Posts Tagged ‘support’

My longest race of the year (and possibly the final one, depending on what comes up this month) is complete.  I managed it with an avg pace of 12:20/mile, and don’t seem to have permanently injured my IT band – WIN.

The race itself was lovely.  The course was, by Vermont standards, delightfully flat, the weather was alternately sunny/warm and cool/breezy, and the scenery was varied and beautiful.  The crowd on the road was a myriad of bright colors – every hue from highlighter orange, vivid yellows, to bright purples and blues – nearly a thousand women turned out to run or walk.

The miles seemed to fly past.  Before I knew it, we were trotting up to mile 9 and I felt pretty good.  Tired and annoyed at the obligatory tiny-rock-in-my-shoe, and fighting a bit of a tight IT band, I had busted out a few healthy sub-11-minute-miles up to that point (according to the timer my sister kept on her watch and the marked distance).  However, as we crested the hill at mile marker 9, I felt the telltale angry ITB tug on my knee, and my stunning progress so far was shot.  I cringed for a tenth of a mile, then had to stop and stretch.  In the heat of the moment, with so many runners flying past and my sister urging me on, I ignored the hamstring stretch I usually rely on and merely loosened up my quads.  I hobbled along like this for another tenth of a mile, until I decided to suck it up and just speed walk it out.

I’m not going to lie, folks; Mile 9-10 was UGLY.  I was mad at the pain, angry with my crappy pace, and frustrated at the well-meant encouragement to just push through the pain.  I couldn’t run.  I tried, but the pain was just too intense to ignore, and I was worried that I could be seriously injuring myself by ignoring it.  So when mile 10 slowly came up and the cheering crowd loomed ahead, I forced myself to stop and stretch my hamstrings.  I let my hands dangle near my ankles and just pressed slowly into the stretch, willing my leg muscles to let go.  Additionally, I hiked-up my CW-X tights to fit my knee more appropriately.  And, miracle of miracles, my knee felt better.  Still stiff and cranky, but I could RUN on it.  Not the earlier sub-11-minute-mile pace, but closer to a real running speed than before.

The rest of the race wasn’t perfect or particularly pretty for me – I had to stop and stretch every so often, and speed walk a half mile at some point – but I DID IT. I told myself at mile 10: “It’s just an easy 5k from here on out.  Just a 5k.  I eat 5Ks for breakfast!”

So when we rounded the final corner into town, I sucked up my last reserves and ran over the finish line, stomping on the timing pad triumphantly, and grabbing my finisher’s medal.

The Finisher’s Medal!

Before I reveal what happened next, let me remind the world that I’m not a publicly emotional person.  I keep my feelings to myself and only my closest friends.  Well, once I had walked-off the finish line jitters and slowed my heart rate, I stopped in the finishers area and stood still for a moment.  The whole journey came crashing down on me at that point – the failures in years past, the day in February where I decided to change my life, all the races prior, and all of the support and encouragement I’d received up to that very second.

I cried.  My breath came in short gasps, and tears streamed down my face.  I had done it.  I had completed a half marathon –  a half MARATHON. 13.1 miles of sweat, pain, and momentous effort.  13.1 miles of proof that I had succeeded.

Kristen and Me, at the finish line.

Dazedly, my sister and I accepted some tasty free samples from powerbar, a tub of Greek yogurt from stonyfield, and headed over to the food tent.  There, we were given (for free) the best cup of chicken noodle soup I have ever eaten, and a slice of baguette.  After nomming our reward lunch, we grabbed a few more freebies and headed to the cars.

It was as we descended the uneven grass by the middle school fields that I remembered the tiny playground we spied on the way to registration.  Cringing in pain at my still-too-stiff ITB, I walked over to what I will think of as the greatest cargo net of all time:

the dodecahedron creepy eyeball jungle gym cargo net.

And what do you think I did?  Well, I Spartaned-up and climbed that sucker, vowing the whole time to start budgeting for one of my own.

So, as I sit at my work computer, icing a sore left foot, and stretching a stiff right knee (all while wearing the medal I earned the heck out of), I can’t help but think of the journey so far.  It hasn’t been fast, but it has been a sure-footed climb to the top.  I’ve pushed through illness, injury, doubt, and frustration.  And as I reach the top of this particular hill, I realize in true Spartan spirit…

There’s always another mountain, so another mountain I shall climb.

