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Posts Tagged ‘cross country’

It’s pretty much all runnable except…

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014

Words I had never heard describe a race course before I asked what the Paris Mountain 16K Trail Race was like: “It’s pretty much all runnable except the ten minutes it takes to ‘hike’ up the mountain.” I have to thank Brian G. who not only answered my question on facebook the night before the race but who also saved a few of us with excellent directions out on the course.

Typically my vacations involve a race so when a friend who attends Furman University in Greenville, SC invited me to visit her for the weekend, she not only found a great, inexpensive flight for me but a trail race. I booked the ticket and signed up for the race without even researching it. During my trip from Florida to South Carolina, I decided to find out more about this Paris Mountain trail race I was about to run. The distance was perfect since I was scheduled to run ten miles on Saturday anyway. I found the Greenville Track Club – Trail Runners group on facebook, posted my question, and received some very interesting answers.

Nervous about running up a mountain, I awoke race morning to SNOW! Yes, snow on November 1st.

What is that white stuff over Greenville!?! ;)

I was definitely having second thoughts about doing this race. I mean, I moved to Florida almost 20 years ago to escape this weather. We arrived at Paris Mountain at 7:00 a.m. in complete darkness after a short snow removal session so we could see out the car windows.

“What’s an ice scraper?” was her response when I asked if she had one. Riley is a Florida native. ;)

Dreading the cold, I picked up my bib number and started to warm up in the parking lot. I was wearing all the layers of running clothes that I brought with me. After jogging and doing my dynamic warm up, I felt warm enough to remove some layers so I raced in shorts, a long sleeve shirt, a light jacket, and gloves. I am so thankful that I packed my Brooks Adrenaline trail shoes! That extra tread definitely saved me on the slippery course.

Right before the start, the race director told us to take a map or follow the guy in front of us since all the course markings were washed away by the snow and rain. We were also offered a bottle of water to carry since they did not want to put volunteers out on the course in this cold weather to hand out water. I really did not know what to expect. The biggest hill I train on is the Ringling Bridge in Sarasota.

The course was beautiful. As we ascended Paris Mountain all I could think about was the beauty all around me. I wished I had a camera to try to capture it. Almost the entire trail was single track with lots of rocks, roots, twists, turns, and wet leaves. I just kept repeating to myself: “breathe, focus, and lift your feet.” Once we reached the part that was not runnable I tried to enjoy the scenery and take it all in but I had to focus even more on the terrain so I would not trip or fall behind. The higher we went up the mountain, the more snow we encountered. The wind was whipping the snow off the trees so it felt like it was snowing on us.

Once we began the descent, the race was really on. I moved from third female to first and ran down those hills and switchbacks with reckless abandon like I used to in my high school and college cross country days. I don’t remember thinking about speeding up; it was like instinct just took over. I earned my patch as the overall female winner of the race. I’d like to say that the mountain and those hills were no match for this Florida girl but even four days after the race I had to walk backwards down the stairs.

Huge thank you to Riley for being my #1 supporter (well, she did talk me into this race) & taking photos! :)

 

She thought it was just hilarious that I had to walk downstairs backwards.

Links:

Award Winners

Overall Results

Running Journal

The Reluctant Race Director

Thursday, September 4th, 2014

I never wanted to be a race director.  But, as head cross country coach at Manatee High School, it came with the job.  The Canes Cross Country Classic 5K is held every year on Labor Day and it serves as our cross country team’s main fundraiser.  When I first started coaching back in 2003 it also included a one mile fun run/walk which I changed to a 1K a few years ago in the hope that it would attract more families and younger runners in our goal to fight childhood obesity.  The 5K course gives the participants a unique experience in that it runs over our home cross country course and usually features tons of high school competitors in the field.

Start of the 22nd Annual Canes Cross Country Classic 5K

This past Labor Day was our 22nd Annual Canes Classic and my 11th year as race director.  Every year I state that my favorite day of the year is the day AFTER Labor Day.  The job of race director is a very challenging one and definitely way more stressful than I ever imagined.  Knowing that the experience of every runner, walker, and volunteer out there rests on me is a huge responsibility.  The one thing I can brag about is that we have the coolest t-shirt designs year after year!

