity to get some water and take a GU. The encouragement of the man at the water station and the break to take the GU helped me to re-evaluate my thinking and re-focus. I tackled a small hill after the four mile mark feeling better. I was going to do this!

My positive thinking was rewarded. Finally some sections of downhill running. I absolutely adore running downhill. I know some runners don't like it because of the pounding on the quads, but downhill running is where someone as small as I am has an advantage. There isn't that much of me to be pounding. I felt like I was flying. I ran with minimal stopping for the next almost two miles through a lovely set of pseudo-rural Willamsburg. The sun was shinning, I was enjoying my music, and having a great time allowing myself to cruise along. My calf felt fine, the odd feeling in my feet had subsided. Things were going great! I flashed a big grin at the photographer stations around the 5.5 mile mark. This race was awesome.

A little bit after the 6.5 mile mark, the race again turned into a flat course with rolling hills. I climbed a slight rise and was starting to feel tired. My legs were getting heavy. My GPS watch had lost connection at 6.21 miles. I wasn't quite sure how long I had to go, and it was demotivating. I was still taking walk breaks, and at this point it was a good thing because I'd lost some of my umph. 

I hit the seven mile sign and could see the cross street where JFK Middle School would be. Only one mile to go! I had done most of my training runs at the 7 mile mark, so this last mile was going to be a tricky one. I took a quick walk break after the 7 mile sign and told myself I would run the last mile as best I could without stopping. The rest of the course was flat; I could do this!

I turned onto Bridge Street and could see the school. Soon I was approaching it. "Come on! Come on!" I told myself. I knew that I had to do a lap of the building before I could cross the finish line. What mental torture. Lots of runners had finished and were milling around. They saw my tired face and shouted words of encouragement, which I greatly needed. People were looking. I couldn't stop moving. Behind the school, exhausted, I almost slowed to a walk. "What are you doing?" I shouted inside, "You have one a couple minutes of running left." I roused myself and ran, quickly turning around the side of the building and making it to the front. The finish line was in sight and this time I could cross it and stop running. I hoofed it!

Finished! I had made it. I had run a challenging course. I had done it with a slight injury. I had stayed smart and kept my pace slow and not let my ego get in the way. I was tired, but feeling happy. My watch said my time was 1:30:23. It was around ten minutes more than I had hoped for, but under the circumstanced I was satisfied.

I did a quick stretch. My calf was feeling okay. My feet were achy, as they were used to the treadmill and I wasn't quite road-ready. After collecting myself, I went to retrieve the race give-away, socks with the SMAC name and logo.

I hung out for a little bit after the race, chatting with people and meeting some of the SMAC members. I had noticed that SMAC was a bit light on social media and wanted to see if they'd be interested in doing more if I volunteered to help. I thought it would be great to get them on Twitter and have the Facebook page be more active so that runners have an easier time meeting up for training runs or sharing pictures from the races. I have an email out to one of the board members I talked with, at her request, and she's going to connect me with people who are doing social media and web now to see if they'd like me to get involved. I think this would be a fun way to get even more involved with the club and use some of the technical skills I have. 

Today certainly wasn't my best race ever, but I feel good that I got out and ran. I made a plan and stuck to it. I'm going to see a spots massage person tomorrow and hoping to get help sorting my calf out. I want to be able to return to doing more substantial training soon. By Ragnar, I want to be close to 100%.

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