Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Thinking about your worst enemy

Wicked witch of the west
IT bands, shin splints, stress fractures and sore quads are nothing. The pain that slows me the most is in my head.

No, I'm not talking about migraines (although I struggle with those sometimes too). I'm talking self-inflicted sabotage. The wall before "the" wall. The engine that could but became wholly convinced she couldn't so she took a nap.

In my last post, I mentioned all the time I wasted last week pondering my race feelings. Do I like it? Should I be doing it? Should I sit on my lazy butt instead? Thank the angel on my shoulder for winning that battle.

It's no secret that racing isn't exactly a massage. But it sure feels great when you're done -- the exercise, the adrenaline, the endorphins, the pride, the camaraderie, the achievement. And fresh off Saturday's race, I have to admit racing a good one doesn't hurt remotely as bad as I remembered. So why all the hate?

Honestly, I can't explain it.

What I realized today, however, is that tune-up races take the wuss out of your stride. For weeks I had struggled with running my targeted paces. Sub-8's were for sprinting miles. But after Saturday's race, I've felt pretty comfortable running base miles in the low-7's without going breathless the way I might have last week.

Is my watch broken? No. Has my fitness changed in a matter of days? No. Apparently proving to my brain that I could run 7:40 over 10 miles was enough to banish the wuss covering the accelerator. Now how can I get that feeling to stick around (and ditch the wuss)?

My friend Melissa told me when I first started training that I overthink on the run, and I keep her voice with me still whenever the wuss starts creeping into my head. But all too often the wuss wins.

Case in point: a couple weeks ago, I pumped up my treadmill pace to 9 mph without really knowing actual pace. I ran with healthy effort for two miles before the math worked out in my head -- 6:40 pace. Then I started questioning myself. Well ahead of my 5K PR and not even struggling, suddenly I was stumbling over myself. It's as if my brain says "you're not allowed to do THAT!" and my legs comply. It's just not right.

After reading Matt Fitzgerald's Brain Training last year, I've made some serious breakthroughs with mind over matter. But I have such a long way to go. Sure, greater confidence comes with experience. I just need to make sure the wuss on my back doesn't stop me from getting that experience.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Not a perfect 10, but a happy 10.

Tagging my shoes before the raceIt's been so long since I've been happy with racing that I wondered why I registered for the Hermes Cleveland 10-Miler.

Seriously, racing 10 miles this weekend? Is that really the best use of my Saturday morning?

One pretty decent 18-miler and a few mid-distance runs aside, most of my outings have been junk since the Akron Half. On Saturday morning I wondered whether I even enjoyed racing.

Despite all the negative energy, I made it to the start with ESpeed and Salty, and I just wanted to run a healthy race. Beating my PR (1:21) would be rad, but not imperative. Taking a nap would have been nice. But then the gun went off, and I took off at a comfortable pace, weaving among a pretty huge sell-out crowd into the streets of Cleveland near West side.

The downside of showing up relaxed and expectation-free: I hadn't thought at all about my approach. A ten-miler is an interesting race. Obviously not a sprint, ten miles isn't a long-distance race either. And while it's twice a five-miler, I consider the intensity closer to a fiver than a half marathon. But where?

I decided early to run "comfortable, but not relaxed." It was my mantra. Stay comfortable, not relaxed. And it was easy the first couple miles: start-line adrenaline was pumping, beat of a couple thousand runner's racing feet was bumping. I was content with mile-one 7:23 split, but wasn't sure whether mile two's 7:53 split was my final glimpse of sub-8's. Shin splints had come to attack.

My race day attire was pretty flawless for the first time ever. Simple dri-fit Nike tee with new compression shorts and socks couldn't have been more breathable and less chafing. And it was the first time I didn't have to spend too much energy tugging at shorts riding up my chunky thighs. Perfect!

I'd made the compression-sock investment a few weeks earlier when several people recommended them for my shin splints. Yes, it's spring and the splints were back. I've been treating them with major hill therapy (4-5 mph on the treadmill at 10-12% grade for 2-3 miles) and figured the compression couldn't hurt.

The socks have worked wonders for my tibial tendinitis and achilles tenditis (both sides). So, if you see me at work, run, sleep or play, I'm wearing a pair.

At this race I donned a new pair of pink compression socks, which were the best pair yet. I swear they squeeze out my morning tibial and achilles aches. Unfortunately, however, they didn't scare away the splints.

I started tightening up around the middle of mile two, and then, oh, how the mental battle began! Should I stop? Of course you shouldn't; you should run harder. But this burns something fierce. Yeah, but are your shins going to break? Besides: since when is a race not supposed to hurt?

And the devil side was right. Races aren't supposed to tickle.

So, I stayed comfortable cardiovascularly, tried to ignore the fact that I have shins, checked out all the pretty houses along Lake Ave and just ran from one mile marker to the next. Pretty soon they were flying by (I even missed mile four!), my splints had eased and I was posting a pretty decent 5-mile split (38:48), which is just a minute off my 5-mile PR.

Then came the wind. I practiced my drafting techniques, skipping from dude to dude, trying to catch some relief from the gusts. It was remarkable what a difference some shield made, but I couldn't stick with anyone long enough to make a difference. Miles 6 and 7 were rough, but didn't turn out too bad: 7:54 and 8:02 splits.

One point of confidence I did bring to the race is finishing speed. I've lately take 6-8 miles to really feel warmed up, comfortable and ready to go. And that feeling didn't fail me on Saturday. I crossed the mile 7 marker and was finally off to the race.

Three miles? I can run three miles. And so I did.

I can't pretend to understand well enough how my body works, but, boy, was it fun to run those final miles. My body felt loose, and I was running a pretty good clip without losing my breath. Mile eight passed in 7:43, and it just seemed too easy. I wished all my miles felt so light. We weaved around neighborhoods and ticked away mile nine in 7:36 like I was having a picnic.

After high-fiving the volunteers at the last mile-marker and turning onto the curvy bike path toward the finish, I tried to stay comfortable without letting my exuberance peak too soon. The twists and turns helped temper my excitement for the finish, and probably slowed me down more than some of the downhills sped me up, but it was really glee from a ten-miler feeling so darn good that powered me toward the beachfront finish.

As I took some of the final turns, I noticed a pink-shirted chica trucking up on my right. I turned on my final quarter-mile jets past her and crossed the finish in 1:16:47 -- a little more than four minutes faster than my previous PR.

Oh, did that race feel great. I hugged Miranda, the pink-shirted runner who raced me to the finish, for helping me meet my goal (secretly I wanted but didn't expect to run 1:17). And as I ticked through my watch, I was really proud of my finishing speed. The last twisty-turny mile measured only 0.96 on my watch, but I covered it in 6:46 (~7:04/mile).

ESpeed, who finally rang out her Boston quads, found me fast. We cheered Salty, Monica and other friends to the finish before catching some killer egg dish from the finishing tent (whoever picked out the egg dish for post-race food should get the Nobel Prize for Awesomeness).

It was a strange feeling leaving the race. For the first time in a long, long time, I felt content. Even at the Holy Cross 5K, where I won and picked up a major PR, I didn't feel happy with my race. My Akron Half was really great for me, but I walked away with so many "but"s. Was this race perfect? No. Was it the best I could have run that day? Who knows. Was it comfortable, relaxed, smart, fun and healthy? Absofrickinlutely.

It's high time I remind myself that I'm not close to good enough a runner to get down on myself and my running results when they're not what dreams are made of. Am I running to win? Nope. I'm running to be healthy, to challenge myself and, when possible, beat all runners named GP.

Racing may not feel fab when you're doing it, but it should feel great when you're done. And, you know, it really does.