Members of the MHS girls’ XC team showing off the 2014 shirt design

Working as a race director has definitely taught me to appreciate all the work that goes into the races that I compete in even more.  I no longer show up at races expecting things but rather appreciating all that has been done.  It is great idea for all runners and walkers to volunteer at races to develop more of an understanding of what makes a successful event happen.

Directing a race is much like training for a marathon.  You need to have a good plan and start working on it months in advance.  You must be consistent in that work over weeks and months in order to have the greatest success on race day.  If you lack that consistency, like I did for this year’s Canes Classic, you end up stressed out, sleep deprived, and struggling to complete all the tasks at the last minute.  And like with not so consistent marathon training, you may be able to cram in enough work in the last few weeks to get you through race day but you definitely will not do your best.  I thought I had it all covered:  permits, insurance, sponsors, registration, shirts, goody bags, volunteers, all the school paperwork and permissions, security, timing, awards, food and drink, course set up, and clean up.  But I forgot about marketing.  Without a plan, without the consistent work in the previous seven months, this very important item was left undone until it was too late.

While the race went off perfectly, our participation numbers were very low.  With this being our team’s fundraiser, this definitely hurts us.  I own this mistake and vow to improve.  I thoroughly enjoy following a tough marathon training plan and seeing the success on race day.  Now I just need to lay out a Canes Classic race directing plan and follow through with the same resolve.  Maybe the greater success next year will make me less reluctant.

Overall female winner Diana Sitar with me in the background announcing the award winners

Special thank you to Roxanne Britt for taking photos for our team this year!

http://www.CanesClassic.com

This time it was no picnic!

Monday, August 4th, 2014

One of my all-time favorite races is the Picnic Island Adventure Run in Tampa, Florida. It is actually a series of three races that take place once a month on Friday nights in May, June, and July. Hot and humid do not begin to describe the weather at 6:45 p.m. on the small island in Tampa Bay under a cloudless summer sky. So once you’ve accepted the weather factor, you’re ready for the real challenge.

This adventure run is unique and definitely not one of those mud runs or extreme obstacle races where you sign away your life in a waiver. I don’t do dangerous races like that. Picnic Island is challenging, don’t get me wrong, but it is definitely more welcoming to all ages and abilities who are seeking adventure. The obstacles are minor; you crawl under a cargo net on your knees over sand, run through six big, inflated tubes, and then hurdle, jump, walk, or crawl over one hurdle. The rest of the run is on the beach, grassy areas with hills, a couple of very small sections over pavement, and quite a bit through mangroves. Oh the mangroves! You never know what to expect until you get there. This July 18th, high tide was coming in so the water through the mangroves was pretty deep, very warm, and muddy. Yes, a little bit of “ick” factor, especially if you go splashing through like I did and it hits you in the face.

I always sign up for the three race series but this year I was unable to race the May and June races due to my post Boston Marathon rest period and rehabbing an injury. I knew I was not in top shape, but was very excited to race Picnic Island as well as I could. From the gun, I was out of breath and knew I would be. I was just trying to hold on to my spot in the top five overall women as we approached the last section of “non-trails” before the toughest part of the course. I say “non-trails” because they are not trails; they are overgrown areas of vegetation that someone walked through when setting up the course and stomped down a single track area for us to squeeze through. I was almost through this section, which is my least favorite of the course, and I tripped. I had an out of body experience. I saw myself floating down towards the ground, almost as if in slow motion. As soon as my knees hit the rocks at the bottom of the slight downhill I popped up, probably cursed (can’t remember now), and quickly ran off.

I attacked the five or six steep hills that zigzag up and down from the beach because I was so shocked that I fell and a bit embarrassed. But I wasn’t feeling any pain yet so I finished strong and ended up placing third overall and won Masters. Once I hosed off my legs to assess the damage, then the pain kicked in. So this one was no picnic but even now, two weeks after the event, my knees are still scraped, bruised, and recovering but I cannot wait until next summer when I can run all three Picnic Island Adventure Runs!

Exiting the water and heading to the finish line!

 

 

My poor knees!

