Friday, November 21, 2014

Kona Chocolate Run "Chocolate Double" - Sunday, November 16th, 2014

A tale of self-sabotage and rejoicing in others' achievements.

As I mentioned last week, this was my first international race, and I had high hopes of a 10k PR - I'd been running pretty well since Belwood and had put in a really speedy last hard push on Tuesday that seemed to indicate I was well on track. We hopped in the car Friday afternoon and jammed down to the Ambassador Bridge, got through the border and hit up PF Chang's for an absolutely amazing dinner, then it was down to our friend Mac's house for the weekend.

Such a neat sight after dark.

This, of course, is where things got away on me a bit. There were shenanigans. I may have put some rather unusual strain on my recently injured calf. While I might not have been drinking (I drink alcohol quite rarely), I also didn't manage to get to bed until just past 4am. In order to get ALL THE THINGS done on Saturday, I was up just after 9am.

That made 2 nights in a row with 5hrs of sleep or less. Sub-optimal.

Right after waking, I kicked my butt out the door into the chilly sunshine for an easy shake-out run. I'd mapped it all out before we left, so I knew I just had to run up Telegraph Road to the gas station and back.

Plodding along at just below the freezing mark

I kept looking up the road, and it seemed like the BP station was an awfully long way off. I was feeling pretty flat, but I seldom run first thing in the morning and was working against a headwind, so I attributed my sense that this was taking much longer than it should to being a stinkin' whiner. I sucked it up, threw in a couple of short pick ups to try to get my legs used to some speed, then made my turn-around and headed back.

Halfway back after another short stride or two, I couldn't ignore my sense this was taking too long anymore. I'd intended to run for about 20mins, and had plotted a route that was around 3.6km / 2.25mi long. Pulling out my phone, I gaped as I discovered I'd already been running for 35mins.


I sent a message to the house to let people know I was ok (as I'd already been gone 5mins longer than the max estimate I'd given) and was sweetly offered a pick up, but there was no place I could shelter from the freezing wind while I waited and I was only a kilometer or so away from being done. Final total: 7.5km in just under 43mins.


Google Maps fails make K something something.

Off to Plymouth to pick up race kit and scope out locations, everything went relatively smoothly for the rest of the day. We did, however, go for about an hour's hike in the woods out back of the house. It was incredibly serene and beautiful, but walking over fallen branches hidden under the leaves wasn't terribly easy on the ankles.

Brothers from different mothers.

One hell of a backyard.

I did manage not to eat anything that would aggravate my laundry list of food allergies (which is always a concern when we travel), while still having a lovely dinner out with a wonderful group of Mac's family and friends. However, sleep once more took a back seat to spending time with people we love - it was after 11pm this time before I racked out, and I had to be up at 4am.

D'oh. Make that 3 nights in a row with 5hrs of sleep or less.

Race morning came - I can't say dawned, as it was still pitch black out when I left Mac's place at 5.25am. I reached the Tim Hortons in Plymouth looking for a pre-race coffee at 5:55am, only to discover they didn't open until 6am. Somewhat less 24 hour than I'd been led to believe.

It's like a Canadian embassy with doughnuts.

I did get my coffee, though, and then headed to the race site. In another first, I'd let Tanker the Wonder Sherpa sleep in while I made my way through the sub-freezing pre-dawn - the 5k didn't start until 9:30am (or so I thought), so Mac & his wife Marci would be driving up later and could bring Tank along with them.

Arriving at the start/finish area in Kellogg Park, I found the two warming tents completely sealed up. Umm, I'd rather been hoping to stash my race gear in one of them - guess not. I also completely failed to spot any sanitary conveniences, so tossed my running shoes on at a park bench then headed across the intersection to the Starbucks.

I stood in line there for a solid 15mins waiting to use the single women's bathroom, pulling off my wool pants and down jacket and pinning my race bib onto my skirt. Yes, the high temperature for the day was only supposed to be 2c/35f, but damn it if I could survive having ice build up on my bare thighs at Horror Hill in 2013 I was pretty sure I could handle a bit of chilly wind for under an hour.

I eventually got to use the facilities (wordlessly expressing my opinion of Starbucks' coffee), stuffed everything except a sweater I'd brought because I wouldn't mind horribly if I ended up losing it into my race bag, then wandered back to my car to ditch it all. I grabbed my phone, the car key and a gel flask full of EFS sport drink and did some dynamic warm-up stretching before heading out for a 15min run to try to get my legs moving.

There was mixed success. I wasn't really feeling it. Nothing specifically bad - my right ankle felt a bit sore from the hike the day before as I did some toe circles, but it was fine while I was running - I just didn't have any zip in my legs.