 

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There’s no feeling in the world for me like beating a previous PR race time into the ground.  I’m happy (delighted? ecstatic?) to report that today’s fun little be-costumed 5k race with my coworkers developed into a PR-busting banner event.

A few months ago, a coworker decided to start the Couch-to-5k program and wanted to set a group 5k race date.  She asked me to help lead the group in weekly check-ins and chats about progress/challenges/etc.  I accepted, and we’ve been pretty good about checking in.

Race day came hard upon the heels of a late night out with friends, though I was blessed with a cool morning and overcast skies.  I wasn’t expecting a great finish as I looked around at the solid runner-types around me – their various costumes failing to hide the well-trained bodies underneath.  However, I was feeling rested enough, well-hydrated, and not at all sick like I’d been for my last 5k.  So I pinned my purple sparkly cape to my shoulders, adjusted my brand new cwx tights (Bionic Legs!), and put on my race bib: Number 87.  My coworkers gradually joined me at the start, and we chatted as the minutes ticked away.

I want to take a quick second to acknowledge how FUN this race was.  There was no cutthroat sense of competition, as any of that would have been dampened by the plethora of be-costumed runners milling about (many with equally costumed kids in and out of strollers).  There was so much sparkle and cheer that it could have just as easily been a willy-nilly Halloween parade rather than a real timed race.

Autumn Onion 5k

The Calais ladies pre-race and ready to go – in costume!

Around 10am, the announcement finally came that they were ready to start the race.  After a few Thank-Yous and a short countdown, we were off and running.  I chuckled inwardly as I watched all of them fire off like machines, keeping pace with our fastest teammate (a woman who epitomizes the skinny “naturally fit” body-type and has been running for speed for at least a year, though she has never raced competitively).  I let them go and settled into my race stride, slow and steady.  As my legs warmed up, I noticed the group splitting apart and slowing down to various paces, quickly confirming my original assessment.  I thought about how nice it is to know my own pace and have the understanding that I Run My Own Race – I’m not controlled by the pace of those around me, and while I do feel bad when someone passes me, I know that down the road it’ll be me passing someone else.

Comparisons aside, I ran on.  The course that Onion River Sports chose was a good one – only a slight uphill at the beginning, and totally flat for the rest of the mileage.  A few runners made small talk as I passed (or was passed by) them – commenting on the beautiful cool morning or making guesses as to which tiny batman would come out first for the kids division.  Eventually, the crowd thinned and I was officially solo.  The distance went by surprisingly quickly, and before I really had a chance to think, we were closing in on the halfway point.  I had caught up to one of my faster coworkers by this point, keeping pace about 5 strides behind her for the remainder of the race.  I rounded the corner at the out-and-back/water station, skipping my cup of water (water is a crutch!) and jogging onward.  I was pleased to see how many runners were still behind me, and also by how good I still felt.  The air began to warm up as the sun broke through clouds, but the temperature stayed within a comfortable range.

Pretty soon, I was rounding the corner to head back downtown.  I kept steady, despite the desire to try to pass my coworker.  I knew I needed those reserves to finish strong, so I kept my speed in check until approaching the final corner onto Langdon Street.  Then, with no one in front of me, and few close behind, I let go.  Lifting my knees high and lengthening my stride, I used my quads to powerhouse down the final stretch.

I glanced at the clock as I tore over the line: 32:07!  Despite the rush of post-race endorphins clouding my memory, I knew this was a significant improvement over the last official time.  I had beaten my PR into the dirt, and still felt great upon finishing – WIN!

After the race was over and places had been awarded, the announcers began calling out bib numbers for their door-prize raffle.  As numbers were called, racers went up to the “swag table” to choose a prize.  Surprisingly, my number was called before too long, and I managed to swipe a pink NorthFace tech tee – left over by the grace of it being an XL (take THAT, tiny runners)!

In all, it was a great race.  I had fun, beat my time, felt good, got a really good prize, and completed my 7th race so far this year.  Yep.  I’ve done SEVEN races this year, and I have one more – a big one – planned for next Sunday: The All Women and One Lucky Guy Half Marathon.