X-Country 30K

Sunday, November 17th, 2013

I had to run this race again this year despite it being only one week after the Random Acts of Giving Marathon since I came so close to the course record last year!  When I justify to others why I have to run certain races, it’s really more to convince myself than anyone else.

The Overall Female record is 2:28:15 and the Masters Female record is 2:34:37.  Last year I was only 39 so not eligible for the Masters record just yet.  The X-Country 30K is a gorgeous trail run at Alafia River State Park in Lithia, Florida.  There is a section of the course that you run twice so when you exit the sandy section and trail near the restrooms, pavilions, and finish area the first time you take a right so you can go do the second loop, and then the second time you run straight to the finish.  Last year was a cool day, perfect for a long race like this.  It was my first time running the 30K and I was on course record pace when I exited the trail the second time only to have the volunteer send me to the right AGAIN.  I ran about a half mile in the wrong direction before I decided that this was ridiculous and wrong so I headed to the finish line as the overall female winner.  I ran over 19.5 miles and my average pace was faster than the Overall Female course record pace but because I had run longer than 18.6 miles (30K), my finish time was 2:33:20, slower than the record.  I was so frustrated by this experience at first but after filling out the finish card, getting a drink, and walking around a bit, I realized that the volunteer who sent me the wrong way made a mistake.  We are human and we make mistakes sometimes.  I should have known the course.  I still won the race and a very cool trophy but vowed to return in 2013 to go after that course record!

2013 rolls around and now I am 40 so I had a shot at both the overall and masters records.  I was very excited about this!  I knew the course so there would be no mistakes heading to the finish line.  A very hot day and being sick thwarted my course record attempts.  But I still enjoyed the beautiful cross country course and won the race.  The woman who was in the lead dropped out around 12 miles.  Not sure if the heat got to her or something else.  I felt bad for her but it reminded me of a quote from a newspaper article from my high school cross country days:  “Sometimes even good runners need a little luck.”  Source:  Original 1987 article by Gregory Kerstetter

As I exited the trail to head to the finish, a volunteer asked me as I whizzed by if I was 30K and heading to the finish.  All I could manage to blurt out was “FINISH!”  They weren’t going to make me run more than 30K this year!  Ha ha!

This is a tough race for volunteers since there’s a marathon, 30K, and half marathon all using the same trails.  I definitely do not expect volunteers to keep track of everyone, which race they are in, and which loop they are on.  I am just very glad I knew the course this year.  TampaRaces.com puts on some great races and definitely THE best trail races I have run.  Next year I am hoping for cooler temperatures for the X-Country 30K as I once again attempt an overall or masters record.

IMG_9555

Birthday run

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

This year I tried something new – a birthday run.  Since I was not able to go to Massachusetts this year to run the Tornado Alley 57 Miler again, the new plan was to run 40 miles on my 40th birthday.  I had trained for it and all went well up until a couple of weeks ago when I developed pretty severe blisters.  I really cannot recall having blister issues in all my years of running since college anyway.  I did get a doozie of a blister in college, but hey, we also wore cotton socks back then!

Normally I do not run super long during the summer in Florida.  I save my marathon training runs for the fall.  I think between the longer runs and the Southwest Florida heat and humidity, it created the perfect storm.  I wear really good socks, have custom orthotics, wear good fitting shoes, and use BodyGlide.  Florida weather must be no match for even the best laid plans.

I did no running at all for five days leading up to my birthday run in hopes that the blisters would heal and dry up enough to make it through 40 miles.  I felt great when I started out this morning but around 13-15 miles, my feet were soaked and it was time to change socks and shoes.  By the time I actually made it back to my car, I had finished 17 miles and knew the blisters were back.  So the blisters were very painful for the rest of the day; each step hurt and made me question whether I could finish the full 40 miles.  I changed socks several times, used Blistershield powder twice, and on the final sock change I used Aquaphor healing ointment.

