Race report: Pinckney Trail Half (and general life update)

After far too long a break from doing any kind of trail race – I think it may actually have been in 2012, though I’d have to check – I finally got one under my belt this Saturday at the Pinckney Trail Weekend. I just did the half, but it went way better than I thought it would, actually – especially since the farthest I’ve run this month, and most of last month, is about 8 miles. But I’ve picked up my pace a bit on those short runs, which I think actually helped.

The weather was pretty much perfect for racing – cool (low 40s) and overcast, no rain, not much wind. I ran into one of my friends from high school cross country who said that she was aiming for around 2 hours, so I decided to run with her even though I expected, realistically, to roll in around 2:20 or something. So we got in the “9 min/mi” pace wave – there were waves, which was different from the last trail races I’d done where there were a couple dozen people – but of course the trail was pretty bottlenecked and congested for the first maybe 2-3 miles so those went by at closer to 11 and 10 min/mi, which I wasn’t thrilled about. But of course it eventually thinned out and I began to figure out a decent pace and pick my way up. Roughly the middle has a couple big hills (for Michigan, anyway), and I focused on actually working the hills, powerhiking up and cruising down. (A couple guys behind me were talking about hills and racing, and one of them said something like, “Yeah, people always get to the top and slow down, like, ‘Whew, that was hard!’ and that’s when you’ve gotta pass ’em and fly down the hill. Classic race mentality,” which kind of made me go Ah yes, this is a race, I should think at least a little about that.) After grinding out the middle hilly miles we hit a really nice fast part, still some hills but very runnable with nice flow. I always love that part on my runs out there, it just flies by. At an aid station around maybe mile 10 one of the guys I know from the running scene in Ann Arbor was working and offered me “Gatorade or beer?” I thought he was joking so I said “BEER!” and was handed a Sam Adams IPA. It actually tasted pretty damn good. The last four miles or so went by pretty quick (with the exception of that one last big hill about a mile and a half out). Also, my calves started cramping around mile 11, but I just kept my stride long and ran it out and it was fine. By then, I was really in the groove of things and I felt like I could go all day (with a pace adjustment, of course!). It was like my muscle memory was kicking in from so long ago. I pushed it the last mile and came through in 2:05:59, which I think was actually one of my fastest times on that loop… which just goes to show how big a role mentality plays in running distances (even just a half), and also that I probably wasn’t working hard enough in the past, because I was in way better shape than I am now  :P  I was 14th woman overall and 3rd in my age group. I suspect I could have broken 2h had I not been stuck for the first three miles. Also, my dad came through at 2:00 flat… had I known he was so close, I would have tried to catch him!

I’d forgotten how much I love being out there for hours, just chipping away at the miles for hours, just getting it done… and the feeling of having a strong, steady pace that pays off the more miles there are. I think only one or two people passed me in the last couple miles (mainly on the hills that I would have run had my calves not been spasming). It’s just the best feeling. Doing this race was so good for me. For the last probably two years, my lack of racing or really running far has been messing with me. I’ve felt incomplete, like I lost a big part of who I am. The race this weekend, even though it was just a half, helped me find that lost part. Before, I was doubting my interest in running long – like I wanted to want to run long, but it just wasn’t there yet. Now that desire is back, without a doubt in my mind. I would have signed up for the 50k the next day had my friends and dad not reminded me that I haven’t been running and that my shin would probably just explode. So there’s one in June I have my eye on. I can’t wait. Waking up too early, having that feeling of “Oh god why did I sign up for this, the bed is soooo comfy,” but getting up and putting on your running clothes and meeting at the start line in the early morning, when the air is cool and dew is on the grass and the sun is just peeking up, then your little group trots off into the woods to emerge five, six hours later, tired and triumphant… then laying on the couch under a giant comfy blanket and falling asleep. So good.

So anyway. I’M BACK! I did a shakeout seven yesterday, and my left calf is still sore/tight where it was cramping during the race, but thankfully my shin feels fine.