I’m nervous for this race.  Not in the usual Spartan Race: Will-I-Get-Injured nervous way, but in a new/old Can-I-Really-Do-This kind of way.  I’ll be running with my sister, who, despite her assurances that she hasn’t run for distance in a very long time, is very fit and runs quite a bit faster than I do.  My hope is that she is able to stick with me, and that I can keep to my own pace.  I’m worried about my IT band/Runner’s Knee flaring up, but hopeful that enough rest and my CWX will help me keep my stride strong and even (the lack thereof being te major cause of my IT issues).

So, this week will be filled with more CrossFit, perhaps some yoga (“Bullshit Rainbow Unicorn Calisthenics”), and a few runs of various distance.  I’m excited to tackle the longest distance of my healthy odyssey so far, and grateful for the support I’ve had along the way.

Here’s to upcoming race number 8: the Half Marathon!

20120610-231607.jpg

I knew:
-I did it.
-Water is amazing.
-I have a lot to improve.
– I am a beast.
-People are amazing: they run with you (or walk, or even wait, as the case may be), help you over obstacles, and cheer simply for your effort of attempt.
-Most of the initial race is mind-over-matter: that rock face is not as hard to scale as you think.
-Yell while climbing: the fist bump at the top is that much better afterward.
-I will do this again, soon.

Sorry for the late post – Big Things have been happening since Thursday’s race, and this 20-minute ankle icing break (more on this later) is my first free moment in days!

Here we go:

All day Thursday, I was super anxious: I organized two groups to race in the corporate cup, only to have one walker drop out the night before. Never having done the race before, I was worried that the rest of the team (whom I had personally wrangled into participating at all) would not be allowed to race. My running team was fine, but I agonized over the walkers’ fate all day.
When we arrived in Montpelier, my anxiety increased when we found we’d parked MUCH farther than necessary, and I might miss check-in. So, with post-race coolers in hand, we booked it to the statehouse, just making good time. I started to relax as we waited for my crew to assemble, and I finally headed closer to the starting line.
After a little bit, we moved out to the runners’ “ring,” where hundreds (thousands?) of runners piled into the road.

BANG, we started running – in place! There were so many people in front, the group barely made it out before the walkers’ gun went off. Our first five minutes were slow – 15min/mi slow. Thankfully though, the crowd began to thin as we went further, and my coworkers and I were able to pick up speed. We dodged and weaved through the crowd, finding every little clearing possible, just to get ahead.  After about a mile, our first hill came up – and I thanked myself for the hill sprints and training as I sped to the top, no problem. Two of us were left from the team, shaving our avg pace down to a cool 12:45 by about halfway through. I knew my pace was fast at this point, perhaps too fast, as I began to suck air like a beached fish. Lucky for me, I remembered to just focus on pushing all the air out, and getting a complete clean lungful in.  My legs felt great, no aches, no real fatigue!

At some point in here, we were compressed to the right-hand side of the street by Screaming Bike Guy, who was clearing the return race route for the top runners, already hot on his heels (The first place runner for men came in at roughly 16 minutes).

Up another set of little hills (completely beasted into the ground), then round a corner for the most glorious half-cup of water EVER. Apparently, the race organizers decided to nix the second water stop, because it never appeared. Regardless, we kept running, the sun kept beating down, and the speed walkers kept wiggling along beside us.

(by the way, if you’ve never seen a speedwalker scooting along beside you at 5-6mph, it’s quite the sight.  I believe two even beat me to the finish at the end)

The rest of the distance was pretty uneventful, exercise-wise.  I kept up with my surprisingly gazelle-like teammate, zipping up any hills we came across and meeting her a little ways into my recovery at the top.  I knew I couldn’t let her get ahead, simply for the sake of pride: yeah, she’s clearly in amazing shape, but only new to running, and I was supposed to be the speedy one.  So I kept going at what I figured was a rather fast pace.  Left-right-left-right.