Blisters aside, I could not have predicted the outcome of the day.  I was so blessed to have so many of my Suncoast Striders friends and Manatee High cross country runners out there with me.  Sarah, Meagan, and Katie were there bright and early for the 7:00 a.m. start and with birthday cards and gifts too!  Then Amber, Kristen, Canaan, and Ellen took over running duty on the 8:30 a.m. shift while Tiffany captured some great photos.  By 10:00 I had logged about 17 miles when Janet joined me for a few miles and even created a custom cadence for me!  Ellen ran out to buy me some watermelon and delivered it so I had a cold, refreshing treat at 25 miles.  At just before noon Jessica and JP joined me for my toughest miles of the day.  I had already taken one minute walk breaks after every mile completed from about mile 22 to 25 so once we reached 27, I broke the news about the walk breaks which they were happy to do.

We were heading to my favorite part of the trail just after the 27 mile mark.  It’s a nice shaded, single track trail along the water.  Shortly after running (slowly) onto this trail, I started to feel a little light headed and running became so difficult.  We walked almost the whole trail out and back and I had to make a tough decision.  I had to listen to the signs my body was giving me and tell JP and Jessica that I had to call it a day.  We were still a couple miles out from the parking lot so they graciously walked back the entire way with me.  I am so glad they did!  I think I was in worse shape than I thought.  I felt light headed and really felt I had to focus my vision on the path ahead.  And I was told later that I was slurring my words a little on the walk back.  Yikes!

When we reached the parking lot, we hit 30 miles total and saw Chris who was there to run the last leg with me.  I had to apologize to him that I was finished and could not run anymore.  He’s such an awesome guy; he ran my last 10 miles for me in the hottest part of the day at a preserve with little to no shade.  I guess I looked fairly bad because Janet and JP then proceeded to stay with me until I refueled a bit and cooled off.  I don’t remember how long it took for me to seem like my normal self again, but they hung out with me just chatting away and Janet had me sit in the back of her SUV which was cranking out the AC.  Then Theresa and Dawn and her cute crew of minions stopped by to deliver birthday cards, flowers, and balloons.

When I was finally feeling recovered enough to drive I left Robinson Preserve and took a detour on the way home for a dip in the pool and some quality time with my sister.  So refreshing.  All I could think about during the last 2-3 miles walking in the hot sun was how wonderful it would feel to be immersed in water!  I didn’t weigh myself before or after the run today, but probably should have so I’d have a better idea of the state I was in.

Deciding to stop my adventure today at 30 miles was extremely difficult.  I did not want to let anyone down by not reaching my goal.  But the most important thing I learned today is that I must listen to my body.  We all must listen to our bodies!

At first I was disappointed with 30 miles but after Chris texted me telling me that he did the last 10 for me and I had time to reflect on the day, all the people I was able to spend time with, and read all my birthday cards, texts, and messages on facebook, I knew that today’s birthday run was a huge success.  I am truly blessed to have so many amazing friends in my life and we have found each other through running.  This is certainly a birthday I will never forget.  And several people have told me that 40 is the new 30…

A mile or two

Saturday, June 15th, 2013

Holding the fence as I squeezed under

Brushing the dirt off each other

Sneakers wet from the morning dew

Stretching, as I listened to you

Explain the morning’s adventure.

A light warm up, a mile or two

Then peel the sweats.

Off I went around the track

At blazing speeds, or so I thought.

Half way ‘round, “speed up!” you’d yell

And sometimes “slow down!”

At workout’s end, you gave results

And always encouraging words

Ending with “a mile or two”

As you walked across the field.

Minutes later we squeezed back under,

Leaving our place until next time

Never thinking that our adventures would end.

If I only knew…

 

1990 WMASS Track One Mile Champion

1990 WMASS Track One Mile Champion

 

