Tuesday, March 29, 2011

River City Marathon Weekend

It was eight years ago, in March of 2003, that I began training for my first ultra, the Tahoe Triple. I remember it because it was a new thing for me to be intensely focused on a race that was seven months away. I also remember it because it was a particularly snowy March, and I spent more than one long run dragging myself up the climb on Old Highway 40 through a blizzard and ever-deepening snow. Fear was a powerful motivator, and I was well aware that success on race day would be heavily determined by my fortitude this many months out. I may have been an ultra rookie, but I was a wise runner. I have been doing my best to tap into the mindset of that same fearful, badass girl during  recent weeks in this similarly snowy March.

I put it to my husband this way: “I’ve put in some good training, so I’ve been okay with being flexible, but it’s almost April. It’s time to get serious.”

In other words, it doesn’t matter how epic the powder is on a given Saturday. Running, not skiing, is now the order of the day. Every weekend.

With this in mind, I added a Sacramento area race to my schedule, the River City Marathon, and called Jamie to see if she wanted to run some hard miles the day before the race. A trip down the hill and out of the snow was in order for some speed, quality and distance.

I had a thankfully uneventful, if slow, drive through the last storm of our own March Madness and arrived in Folsom early on Saturday afternoon. Snow in the mountains means rain in the valleys, and I was prepared to get wet. Good thing!

I wanted to run some speedwork in order to “take the edge off” before Sunday’s marathon. My plan was to race on tired legs in order to keep me from taking it too seriously and pressuring myself to run fast. It would cap off a solid week of quality training with a little “distance speed.” Frankly, Saturday’s speed workout had me more nervous than Sunday’s road marathon, so I’d say my mindset was in the right place.

Jamie and I took off into a light rain for a 30 minute warm-up along the American River. We followed that with 5 X 10-minute pickups. It felt good to quicken the pace, and especially to be running it with a partner. I normally tackle all of my speedwork solo.

At the end of the last pickup I felt tired, but it was that good kind of tired. I could tell I hadn’t killed myself, but I had gotten a good workout, and now I looked forward to a nice warm-down at conversation pace. Apparently, I’m new to Jamie’s definition of a warm-down.

First, the rain started picking up. I hadn’t really noticed it while we were running hard, but now I realized it had swelled to a torrential downpour. Then the wind joined it. We ran across an exposed stretch of trail along Folsom Lake, and the wind blew sideways so hard that it kept pushing me into Jamie, causing me to run her off the trail. All the while, she regaled me with stories that kept me in stitches, seemingly unaware of the furious wind and stinging rain.

Then she looked at her watch and uttered the dreaded phrase, “Uh oh. We’re going to be late for the sitter.”

“Maybe your sitter has no life,” I reasoned with a shrug, but she was already several paces ahead of me and picking up speed. Apparently it’s a bad thing to alienate your favorite babysitter.

After that, it was time to take a short-cut. She tore up and down suburban streets like she had a score to settle. I hadn’t realized it was possible, but the wind howled even stronger and now hit us directly in the face. I was certain the rain pelting my skin must be hail, but it turns out that I’m a bit of a drama queen when it comes to rain. Jamie just sprinted on.

“You’re killing me, Jamie!” My words were carried off by the gale.

“What?” She yelled over her shoulder.

“YOU’RE KILLING ME!” I screeched as I tried to keep up. But she could hear the laughter in my voice and just smiled. I would have just slowed down, but  A) I had no idea where I was or how to get home,  B) I was totally drafting off her, and  C) I was a little concerned about possibly getting swept up in a tornado.

We finally arrived back at her house soaked, exhausted, happy, and only slightly late for the sitter.

The following morning found me again on the bike trail along the American River, this time headed from Folsom toward Sacramento. The original course for River City was one-way and finished at Discovery Park. At this point however, Discovery Park was under water. Rumor had it that the bathrooms were completely below the water line. The River City had become just that.

The new course had us simply turning around at 13.1 and returning to the starting line at Negro Bar State Park. This was fine by me as it put me closer to home at the end of the race, and I was feeling pretty relaxed about the day anyway. The rain had stopped the previous evening, (about 30 seconds after Jamie and I finished our run, I believe) but the sky was still overcast. It was cool with no wind. In short: perfect running weather.

