Friday, March 23, 2012

To Race or not to Race? Part Two: "What the Heck?"

            As we pulled up to the race course the question was asked, “Are you going to race today?” I said that I would at least try. Everyone was telling me to be careful and make sure to stop if I felt any bad pain. I assured everyone that I would.
            Fifty minutes before the start of the race I began my warm up. Again, my Achilles felt fine. No pain. I was unstoppable…until thirteen minutes transpired. Then I began to feel that dull aching, almost pulling feeling in my left Achilles. I decided to do as normal a warm up as I could. After running nearly pain free for two miles I did some leg swings. I decided to forgo some of my drills to lessen the impact on my leg. Then I was off for a 3 minute tempo segment. My body was not feeling sharp. My legs felt heavy, my body was tired, and that darn Achilles was getting my attention.
           I continued to do the best warm up that I could without bothering my Achilles too much. I did a couple light strides and figured that was good enough. 9:57 a.m. and I was on the starting line. I ran the course during my warm up so knew what to expect as far as terrain and such. The start went down a steep downhill section, then you did a 90 degree turn and shortly after an 180 degree turn which got you through roughly a half mile.  From there through 4k it was relatively flat along the sea wall except for one tiny hill right before the 3k mark. With 1k to go the course wound its way back up to the finish. It started getting steep at 800m to go and there was one steep section about 400m to the finish. Once you crested that it was flat for the 100-150m kick to the finish.
             The race was designed for a fast start and not just due to the downhill portion. The leader at the mile would receive a $100 bonus. Believe me it crossed my mind to just try to go for the mile and then jog it in if my Achilles was bad. But with the sharp turns and steep downhill at the start I did not think it would be wise to test my Achilles. I was lacking confidence and wanted to play it safe, though most of you I am sure would not think racing on an injury is “playing it safe,” and I would have to agree with you…most of the time.
            As soon as the gun went off everyone dashed off and I was left trailing behind the leaders. After the downhill and sharp turns I started to get into a rhythm. The lead men were clearly racing for the mile and I watched as two specks from John Ricardi and Mike Sayenko raced through the mile in a blistering 4:24 pace! The lead women were also moving at a good pace. When I got onto the flat terrain I was tempted to make a charge and catch the lead women as they were about 40m in front of me. I decided to have some self control and stay back. Even still, I came through the mile in roughly 5:17. After the mile I figured I was in 4th place. I could see one “woman” moving up through the field and take the lead.
            I slowly worked my way up through the field and by the 3k mark I took the "lead." My teammate Jane right behind. I kept my eyes on the “woman” ahead of me and pushed myself to reel her in. As I got closer I couldn’t help but think she looked super fit and pretty ripped. Then I noticed “she” had hairy legs…at this point I realized I was chasing a man but in a race your mind will convince you of crazy things. As I passed my lead woman I glanced over and “she” had a beard. There really was no reason for me to even think this person was a female. He was wearing a running top and split shorts, very typical of a male runner. He had a slim build so maybe in my mind I just assumed it was a woman. But either way he definitely helped me keep my eyes forward and continue to move up.
            With 1k to go, we started to climb. At this point I was very determined to win. I didn't feel any pain in my Achilles and my body felt pretty good. At 800m to go, Jane passed me and I had a choice to make, give in to the pain and settle for second or give it my all and possibly still end up second but have no regrets. Of course I chose option two. I stayed right behind her and was waiting until just under 400m to go to make my move. At that point I retook the lead and charged up the last steep climb. My arms were burning! As I crested the top and saw the finish I kicked even harder and heard the announcer announce me as the first woman across the line.
            My younger brother John, who also coaches me, heard the announcement and turned to his head to see who it was. His response was, "What the heck?" Apparently he wasn't expecting me to win. Quite frankly, neither was I but during the race I never doubted my abilities and I think this helped me stay positive and not "die" during the race. As soon as I crossed the finish line however, I could feel my tight Achilles. It is really amazing what your mind can do to block out certain pain during a race. I went for a short cool down just to flush some of the acid out of my legs. Then it was off to the awards and post race party. We were treated to delicious scones, warm stew, homemade bread and other goodies. Oh yes, and there was beer. Lots of beer for people to enjoy. I personally do not drink but it looked like everyone was enjoying themselves. 
            The award ceremony was very fun. I came home with lots of goodies and made some new friends in the process. What a great experience. We spent the afternoon strolling along the beach and I had my first Gyro ever and it was delicious. On the way home I iced my Achilles and was glad I had taken a risk and ran the race. After three weeks of having to cross train and not really being able to run it gave me some hope that I still had some residual fitness from before and I was able to maintain some of it by cross training.
            In sum, I had a great time, met some amazing people, got a little confidence back, and made a little money (which is always an added bonus). In the end I had no regrets about my decision and was fortunate that it did not end negatively with me coming back discouraged and hurting even more. And with that I will continue to cross train with more determination than ever because I cannot wait for the day when I can feel the wind against my face as I run and feel unstoppable. That day is coming soon my friends. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

To Race or Not to Race? That is the Question.