My dad was my high school cross country and track coach.  I wrote this in college when I was away from home for the first time in my life, missing my family, and being coached by someone new for the first time.   While my dad does not coach me anymore or run anymore, I feel that the lessons I learned from him as a runner and coach have helped me become a better runner, coach, and person.  I decided to post this poem as a blog entry for Father’s Day weekend as a way of thanking him and remembering those special moments.  I would also like to thank my mom for being the most amazing, patient, and supportive mom, team mom, and volunteer assistant coach ever.  She was there at every meet no matter how far away or how bad the weather.  She would help injured runners out of the woods, take pictures, and be there at the finish never knowing what to expect.  One of the two most memorable races with my mom was a home cross country meet when I was trying out a new insert in my shoe.  The insert bunched up so badly and caused me so much pain that I literally crossed the finish line, pulled off my shoe, and threw it.  Let’s just say I was a little frustrated and uncomfortable!  I did not throw it at my mom, but she jokes that I did…it may have been in her direction since she was waiting for me past the finish line.  The other was my junior year when I ran the mile in track and my mom took me to the WMASS championship when my dad was out of town.  I ran as an individual since my school did not have a track team.  We arrived at the meet and I was headed to the infield to pick up my packet and competition number when the coach from a neighboring school told me I would be disqualified if I went on the infield.  I was so nervous since I had never been to such a big track meet before.  My mom was not about to let another coach intimidate me so she took charge, went to the infield, picked up my packet, and I ended up winning and qualifying for state.

Once I figured out that I wanted to be a running coach, all I have tried to do is be like my parents and do all the amazing things that they did for me.  They kept it fun, always pushed me to be my best, and were supportive, caring, encouraging, strong, and understanding no matter the outcome of each race.

1988 WMASS XC

1988 WMASS XC

1987 WMASS XC

1987 WMASS XC

 

 

The Darlings of the team

The Darlings of the team

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Up to the challenge

Monday, January 31st, 2011

Sunday’s Florida Challenge Trail Run 5K at Alafia River State Park in Lithia is the toughest 5K trail race I have ever done.  This year I was defending my overall female winner title.  This year seemed tougher than last.  Maybe it was the fatigue and soreness lingering from Saturday’s Warrior Dash or the fact that the course was reversed this year or maybe I forgot the course just enough from last year…

The race starts on a paved road and basically you have to sprint a little over a quarter mile to get out fast enough to get in the position you want because once you enter the woods, it is all single track.  It is nearly impossible to pass in the woods.  The course is run over the most difficult of the mountain bike trails at Alafia.  The trails are single track, narrow, winding, zipping up and down short steep hills, covered with rocks and roots, and oh yeah, don’t forget to duck under the low hanging trees!

The trails are so challenging that you really cannot look up to see where the competition is or to glance at your Garmin.  You literally have to keep looking down so you know where your next step will go.  You are not able to get any kind of rhythm going either.  I think that’s what makes it so exciting.  You can’t really tell your pace.  I did wear my Garmin to record my data but I did not look at it once.  My knees were beat up enough from the Warrior Dash that I did not want to risk trail diving.  I kept telling myself that as long as I was sucking wind then I was running hard enough.  If I let up and the breathing got easier, I knew to press on and pick up the pace.  Somewhere in the middle of the trail section, which makes up 90-95% of the race, I cruised down a short steep hill and tried to use that momentum to get up the very steep uphill covered with wet, light colored dirt.  This was the only part of the trail that I found slippery, but then again, it all went by so fast.  I ran the race in my Brooks Adrenaline ASR trail shoes.  I am so thankful that I did!  The extra traction in the forefoot is what saved me on that steep, slippery uphill.  If I did not have that extra traction, I know I definitely would have slipped; it was that close.

That’s another cool thing about trail racing.  It seems more primitive – back to our roots.  You race against the clock, yourself, and certainly your competition, but the main competitor is the trail itself.  How you navigate the uneven terrain, sharp twists and turns, rocks, roots, and the many short, steep up and down hills will determine your success or failure.

Sunday when we were deep into the trail I felt like I could have been in the middle of the woods anywhere.  It was just woods all around us as we twisted and turned following the single track trail.  I tried to keep pushing the pace based on effort and breathing alone.  I did finally catch up to a guy during the last third of the race, maybe in the last half mile or so, I really couldn’t be sure.  But it was single track so I was not able to pass.  That is the only frustrating part of single track racing – being held back by others.  But as soon as the trail changed from rocks and roots to the more sandy area, it widened slightly so I sprinted by him partly on the trail and the other part of me was crashing through the bushes on the right.