Back to the start line with 5mins to go, I found a spot to ditch my sweater and headed for the corral, which was already full of runners. I tried to make my way into a group of people so I'd be shielded from the bitter wind, and ended up just ahead of the 50min pacer. Not a bad place to be, as I was kind of hoping I'd be able to keep him within earshot at least.

I didn't like my odds.

The gun went off, and I started to run, but I could tell from the get-go that it just wasn't going to be my day. Again, nothing I could really put my finger on - no GI issues, not feeling overly tired or sluggish, just no punch. I wove my way through the crowds and passed a large number of people, but something was just a little off.

10k start video
I come bopping through around 2:15

The course literally has more corners than any other route I've seen in my entire life. It seemed almost designed to remove any sense of progress, just leaving me confused as to how far I'd come and had left to go. It also meant your speed was constantly varying as you leaned through the turns and accelerated again, plus gave near-infinite possibilities for running further than 10km unless you apexed everything perfectly.

Unable to access my watch (and not really knowing what time we'd started anyway), I had been running a fair while without seeing any distance markers. I was chugging along fairly well and the terrain was pretty flat other than a few short rises, but the pace was starting to tell on me already. I could hear a couple of people talking behind me, one of them saying "we can ease up a bit", and figured it was the 50min pacer. I knew I'd got across the line before him, so if he was on my heels I'd have to stick pretty close in order to make my stretch goal of sub-51mins.

Unfortunately, it wasn't going to work out. I finally spotted the 2 mile marker (was there even a 1 mile mark?) just as the 50min pacer came past me with a few runners in tow. I tried to kick it up to hang with them, tucking in behind to take advantage of any draft I could, but they just floated away as I failed to respond. Less than a third of the way through and already tasting bitter disappointment, I tried to keep focused on my stride and just ride it out as best I could. I attempted a surge to see if I could trick myself into holding a faster pace afterward, but to no avail. I tried a sip of EFS drink from my flask to wet my mouth and see if the carbohydrate content might allow me to push a little more, but it tasted too strong and seemed to have no effect.

By the 3 mile marker I was puffing and blowing pretty hard, but was coming to realise that I was really lacking any ability to push hard. By the halfway point of all my previous 10k races I've been death whistling and ruing having gone out too fast, but I couldn't seem to find my way to true threshold pace - it was like someone had locked the entrance to the pain cave, leaving me banging ineffectually on the door. I've felt the same sensation while recovering from long races; in the days after an ultra I can't manage anything more than easy pace swimming, cycling or running, as my body just rebels against any higher effort, shutting down any attempt to hit a higher gear. I generally take a week per hour of racing to recover fully from a hard push, but I had been feeling really good earlier in the week, so I have trouble believing it was due to running the Horror Hill 6-hour 3 weeks beforehand. No, I'm pretty sure it was just plain old sleep deprivation and too much time on my feet Saturday.


Way to shoot yourself in the foot, K.

The cold air may have been part of the problem, too. While rich in oxygen, it felt very thick as I tried to pull in lungfuls to power my aerobic systems - like slurping down syrup. I did my best to control my breathing with long exhales to keep from gasping, but it didn't seem to help much. The density of air molecules at lower temperatures also requires more energy to push through, but at my glacial running speed I don't think I can pin too much of my lousy performance on CdA.

By the 4 mile mark I was ready to be done, and had to resort to cajoling myself. "It's only 3.5 more kilometers" I scolded; "any asshole can run 3.5km". I continued to be confused by the many turns of the route - I knew I was on the 5k route now (as I was seeing mile markers for the 5k as well), but I'd see runners up ahead moving perpendicular to the way I was running at a cross street and had no clue if they were ahead of or behind me on the course.

I did get a giggle out of the fellow serving up dixie cups of Budweiser from the tailgate of his truck parked in a driveway, but was rather puzzled by the number of spectators who just stood there silently as the hundreds of competitors passed by. I'm used to onlookers cheering for everyone, and while there were some wonderfully encouraging folks there were many more who clearly thought this was the worst parade they'd ever seen. I got some weird looks from other runners as I gave them a "good job" as either I passed them or they passed me, so maybe the whole encouraging strangers thing isn't as common at Michigan races. I thanked the police and volunteers as I ran, too, and got some mixed reactions from them as well. Don't be alarmed, folks - I'm Canadian.

They may just have been put off by the t-rex arms.

Speaking of passing, I hadn't been doing much for awhile, and as I came through the 5 mile mark I was chagrined to see some of the folks I'd got by earlier in the race overtake me again. I could tell my pace was decaying but felt powerless to do anything about it. Best I could manage was damage control - just try to keep it together.

I finally spotted the 6 mile marker as a volunteer yelled that we only had a quarter mile left - just around the right-hand turn then into the finish! I tried to pick it up a bit, having no idea what sort of time I was looking at, but the legs weren't any more responsive than they'd been all morning. I was just happy I hadn't seen the 55min pacer come past.