My guess had been that I would run in the 3:40-3:50 range, depending on how much I could feel the previous day’s workout. I had left my Garmin in the car on accident, but was content enough with just my wristwatch. There were no mile markers so my pace was pretty up in the air, but I felt relaxed through the first half. 

Nearing mile 13, I counted the women headed the other way to find that I was in 7th place. Not bad. I was even more surprised to see that I hit the turn-around in 1:45 exactly. I felt comfortable enough that an even split sounded reasonable, and that would put me in at 3:30. I raised my eyebrows in surprised approval. That sounded much faster than I had been expecting.

Silly me, though—I also forgot about my competitive nature. Somewhere around mile 18 it kicked in, and I decided it was time to make things fun.

I still felt relaxed and saw no reason not to see how much I could push things. How many women could I pass? I got gradually faster and faster, heart rate picking up, breathing louder, grinning madly, wanting that race to be just a little bit longer so I could pass just one more woman. I moved into third place about 100 yards before the finish line. I felt a little bad passing that last woman so close to the end, especially since this was really just a training run in my mind. But, you know, it was still a race. Right?

The most amusing part about my whole day was that I finished in 3:27. Just one minute faster and it would have been a PR. Apparently I’m in better shape than I thought.

It feels like I’m in that fun phase of my training at the moment. You know, when you’re always hungry and could pretty much eat a house, when times keep getting faster and you feel stronger every day. Instead of feeling exhausted and run down, you’re feeding off the hard workouts. They’re fueling you.

I took yesterday off but ran trails in Reno with renewed vigor this afternoon. The dirt was dry, awash in sunshine, and I hit my fastest times of the season on my hill repeat workout.

I know in a few more weeks the mileage and intensity will catch up with me. I'll probably be crawling through my workouts, feeling sleep-deprived and exhausted, and I'll look back on these days and think, Ah, it was good while it lasted!

Yup. It sure is.

Thanks to Robert and Linda, as always, and their fleet of awesome volunteers for a beautiful race on Sunday. (Complete Results) And thanks to Jamie for foregoing a 300K bike ride to run with me on Saturday!


My friend Matt is a musician and he just released his latest single, Faster. I'm going to go ahead with the cliche phrase and honestly tell you that I prefer his older stuff. But I'm liking the title of this particular song, if you know what I'm saying, not to mention the way he hitches his leg up when he sings it. And since this version is live, and it's just Matt and his guitar ... well, it just sounds a lot more like Matt to me than the studio version.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Living and Training in Snow Country Part II

In spite of the official change of seasons, it is most definitely still winter up here in the Sierra. Although we spend plenty of time and energy on snow removal, there's something absolutely wonderful about being snowed in. The freeway is closed because of avalanche danger, so I can't get to work. The resort is closed because of avalanche danger, so Andrew doesn't have to go in to work. It's a stolen day off together with no serious responsibilities, and the world is white and clean and new.

The view out my kitchen window
Locals are comparing the snow totals to the el-nino year of 82-83, which is a legendary winter in these parts. This kind of snow pack means good things for the drought conditions, but I worry what it will mean for spring flooding in the valleys. 

A number of people have asked me for pictures of the snow, so that's the primary purpose of this post. All of these photos were taken of houses in my neighborhood. Enjoy my winter wonderland!

With Natalie and the dogs, digging out her parking space.

This is the front walkway to my friend Jenelle's house.

You'd better know where you're going around here. This is about the last street sign that isn't buried.

I swear my friend Susie's house is in this picture. It's under that big pile of snow.

Our neighbors across the street have a beautiful house. Right now though, it pretty much looks like everyone else's: white.

This is our house as seen from the neighbor's driveway.

This is the front entrance to our new mud-room. This is on the second story, by the way. That snow piled up on the side extends another 10 feet below this picture.

Believe it or not, I'm still getting in some good running. I'll be bailing on the snow this weekend though, assuming the interstate reopens. Sometimes training in snow country means getting out of it.       