Once out of the woods I was [doing what felt like] sprinting for the finish even though I was not exactly sure how far away that finish line was.  I thought I was in second place ever since we entered the woods so I finished strong but not as strong as usual.  The TampaRaces.com races offer a very cool trophy to overall and masters and then the top 30-40 receive a nice finisher award like a campfire mug or hat.  So thinking I was second overall female, I just cruised into the finish chute and when the finish card was handed to me, the scorer said “first female.”  I was definitely surprised and very happy to hear those words, especially since back in the woods I had already settled for second place in my mind.  I was thinking “all or nothing” and I am okay with second since I can’t even see anyone ahead of me.

The course was run in the reverse direction on the trails from last year.  I don’t know if that made it more difficult or about the same but my time was about a minute slower this year from last year.  Maybe it was the fatigue and soreness in my legs from the Warrior Dash the day before.  Whatever the reason, I was just delighted to have repeated as the overall female winner.  That’s one of the cool things about trail races – time does not really matter.  It gives you a chance to just run.

A few years ago at our Florida Athletic Coaches Association summer cross country coaching clinic, we were fortunate to have the featured guest speaker Coach Dan Green of The Woodlands High in Texas.  I learned a lot from him but one thing he said about cross country racing has really stuck with me.  He was talking about how the terrain varies so trying to compare XC times on different courses was nothing like comparing track times since everyone runs on a 400 meter track.  But he basically said in cross country you just get out there and race – try to beat the guy next to you.  Don’t get fixated on splits or times, just race.  It was so simple, yet with all the technology we have now and the focus on pacing and splits, I think we forget to just race.  I challenge you to just race – against your competitors or that voice in your head that tells you the terrain is just too tough.  Once in a while, don’t look at the watch or Garmin, don’t figure out your splits, just run hard, just race, and be satisfied with the effort.  The Florida Challenge Trail Run or any trail race near you can give you the perfect opportunity to just race.

Results   |   Photos

The “old” warrior

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

This weekend was the second one of the year where I raced both Saturday and Sunday.  I am not a big fan of back to back racing and would not recommend it to others.  But sometimes when wanting to always race my favorite races (trail races by TampaRaces.com) and try a new race or run one that is part of a series or whatever other reason I can think of to justify it, I feel it just has to be done.  ;)

Luckily on Saturday I was running with Sayuri who was the one who talked me into doing this Warrior Dash in the first place.  This way I could focus on spending time with her, enjoying the whole warrior experience, and saving a little to try to defend my title at Sunday’s Florida Challenge Trail Run 5K.

The title of this entry refers to how I felt on Saturday and not my actual age, despite what the teenagers I coach say!  I am only 37 and far from old, but the obstacles at the Warrior Dash really pushed me out of my comfort zone and made me realize that I am not a teenager anymore!  I no longer feel invincible and was overly cautious and slow on all of the obstacles that took me off the ground and required balancing several feet up off the ground over thin boards, huge nets, scaling walls, crawling under barbed wire, etc.

The photos of me at the end of the Warrior Dash show a huge smile as I jumped over fire and then dove into black, smelly, muddy water to crawl on hands and knees under real barbed wire.  So many people have commented on my big smile.  I tell them I was simply happy, delighted, relieved, and overjoyed that it was over!  As I approached the fire, I could see the finish line so I jumped over two fire pits and gladly dove into the nasty water because I was near the end.

Sayuri is only 22 and I think the years that separate us made all the difference in the world in our differing opinions of the race.  She cruised through all the obstacles with no fear.  I had to use the sections of trail running in between the obstacles to catch up to her since I was so slow on the obstacles.  She had a blast and would do it again in a heartbeat.  I definitely had fun and am glad that I did it, but once was definitely enough for me.  I will proudly display my Warrior Dash finisher’s medal and wear the T-shirt.  I would definitely take a group or travel with a group to this event again in the future but next time I would happily serve as photographer and support crew.  It is a fun and crazy event, but once is enough for this “old” warrior.