Life update time! I’m graduating this weekend, which is kind of terrifying but mostly exciting, I guess. The plan is to take a “year off,” which I put in quotes because it’ll be a year of calc and chem classes to prep for grad school, which I will hopefully be attending next fall (2016) for geology. So now I have to focus on narrowing down my fields of interest and finding a professor to work with (in a town with good trails and a good running community, of course!). But I’m pretty excited about that, and very pleased with my decision to go into geology. The work is interesting and I love the people – they like craft beer possibly more than trail runners and climbers, which is saying something. So that’s good.

Ok, time to go pick up graduation tickets and start packing. Blah.

peace love and long-distance running,
bec

 

March mileage, week 2

36 miles for this week.

Sunday: 8.5 mi, 70 mins
Monday: off
Tuesday: 7.2 mi, 60 mins
Weds: 4.75 mi, 36 mins
Thursday: 6 mi, 54 mins – felt sluggish (and it showed)
Friday: off
Saturday: 9.2 mi, 78 mins.

With the exception of Thursday, I’ve been clocking in the mid- to low-8 minute range, which I like. Wednesday was tempo; I meant to do 5 but my costochondritis was flaring and it felt like a mini heart attack. And today I was supposed to do my long run, 13-14, but I ended up hanging out with friends in the afternoon and being productive instead, then headed home, so my run was under the stars. I’ll do 14 tomorrow; I’m feeling good.

– from today’s run –

There is something so delightfully otherworldly about running under the stars, especially if you start when the last few rays of limp sunlight are trickling over the horizon, pale pinks and reds and dusty purples. The world slowly fades out around you and you become acutely aware of your stride, your footfall, your breathing, the swing of your arms… and then, without your realizing it, that too all fades away and you are left in a twilight haze. Tonight, a strong wind blew from the west, gusting across lake Michigan all the way to our little abode. But it wasn’t the bitter wind of December, January, February that we’ve come to know – it was strong, yes, but it was humid and warm. Spring was blowing in mightily, and it smelled of damp earth and rain and spring storms and light.

That wind blew away the clouds and the whole of the sky was bared above me, sparkling stars and planets unfathomable distances away. Shy at first, but as their numbers grew they grew bolder and brighter and clustered in constellations, the traces I’d learned in the sky as a child here, that children across the globe learn though the names may change – the big dipper, its little companion, orion’s belt – and a few planets shone brighter than all the rest, mars rising red in the west. I paced unworriedly below the universe expanse and saw my life in perspective – terrifyingly insignificant, and consequently, absolutely free. Unlike the sun, if I expire, nothing terrible will come about, though some may grieve. I will not change the course of the stars or the fate of galaxies. I am free to roam about this small rocky orb and do as I please with relatively little consequence, though that is no excuse to wreak havoc on this earth as some apparently believe.

I gazed up to the sky, looking up into a crystal ball of the past, and flew.

Marching into March with meager mileage but good strides

Yeah, word play, etc.

March has been good to Michigan so far, with sun and balmy temps as high as 46 (aka tank top weather!). The last week wasn’t high in mileage, just 26, but I was satisfied with the runs that I went on. The trails have been rather sloppy, so I’ve been running on paved/flat surfaces which is kind of a bummer but (a) allows me to wear the NB1400, which doesn’t seem to bother my arch (either that or it’s the trails’ uneven surface) and (b) get up some speed, which is nicely in line with the weather picking up. I didn’t run long during the week, but yesterday I did a surprisingly good 11 on the dirt roads around here. Averaged about 8:30s for that run, with two mostly downhill miles in the latter half hovering around 7:30s. Then today I did 8.5 back at home on muddy sunny dirt roads, and hit closer to 8:10s.

As it turns out, as I’ve probably said before, pushing and working hard and putting in effort feels good and pays off. I’m going to take Monday as a rest day, probably lift a little and bike, then Tu/W/Th will be 7/5/7, Friday rest, and Sat/Sun will be 13/10. (40 mile week) Hopefully the ever-warmer temps this week will help the trails clear out – I’d love to get my trail pace up too!

Sorry this is a little scattered and unpoetic, I’m very sleepy. Just wanted to get something down.

Six weeks until undergrad is over! Help.