            It’s been awhile since my last blog. The main reason? I have had an annoying Achilles injury and quite frankly did not want to write something negative, because in the mind of an athlete (or mine at least) at the first sign of an injury we may be in denial. At the USATF Indoor National Championships I knew the feeling in my Achilles was not good but I figured a few days of cross training and I would be fine. Then a few more passed. Then I tried to run and after 15 minutes each time I tried I was left discouraged with a tightening pain in my lower left Achilles/calf.
            Twenty-two days later and I found myself driving with my brother and friend Jane to Vancouver Canada where we were invited to race in the Saint Patrick’s Day 5k. Twenty-three days before this, I was eager for the opportunity to travel to a city I had never been to and race as an elite athlete. But what a difference a day, or twenty-two, makes.
            An hour before we left I wasn’t sure if I was going to make the trip but after some consideration I decided to go and enjoy the city and cheer my friends on. The morning we left I ran on my treadmill and made it one mile before feeling that same feeling in my lower leg. After arriving in Vancouver it was time for a shake out run. It was a beautiful sunny day and our hotel was right next to the sea wall so I decided to go for a little jog. The first mile I felt like a miracle had happened. There was not any pain in my Achilles! But I was very familiar with the game this little tendon liked to play and sure enough, right about 18 minutes in, the pain started to creep in. I jogged a few minutes easily back to the hotel and waited my roommates to return from their run.
            After the run it was time for an ice bath. At least that’s what my friend Jane, thought. I reluctantly followed the two into the ocean. It was a beautiful evening with the sun setting over the water, gentle waves hitting the beach, and ships out at sea, but the experience was anything but serene! I was freezing! My poor toes felt like they were going to break. After 10 minutes of pain I was glad to be out and later that night my legs seemed to thank me for the TLC.
            After showering off we met the B.C. Brooks Guru, Christy, in the lobby of our hotel and went out to dinner. It was delicious and she was an amazing hostess! All the good feelings of dinner and how wonderful everyone involved with the race were treating us I was feeling a little compelled to go out there in the morning and race. I felt it was the least I could do for such generosity! Deep down I told myself I was racing. But to everyone else, I said I was still up in the air because that was the reality of the situation; I just couldn’t admit it to myself.
            The night before the race I did not sleep. It was not a factor of nerves but merely being uncomfortable. I got hot, and then one of my roommates (who was getting over a cold) had some coughing fits in the night. At 2:45 a.m. I decided to move to the floor. Not the brightest idea but I told myself “control the controllables,” so I moved away from the source of some of my discomfort. But trying to sleep on a hard floor without blankets is not ideal either. At 5:45 a.m. I got up and moved back into the bed. At this point I was saying to myself, “There is no way I am going to be able to race in the morning! It would be foolish. Maybe it was just not in the cards.” But then the optimistic side of me would pipe up and say, “I have never been up 24 hours straight before a race, but there’s a first for everything. I didn’t sleep much before my first marathon and I did all right there. This is just a 5k….” and other bits of brainwashing. 
            6:30 a.m. and the first alarm for Jane went off. No way I was getting up just yet. Between 6:45 and 7:00 a.m. the next alarm for John went off. I was supposed to get up and go eat breakfast with the pair but told them I was going to stay in bed. I wanted to lie there as long as possible. 7:20 a.m. and I figured I better get myself out of bed and eat something if I was going to race at 10 a.m. Not sure of what to eat at this point I grabbed two PowerBars, the Strawberry Crunch Harvest Bar and the Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Harvest Bar (one of my favorites), and a couple of PowerBar Energy Blasts. I looked at the calorie content and figured that should be enough for a 5k.
            Feeling very sluggish and sick (most likely from the lack of sleep) I headed down to the lobby to meet Christy who was our ride to the race. I was sporting my Brooks uniform, had my number attached, flats in my bag, I was all set to race. One problem though, no one knew (not even myself) if I was going to be able to race.