I will stick with the challenge of trail racing, like Sunday’s Florida Challenge Trail Run 5K at Alafia River State Park in Lithia.  This year I am defending my overall female title on the toughest 5K trail course I have ever run…

 

I raced in a purple and white Brooks Sprint singlet, black Brooks Infiniti short tights, and white Brooks Adrenaline shoes.  I kept the short tights and they seemed to come clean, although they are black so it’s tough to tell.  I thought I could wash the mud out of the tank but that was pretty much useless so it hit the road along with the shoes.  Luckily the shoes were on their final miles anyway so the Warrior Dash was a fitting farewell…their final challenge.  If you plan to do this race, definitely wear something you don’t plan to keep!

The good old college try

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

When I ran cross country and track at Brown University, there were so many levels of competition.  We competed in NCAA Division I and the Ivy League, yet the highest level of competition always seemed to be amongst ourselves, as we were all trying for one of those coveted top seven varsity spots on the cross country team or trying to hit a qualifying time or be in a top spot for an event in track so we could make the traveling team.

This competition started in the fall of freshman year in cross country and never let up.  In high school I had always run easy on my long runs, you know, conversational pace for the most part.  Not in college!  I remember cold, slushy winters in Providence when we hit the streets and hammered out hard 10-12 milers with the upperclassmen.  And all we ever tried to do was not fall off the back.

Then spring arrives and it’s time to head to the track.  Brown has an awesome stadium and all weather track.  But, it is two miles away from the main campus.  So that meant a two mile warm up run to the track, hammering away these workouts that left me wondering if I could finish, and then, yes, you guessed it, a two mile cool down jog to get back to campus.  And no matter which route you took back to campus, you had to run uphill at some point.

I remember heading to the dining hall after practice with teammates and as we stood in line with our trays, I recall not wanting to eat.  I had run so hard that although feeling hungry during the workout and knowing I needed to refuel, my stomach was feeling kind of sick and food was the last thing on my mind.  One guy put his tray down and left.  The rest of us knew we needed to eat so we stayed.  After a while, that feeling passed and then we felt hungry and devoured insane amounts of food and stuffed snacks in our back packs for later too.

That feeling I am talking about mostly comes when doing speedwork or really putting forth a strong effort.  I felt that a little today.  And as crazy as it sounds, it made me smile!  I was doing a five mile tempo run on a nice trail but the head wind was strong and cold.  Despite the wind and softer surface, I was determined to complete the workout at the pace I was supposed to so I really had to work.  I fought the wind and even felt hungry during the workout.  When I finished the five miles, slightly faster than goal pace, and started my super slow cool down jog, I felt that sick feeling just a little.  And all I could do was smile as it brought me back to my days at Brown.

I am training for the 2011 Boston Marathon, which his only 14 weeks away.  My training has been challenging and after today’s run and feeling like I used to back in college, I knew I must be doing something right.

Keep your easy days easy, but don’t be afraid to run hard on your hard days no matter what Mother Nature has in store.

Talk about being humbled!

Saturday, May 22nd, 2010

I hope I do this race and this course justice in my description because I do feel humbled by the whole experience.

When I first found this race online I was so excited about a race at Northfield Mountain.  This is the place where many of my high school cross country races were held.  A place where I experienced great joy and success and also great frustration.  A place where more friends and family than I can count all gathered to watch me run my senior year when I placed second at State.  It is a ski area in the winter and there’s a reservoir with tons of trails for hiking, walking, running, orienteering, and mountain biking during the spring, summer, and fall.

To say it is hilly would be like saying the ocean is a little bit salty.  It is not called Northfield Mountain for nothing.  This race was billed as the USA Track & Field New England Trail/Mountain Championship.  Originally it was to be a 10.3K race but due to the draining of a reservoir and all the truck traffic along that route, the course had to be changed at the last minute (yesterday) to a 5.3 Mile race.  THANK GOODNESS!!!!

Here’s a quick overview of my splits for each mile:  8:36, 10:26, 11:26, 6:36, and 6:25.  That should give you a glimpse of what I am about to tell you.

We started on a hill we ran on in our high school races.  I was conservative, but didn’t want to start out too easy – it was a race after all.  But instead of using any of the trails that flatten out from the high school course, they had us go UP.  We kept going up and up and up.  My legs and lungs were burning and a bunch of people passed me so I glanced down at my Garmin to see only 0.91 miles.  Are you kidding me?  My legs and lungs were burning this badly and we had not even reached the first mile marker.