Bec

In which I run on a treadmill and do not want to eject my body out the window in front of it

Last time I posted, I had decided to just focus on consistency and getting a good base again. I am happy to report than over the last two-three weeks, I’ve been running pretty much every other day, though I’ve only done about 8 for my longest. But that is a-okay because things are feeling fine.

My feelings towards treadmills are, I think, pretty universal among trail runners: AW HELL NO. I seem to remember the longest I could run on one before being consumed by misery and drudgery and all those things is about two miles. But sometimes, in the dead cold dark of February in Michigan, although the windchill may be hovering around zero instead of well below it, you just can’t bring yourself to run outside.

I wanted to run seven miles today, and to and from the gym is two, so I just needed to do five. I told myself that if I needed to, I could even split it up – though I knew that wouldn’t really be a quality run and didn’t want to do that. Weirdly enough, I felt guilty for running inside, like I was cheating on running outside even though it was cold, and even though that is totally irrational. I felt weak, like I should be running outside because it wasn’t really that cold… but I just ran and it was fine. I started out with barely any incline and slow, 9:10s or so, for the first mile. Sped up to 8:50s for the second mile and increased the incline. The third mile I went down to 8:35s and played with the incline a lot. Mile 4 was more steady, still on a slight incline and kept about the same pace, I think. Then for the last mile I upped the incline and ended up at 6:30 pace, walked a little afterwards, then did some light upper body lifting (what little my costochrondritis allows – I’ll take some over none!).

What I learned (subtitle: What I’ve read before but not paid attention to): Treadmills, though they may come nowhere close to comparing to running outside, do serve their purposes. They let us run comfortably when the weather would have us do otherwise. And, perhaps more importantly, they let us run uncomfortably in the same case. Running on snowy and icy trails is, as one would imagine, quite a bit slower than your normal pace. You’re still working hard, mainly trying to keep your feet under you, but it’s not the same as being able to push through a tempo run. Treadmills let you really control your pace – negative splits, hello! – and you can make things interesting (and better for trail training) by playing with the incline and pace. All in all, the run actually went by a lot faster than I thought it would and was much less boring than I thought. (I didn’t use music.) I could even see myself doing a longer run there, as long as I kept changing things up.

And now… SPRING BREAK 2015! In which I can do lots of physical activities in one day AND read AND make food without stressing about things too much. Good times.

peace love and making it through winter running,
bec

PS. On the other hand… People are always saying, “How do you run in this cold? That’s CRAZY!” Well, it’s pretty simple. Layer up and cover your face and you’re pretty much good to go. Maybe some yak traks too.

It’s all about the base… mileage

Good morning! Happy monday!

So according to the 50k training plan for June I was following, I was supposed to run 16 miles on Saturday for a total mileage of 40 miles. My mileages the last two weeks of January were 21 and 31, respectively. And before that, basically nothing. Like one run a week. So I wasn’t sure about running 16, although 14 last weekend went pretty well. My concerns were:

– My right arch has been bothering me for a while. I’m pretty sure it’s just the way I strike with that foot puts more pressure on the big toe and I’ve strained that tendon a bit, but whatever it is, it’s annoying and painful to try to run with. I didn’t want to get 8 miles out and have that happen and have to walk back.
– My ribs are inflamed! Hooray! (Based on self-diagnosis and webMD) Since about the beginning of last semester, in September, my sternum/upper ribs have been getting progressively more sore. I stopped lifting for upper body and climbing, but it’s still getting worse. It doesn’t hurt when I run, but then for the rest of the day it hurts when I breathe. So there’s that.
– My right shin has been sore too. Red flags all over the place.
– The main concern was bumping up my mileage too quickly – as always. I have a problem. The book plan assumes you already have several months of solid base mileage training in, which I super duper don’t. Hence the arch and shin pain.

All this is bascially my run-up (ha) to saying that I don’t think I’ll be doing the 50k in June. Or if I do, I won’t be following that plan. Which is a bummer, but a quote from I think Rob Krar in this month’s trail runner really resonated with me: “It’s better to toe the line a little unprepared than not at all.” After a year and a half of not being able to run, really, I’m still just grateful to be able to get out at all. Waiting a few more months – August or September – is worth not getting injured and not being able to run at all. I’d rather only be doing shorter runs up to about 13 than trying to run 24 and failing.