We ran through neighborhoods of cheering people, got high-fives from kids standing on the curb, and finally rounded the last hill corner to the sounds of a rustic string quartet (one of whom was my high school chemistry teacher – how’s that for school reunions).  I really started to worry about how much juice I had left at this point.  I knew there’d be a downhill section I could coast down, but I also had an inkling that there’d be a bit of flat straightaway to tackle afterward.  Nevertheless, I powered down the hill, caution causing my teammate to get ahead as she flew (I swear) down the slope in about 3 long strides.  Well, experience was my friend here, as I ended up having enough power to SPRINT the final 50-100m, giving a boost I didn’t think possible after seeing my down-the-hill running buddy yelling for me to go faster right before the finish line.  I coasted through the checkpoint and began to slow down, feeling like I’D DONE IT! and probably overdone it.  I walked toward the water station, heart pounding, stomach heaving – yep, I couldn’t get out of my own head, and paid the consequences (bleagh).

After the utter embarrassment subsided, and I owned up to it to a couple people, it became less embarrassing, and more funny.  Right-of-passage, never-letting-that-happen-again funny.

Final Time: 35minutes 48 seconds – pace: 11:32min/mile – Personal Record completely blown out of the water!

After cooling down, changing my shirt, and grabbing the coolers, Steve and I headed up to hike to the park tower – a big stone structure at the high point of the park behind the Capitol.  When we got to the bottom of the tower, he pulled our BBQ chicken sandwiches, potato salad, and lemon cake.  I managed to eat just one sandwich and save the cake.  Then we climbed to the top of the now-deserted tower, and looked out at the horizon and the nearly-setting sun.  I thought it was a great way to wrap up a race, and our 10-year dating anniversary.  But I had more in store.  Steve set up a tripod and his camera, seeming to intend to take a memorial picture.  I sat there in my race clothes and his sweatshirt, enjoying the moment.

…then he began to get smiley, and fumbled with something in his pocket. A hand-made wood and steel and brass ring.

I started crying, and he proposed.  Down-on-one-knee and everything.  When I said yes, the sun cast the most glorious golden glow over the top of the tower, I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect moment.

…and so ended my first ever 5k.

 

(when said with an Austrian accent, that title is absolutely hilarious.  Go ahead, google it.)

SO!  Yesterday was my big 27th Birthday.  I got up, ran a fast (11ish min) mile in the cemetery, and STILL nearly missed the school bus (I get paid to start and end my workday riding with a student – not so bad).  I figured I’d do more after work to make up the difference.  Fast-forward to the end of the work day – I was planning to go out to dinner with my mother, and I got a text message from my running buddy: “Gonna run 5k after work…5:30ish. Interested?”  And here’s where I had a realization:  Yes, I really do want to go run with a friend, almost more than going to delicious dinner.

I wanted to RUN rather than stuff my face. (insert head’splosion here)

You know you’ve made a life change when running practice is a desirable option after work on your birthday (not gonna lie, the social creature in me really enjoys running with this chatty running buddy, too).  So we worked it out that we’d go running post-dinner.

Realization number 2 came with dessert: decadent chocolate ganache cake.  Last year, I’d scarf that thing twice on a full stomach.  This year…

(Big spoon = BIG chunk of cake left over)

…I didn’t need to finish the whole thing.  Economically, yes, I wanted to not waste food.  But personally, I realized that I didn’t need to eat the whole piece – a few spoonfuls were enough to satisfy this time, because I was already full from dinner.

Later, I warmed up and headed down to the cemetery for my run.  In case you wanted to know, this is what the start looks like in the late afternoon:

Elmwood Cemetery, at the start of the .5 mile loop.

We hopped-to, and went on the old route – the one I haven’t done in nearly a month.  It’s mildly hilly throughout, so when I realized I hadn’t requested a walk yet, well over a mile in, I was rather stunned.  I didn’t NEED to walk!  SAYWHAT?! by the end, I’d probably only walked a minute, and ended up running MOST of the gigantic hill below the cemetery.  It was a proud day all around, and I even finished up with an ice bath (of doom) before going to bed.

***

This morning, I got dragged (willingly) to Bring a Friend to WOD day at The Confluence, our local crossfit gym.  I call it a “gym” only because it’s hard to describe a place where workouts seem like play (sweaty, dirty, exhausting and awesome).  Admittedly, today was MUCH less structured, so the likelihood of crossfit death was significantly reduced.  THAT said, the warm up alone nearly killed me!