We were blessed with a couple of short declines and flat sections here and there but mainly the first 2.7 miles were uphill after uphill.  Not just up hills or inclines, mind you.  These hills were so steep that even the speedier runners ahead of me walked up them.  Yes, that’s right; I had to walk at least three times up these steep, tortuous hills.  We were told that there was an unmanned water stop about half way.  I was SO looking forward to water.  But that meant stopping, grabbing a cup, pouring the water, then getting to drink it.  I didn’t want to stop; I just wanted this to be over.  So I skipped the water because I figured it was only 5 miles plus I could see where the down hills started.  I had to get to the downhill! 

Walking up those steep hills almost made me laugh the first time because I thought about all the “hill” training I did the past six weeks on the Green Bridge and Ringling Bridge at home to get ready for this race.  Ha!  Who was I kidding?  Well if I hadn’t run those bridge workouts at all, maybe this race would have been even more punishing for me.  So it was better than nothing I suppose.

So we are more than halfway into the race and have finished the 785 feet of “climb” that the race director emailed us about the day before.  I leaned forward a little and just let gravity take me down the hills.  The last two miles were almost entirely downhill.  And not just a gentle sloping decline.  These were steep trails with rocks, roots, grass, and dried leaves.  They twisted and turned us back towards the finish.  I tried to let go and run them with reckless abandon.  Now I felt like I was back in high school!  No fear.  I was passing quite a few people who passed me on the uphill section.  I was flying by runners who were older and I suppose wiser since they did not want to chance falling or twisting an ankle.  I didn’t catch the whole thing, but one guy I flew by on the downhill said something like “I used to run suicide down hills like that when I was younger.”  For an instant, I thought, “Am I crazy to run them this fast?”  I guess I could have fallen.  Oh well.

I don’t know if I can fully explain how fast I was running down these hills.  I really felt like I was flying.  I did hit one soft spot where my left ankle turned a bit and I thought for sure my legs were going to give out and I was going to eat dirt, hard.  Thankfully I caught myself and was able to keep going.  That would have hurt big time.  I continued on, flying down the hills, maybe a tad slower than earlier once I felt my legs almost give out.  There were two smaller up hill sections towards the end where I was able to use the momentum of the down hills to power about halfway up and then try to maintain to the top.

A quick turn, steep downhill, sharp right, then probably the only real straightaway of the race, led us to the finish line.  I could not sprint to the finish line, I was just happy to be finishing in an upright position at that point.  I exited the finish chute then kind of half smiled at how unbelievably wobbly my legs felt.  I was exhausted but so happy to have finished and not fallen.  I was greeted by my husband and Grandma.  What a great day.  The weather was absolutely perfect too.  Warm in the sun yet cool in the shade.  Very little humidity, if any.  None that I noticed anyway.  We stayed for the awards ceremony because I wanted to applaud those hardcore runners who finished ahead of me.  I was not expecting anything today, especially with the hills and those veteran trail/mountain racers, plus they only went one deep in ten year age groups.

I tried to do a cool down jog but after about 200 meters, I could not jog anymore.  I had to walk the rest.  I honestly could not remember my legs ever feeling as wobbly and spent as they did today.  This has to be the toughest race I have ever run in my life.  And I have run a lot of races.

As I said before, I did some “hill” training back home to get ready for this race so I thought I would be somewhat ready to tackle the mountain.  I clearly had no idea what 785 feet of climb on paper would mean on my legs.  So to say that this race humbled me is an understatement.  I have never felt beaten by a course before.  I have never run a trail/mountain race before.  I guess they have a whole crazy mountain series or something.  I couldn’t imagine. 

Well maybe I could.  If I lived near this type of terrain and could train on it regularly, that would be a different story.  When I lived in New England, I loved hills – training on them and annihilating the competition on them.  But now that I am a flatlander from Florida, I humbly bow to the mountain at Northfield.  You trail/mountain racers are on a whole different level.  And I respect that.

Finishing at Northfield Mountain

 

Northfield Mountain


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