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Way Too Cool 50K 2011

The Way Too Cool 50K found its way onto my 2011 racing calendar for two primary reasons: 

1.) Motivation. This race has a large field of very talented runners. Ideally, one could show up with her A-game. In my case, I could at least try not to make a fool of myself.

2.) Get the season started early. I guess this is just restating reason number one. Nothing kicks my training into high gear like the excitement of a race, and sometimes I need to be yanked out of that winter slumber.

If you think of those as my goals, you could say last Saturday was a very successful day for me.

Driving down to Cool on race morning, I felt all the wrong things for race day. I was apprehensive, unsure of my fitness, and unsure of what I was even doing there. I had a million other things on my mind besides the race and I spent the whole drive trying to remind myself that this was supposed to be fun. I arrived at the start still unconvinced. If you’ve ever seen me on race morning, you may realize that this is not like me at all.

It didn’t feel like a very auspicious day for a race, but soon enough I was greeted by good friends who had plenty of hugs. I realized it was sunny out and it would be warm enough to run in a tank top. I also realized that a good portion of the new course was almost exactly the same as one of my favorite training runs. I love to run here! By the time I lined up, there was nothing but running on my mind. Finally: my happy place!

My original goal had been to aim for a sub-5 hour finish. Even though I wasn’t feeling immensely confident, I decided to stick with that goal. I just couldn’t come up with any other time that would satisfy me. I figured there was no point in trying to fool myself about that. 5:20, while still a 50K PR, would feel like a disappointment. That first number needed to be a four.

I looked for Jamie everywhere on the starting line, but sadly had to start without her.  The pace felt quick, but good. When we hit the single track, I could tell I had fallen in with a line of runners going exactly the pace I wanted. Sweet!

Oh, there she is! Jamie Frink makes her way through the starting crowd.

Early miles on Olmstead

At the first creek crossing there was an amusing number of people lining up to cross on rocks in order to keep their feet dry. I splashed right by them with a few others, knowing there would be plenty more where that came from. Wet feet are hardly a concern on such a short race.

I enjoyed conversations with new people all day, and never really felt uncomfortable with my pace until I ran out of water two miles before ALT.

It was my own fault since I had left the previous aid station without a full bottle. I actually managed to giggle at my own stupidity. Ah, such a rookie move. I was forced to back off a little as I felt my calves begin to cramp. I’d been pacing off Clare Abram nearly all day, and now I watched as she took off ahead of me. As usual. (One day I will keep up with that woman, I’m determined!)

We were a good little pace group for a while, but both Amy (in front of me) and Clare (behind) finished well ahead of me.

The day and trail were both beautiful, and I actually enjoyed the struggle of trying to maintain my pace. I could tell I was pushing the limits of my training, but I also realized that I might actually break five hours. I popped some electrolyte caps at each of the next few aid stations in order to stave the cramping and started keeping a close eye on the watch.

As I blew through the last aid station, I thought about Steve Itano. We’d been running together earlier in the race, and he told me how every year he tells himself that he’s going to run up this last hill to the finish, but every time when he finally gets there he just can’t do it. This year, he said, he was going to do it! So, I promised him that I would do it too. Easy to say at mile seven I guess, but I meant it sincerely.

Now I had that motivation, plus the knowledge that I was cutting it a bit close to go under five. I will admit, I really wanted to walk on that hill. But what I wanted even more was to find Steve at the end of the race and tell him how much he had helped my finish. I never did find him after the race, but I guess it doesn’t really matter. He motivated me just the same. I felt strong after running up that hill, and happily finished in 4:56.

Realistically, I can’t say that things could have gone much better in this race. I met my goal, I had a beautiful day outside among friends, and I left feeling motivated to train harder.

Huge thanks go out to Julie and all the volunteers for such a well done event. Everything was top notch, and I am definitely a big fan of the new course. Thanks also to Jack and Steve for all the pictures on a day when I left my camera at home, and to Jamie for the pre-race hugs. I love runners!

RD Julie Fingar and 6th place woman Jenny Capel

Jamie and I smile over big 50K PRs!