Here’s how it went:

-Arrive, stretch, and watch people lugging crazy things through the Fit Park – a nature walk on steroids.
-Circle up for 15 reps of jumping jacks, high-knees, squats, mountain climbers (DIIIEEE), burpees, butterfly situps, pushups, superman…and maybe one or two more things I only remember hazily.
-“Easy” jog around the 400m fitpark trail, over logs and other terrain (warmup: done.  Don’t Die Yet).
-10 burpees as fast as you can, then count off into two groups based on how fast you burpeed (to make 2 comparable teams).

-Now the FUN!  Each team has its huge pile of stuff: 200+lb tire, 100lb tire, lots of 25lb and 40lb sandbags and rocks, a bunch of 40lb logs, some 40lb buckets of dirt, and 40lb pallets x2.  The idea was to move as much of it as possible from point A to point B in 10 minutes, going through/over obstacles: Over huge log, over little logs, under mock barbed-wire bungee cord crawl (not as low as Spartan race wire, or sharp, but still while carrying/pushing/rolling Heavy Things), across balance beam (if person touches ground, 10 burpee penalty), then up the hill and into the new pile.  Run back and do it again.  And again.  Our team of 9 hauled 1025lbs of stuff, the other team (with my Spartan sprinting buddies) chose to move the Big Tire and beat us by a mere 30lbs.

Then, we did it backwards – first team to put everything back AND recite the first 10 presidents in order: wins.  Our team lost, but only just!

As for my performance, I lugged 25lb items at a pretty good pace.  I’m not at the point where I can comfortably take the 40lb stuff from the stronger people in a team race situation, so I opted to have better performance with the littler things.  It was dirty, sweaty, and fantastic.  The people are competitive but excited to be on a team with WHOMEVER (yay)!  I had a blast, and I’m sure the pictures they took of me in progress are ridiculous.  CONCENTRATING FACE: GO.

Wrapped up with a slacklining demo, where they hooked the Largest Ratchet Strap In The World between two points, and helped us walk across, tightrope-style.  Once I got up there, it was oddly relaxing (with spotters holding my hand at first), and I did WAY more than my goal of 1 full step.  I did the length, twice!  Hooray for Fun Things!

We then tried on those crazy-but-comfortable Vibram Five-fingers minimalist shoes, and ran around in the grass/dirt to test them out.  Pretty neat – thanks Onion River Sports and Product Reps!

In all, Crossfit session #1 was a resounding success.  I didn’t fall off the balance beam, so no penalty burpees!  That’ll come with time, as will the ability to lug heavier things.

Woot!

Dear Upper Body Muscles,
Thought I’d give you the heads-up: I may be getting wrangled into a Spartan Sprint in the near future. There will be no more slack-off strength routines or wasted cardio/runs where I come home and merely stretch before crashing. We will practice climbing ropes, walls, etc in preparation. I will squat with added weight, carry Heavy Things, and achieve ultimate badassery. Why? Because it’s time.  Because I made a decision back in February to make this shit happen, and I haven’t failed in the 9 weeks since.  Because it’s time to make the outside match the inside Hero I know I am.

So, Upper Body, you have been warned.

Sincerely,

Stacey.

PS: perks include: better LARP combat skills, cooler clothes, and an increased ability to survive the Zombie Apocalypse.

Sitting in my little apartment tonight made me realize something: it really is little, once you take down the photos, the swooping sheer curtains, and the little things that make it mine. Everything I had on the walls in here is now in a 2’x2′ cardboard box, quietly awaiting the next adventure.
I may be super sad from all the packing up, but I have great things to look forward to: kayaking, hiking, summer night runs, larping, hill run training, races, and finally buying my own car (this fall).
If I’ve made some cosmic trade-off for all that (and more), then so be it. Three months ago, what did I have? My things, artfully arranged in a space, and a lack of pride in my own body. I still have my things, but I have gained so much in return. I have the exercise motivation I’ve yearned for over the years, the friends to join along the way, and results. I run. I jog. I stand taller. I can see myself getting honestly fitter, and I love it. I love the cold, the snow, the early mornings, and the uneven dirt paths rolling past.
I ask myself, “How did this happen?” And I know no answer. I am still new to this motivation, still prodding and testing its limits, so I expect major challenges ahead, and will enjoy every breath of renewed hope until then (and beyond).