I’m still going to train with a 50k in mind as soon as possible, but I’m going to focus on just building up a good distance base like I had in the past. I’m just not going to fixate on any one race for now. It’s been three years(!) since my Golden Year of Ultras and I like to think that I didn’t peak in 2012 at the ripe old age of 19. Which of course I know isn’t the case. I got really, really bummed when I decided not to do my run on Saturday – I was already two miles out, but something was just off. Nothing hurt, really, but I just felt heavy and tired and burned out. I think I probably just psyched myself out, which didn’t help as I trudged back home, arms folded and head bent, trying not to cry on the trail. I felt like a failure and a quitter and like I was losing who I was – a runner – and that the one thing I knew I wanted out of life, running ultras, just kept slipping away and I didn’t know why. I beat myself up way too much about really what amounted to just one bad day. Hell, not even a bad day – I was just having an off running hour. So I moped for a while at home, but a few hours later, after hanging out with my family I was fine. Running is really, really great, but it’s not everything.

Safe training and a balanced life!
bec

In which it is very snowy

It’s been snowing. A lot. Which makes things kind of pretty and quiet for a while, but now we’re in that grey slush-filled stage where everything is just hard to walk in and the sight of more snow falling doesn’t bring about feelings of, “Yay, winter is here!” It arouses more of an internal groan that just escapes into your throat and everyone hears it and sadly nods.

In other words, February.

But yesterday evening, I had seven miles scheduled, so seven miles I would run, snow or no snow. I started out optimistic and headed for the trail I usually take, thinking that even a little snow on the trail would be better than road running. Boy, was I wrong. I must have clocked a twelve-minute mile or slower. Slogging through almost a foot of partially, unevenly-packed snow was tedious and hard work and not at all worth the effort and energy expenditure. In short, if I kept running – “running” – on trails, it would not be even close to a quality run. So as the sun set pink over the snow-covered river, I headed onto a road I hadn’t run on before. I knew it followed the river, so I figured I’d just turn around at about 3.5 miles’ worth of time.

It turned out to be a pretty run. That road is lined with huge houses, mansions in a variety of architectural styles overlooking the river with the city off to the southeast emitting the faint pinkish-yellow glow of light pollution. With the sun set, that glow was behind me, an anthropogenic sunrise, and the dark western horizon lay in front. As I ran along the mostly deserted, and impeccably plowed, road, I passed traditional houses of stone and brick and gleaming modern, minimalistic ones. There was one standalone little log cabin right by the river’s edge. I wondered how it got there – and how long it would last. I passed a few driveways, gated and lined with lights, that twisted up dark hills, into forests and beyond, leading to a fortress of a house somewhere. I imagined a dystopian future in which the dissatisfied plebeian citydwellers marched on this neighborhood, attempting to storm these glittering strongholds.

I hit my turnaround point and turned back, back towards the city. In my return, I went over and under bridges, ran along the tracks, through a tunnel. I never saw another soul – just one hushed black audi rolling along, shiny somehow even at night. I felt myself pushing the pace a little while I was on semi-dry pavement, and it felt good. The last mile was an uphill slog, though, through the barely-shoveled walks in town. After a nice hot shower, I calculated my splits and my average pace on the road was just under 8:30s, which for seven miles is good for me, if I haven’t been running a whole lot (which I haven’t, still, really). Man, I remember when eight miles would be a tempo run of sub-8s. Sigh. I’ll get back there.

After my run, I did yoga and stretches and foot exercises and abs. So productive. And this morning, I just did an easy five. I was a little stiff from my effort last night, but my pace was mainly impeded by the fresh three inches of snow that had fallen sometime between my run last night and 10:30 a.m. today. And they’re calling for more. It’s snowing right now, and has been since early this afternoon. Sigh.

I’m moving somewhere where this doesn’t happen.

happy yak trakking to you!
bec

IMG_9633
The storm at night…
IMG_9656 IMG_9657
The Diag
IMG_9659
A
nn Arbor isn’t big on plowing residential streets that well…