I made the right at the corner then ran up around the East side of Kellogg Park, overjoyed to see Mac & Marci cheering for me as I headed for the chute. Making the final turn I could see 53-ish minutes on the clock (and thought I heard Tank shouting encouragement), but had zero idea how long it had taken me to get across the start line and even less energy for a finishing kick.

I can stop now? Whee!

Official chip time: 52:40 @ 5:16/km (8:28/mi)

35/319 W35-39 - 148/1,667 Women - 409/2,478 O/A
Official results here

So on the bright side I was around the top 10% in both my age group and gender (top 20% overall), plus I was only 28sec slower than my 10k PR, making it my 2nd fastest attempt at this distance. It does burn that it only would have taken another 3sec per kilometer to improve my best time, though - I'm sure I could have found 30 seconds out there.
Internationally ill advised!

No time to mope, though. I found Tanker (and my sweater, untouched where I'd stashed it - win!), who told me Mac & Marci had gone back to their car parked a couple of blocks away. I suggested we follow, as we had to get a bag from their trunk and could drop it at our own vehicle, which I needed to visit to change out of my wet clothing. We met up with Mac, grabbed the gear, then the 3 of us headed to our car while Marci went to find her aunt, with whom she'd be walking the 5k. After a bit of international inappropriate parking lot nudity, it was back to Kellogg Park in time to see the first wave of the 5k go off at 9am.

Not 9:30. Mmmkay.

Quick pre-race shot.
We found Marci and headed for the corral to line up for the second wave, which would leave 10mins after the first. We were all set to go, walking up after the horn went up behind the press of people ahead, when suddenly we were halted - it seems they were only letting a certain number through, and the rest would have to wait for the 3rd wave.

Right to left: Marci, Mac, some dork and Marci's aunt.

I was dressed a little more warmly for the 5k than I had been for the 10k, but the sun had disappeared again and the wind had picked up, so I was still freezing to death.

Marci is apparently entertained by my hypothermia.

Eventually the horn sounded for the final wave, and off we trotted. Mac has made really impressive strides this year to improve his health and fitness (YOU'RE A ROCKSTAR!), and had done a 5k through an apple orchard at the end of September that he finished in about 42mins. The mission for today was to beat that time, and I promised we'd make it happen!

We ran through the crowds of people filling the streets ahead of us, both rather frustrated that people who obviously had no intention of running refused to move aside to let faster competitors through. Mac had told me that he'd probably "jog slowly for a bit, then walk", but he was keeping up minutes-long intervals of really solid running. We chatted along the way, dropping to a walk for a minute or so here and there, but always passing people ahead. We dropped the 12min/mi pacer near the 1 mile marker, and Mac let me know he wanted to keep him in the rearview as long as possible.

Rolling through quaint downtown Plymouth.

Without really intending to, I think I cut a couple of his walk intervals short. You see, Mac's a tall guy with long legs, and when he walks at a fast pace I can barely keep up. So, as he recovered his breath and started walking more quickly, I'd have to break into a light jog in order not to be left behind. Then he'd see me running and start running himself. By the time we passed the 2 mile marker he told me he didn't even care about his finish time anymore, since he'd run a hundred times more than he ever had before and was doing better than he ever imagined. I knew we were on pace to bag him a huge PR for the day, but there was still some work to do.

Coming in hard!

We took one last walk interval, then ran through some of the final turns as the 3 mile marker hove into view. I told Mac he just had one more right turn then it was into the chute - less than a quarter mile left! He said he'd run what he could, walk a bit more, then try to run it in to the line. No way - I know how powerful finish lines are, and I told him he could make it all the way to the end without walking. He told me he couldn't, but I knew he had it in him!

You're damn right he did!

Official chip time: 36:45 @ 7:21/km (11:50/mi)
5+min PR for Mac!

Chocolate Double total: 1:29:26 - 187/434 O/A

We proceeded through the finish chute to the now-open warming tents, and I was positively beaming with joy - this was some of the most fun I've ever had racing! As we lined up for the post-race "chocolate buffet" I gave Mac a huge hug and told him he'd done an amazing job and that I'm incredibly proud of him. I was delighted to be able to be a part of this race and to see him blow his goals out of the water! Even better, after getting our food we were able to head back out to the edge of the park in time to see Marci and her aunt come in, Marci bagging herself a 3min PR as well!

Marci and Aunt Brenda on course

PR finish!

In the end, my failure to PR the 10k doesn't matter. There will be other races, and if we're going to spend the weekend visiting with friends first, I'm not going to stress about trying to maximize performance. There's always value in just going out and running as hard as you can on the day no matter what the clock ends up saying in the end, and time spent with people I truly love will always be more important than any of my mediocre athletic endeavours.

It's all about him.
I'm just along for the ride!
I just hope we'll get to do it all again sometime!

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