Mind over matter...Never give up

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Quintiles Wrightsville Beach Half Marathon, March 20, 2011

Course and elevation from my Garmin

Are we done yet?

How about now?

Finish line

Owen on the USS North Carolina in Wilmington

I am sitting on the balcony on our last day here in Wrightsville Beach writing this, trying to ignore the fact that in a few hours we need to pack up to head home. I love home of course, but just not looking forward to work again tomorrow. So lets just ignore that for now and focus on the hazelnut coffee, sunrise, and blog. :-)

Speaking of coffee, by the way, I think from here forward I will never travel somewhere by car for a vacation and not bring my own coffee, coffee maker and milk. It's made this trip much nicer! But back to the race report. I was traveling a bit for work right up until this race so I didn't have much time to pack or plan except whatever planning I did months ago when I registered for the race and reserved a room. So the day I was leaving was when I was trying to finish up some important work stuff while packing and figuring out how to get to the hotel. I managed to get all that done by 1:30 or so, an hour later than I had hoped to pick Grace up at daycare, but we were still able to get on the road early enough. Grace was very excited to go on the trip with mommy. Owen and Keith would meet us Saturday after Owen's soccer game. So it was girls day/night at the beach on Friday. Yay!

After a quick stop at McDonald's (yup, lunch of champions!) we headed down. Traffic was really no problem and Grace entertained herself by drawing pictures on my ipad. She is quite the little artist. It's really amazing how much detail she can remember of a particular Disney or Nick Jr show character and then get that all into her drawings. I was focused on trying to figure out my cruise control which I had never used until now, almost 9 months after getting this car, and listening to tunes on the iphone. Grace sang along with the only ones she knows, which happen to be the ones that Owen encouraged me to download (Justin Bieber of course and then a few from track out). Except for one wrong turn near the end of the trip, we got there without any issues by 4:30pm.

We checked in and headed right for the expo so we could get that out of the way. Let me just say that after going to expos at the Marine Corp, NYC and Boston Marathons, it was quite different. I had actually been to one other expo besides these 3, for the Myrtle Beach half marathon, even though the race itself ended up being cancelled for snow in 2010. I had thought that was a small one, but this one was I'd say 1/10th the size of MB. Still it was a nice, but I didn't really need any running stuff so Grace just grabbed any free candy from whichever tables she could, using her cuteness factor. I got my bib number, chip and t-shirt (a nice bright red short sleeve one...first note to all race directors of which none are probably reading this...if you are doing a short sleeve cotton shirt, just don't bother and do something else, anything else, instead). After that we took a quick peek at the beach and pool at the Shell Island Resort and then headed back to our hotel, the Holiday Inn. Originally I had booked a room at Shell Island because it was cheap and it was the host hotel. But then I asked for advice on the place and afte considering it further, I decided to go with the Holiday Inn since I'd been here before.

Grace of course wanted to go to the indoor pool first, so we did that and then we showered and headed out for dinner. We asked the front desk staff where to go and they recommended Bridge Tender, which is just across the drawbridge on the mainland, but has a nice view of the intracoastal waterway (ICW). So off we went since on island choices are limited and we had already been to Oceanic, which is nice and scenic but the food was just ok. Bridge Tender was just the perfect spot. Good food and wine for me, great kids menu for Grace. She was so excited about the popcorn shrimp that when the waiter brought over her milk she said "Hey, where's my shrimp!" Not so polite but it was pretty funny! They also had a fish tank filled with fish just like Nemo, Marlin and Dori, so Grace was quite happy. It was a late dinner so once we got back to the room we watched some tv and went to bed.

On Saturday we spent time relaxing a bit in the room and then collecting shells on the beach. Grace swore she did not want to go down to the beach, she was busy playing and coloring. But once she was there she had a great time, running into the cold water and collecting broken shells. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder for sure because she was not interested in the whole ones, only the big broken ones. We decided after the beach to do a bit of shopping, after having lunch on the patio at the hotel. We got some shark tooth necklaces and a few other things and then headed back so we could be around when Keith and Owen arrived. Once they got there, we all went to the indoor pool of course because that's all kids ever want to do is go to the pool!

We weren't too creative for dinner and headed over to Bridge Tender again. It was the night before the race and so pasta is usually in order, but I ended up getting the grouper and crab meat special and just hoped that there would be no tummy issues. I also couldn't pass up the decent by the glass wine selection so had some of that too. For me, at least, I don't think that has had any negative impact for races, as long as it's limited. We came back to the room and I got everything laid out for the race, which was to start VERY early at 6:38 (yep, 6:38, not 6:30) AM. There was an attempt to watch Tron on the pay per view, but we were all falling asleep so we turned it off and got to bed pretty early. I always wake up in the middle of the night, so that night was no exception. When I did wake up, I was surprisingly able to get back to sleep pretty easily which is sometimes difficult for me, particularly before a race. All was going well until about 3am when I had a dream that seemed quite real. I looked at the clock and it said 7:12 AM. I freaked out (in the dream) and still tried to make it to the race with of course everything going wrong and no one else seeming to listen or care that I was trying to get there. Your typical bad dream scenario. I woke up and was so thankful that it was a dream but then did have a bit of trouble sleeping after that, fearing that my iphone alarm would fail me.

Of course I got up on time, and fumbled my way through getting coffee (my new ritual, usually I skip it pre run and race but I tried it prior to my last race and it seemed to help), breakfast and getting dressed. This included re-pinning my bib several times as well as getting my laces though my timing chip just right. It was a flimsy disposable one, so the plus is you don't have to return it but the minus, it looked more likely to break off. I have never lost a chip or had one not work but if I did I think I'd be pretty upset so I ensured this one was on as tight as possible. Then I headed down to meet John and Laura so we could jog over to the start.

I usually don't do the warm-up runs that most really good runners do, possibly because I am not in that category, but also because I am either lazy or really just focused on conserving my energy. But since I wasn't sure what parking would be like, or traffic, and since it was less than 2 miles (turned out to be probably closer to 1 mile or so) I decided to run over with them. Plus I guessed they had looked at the course and actually knew where the start was, which I did not. So it was a chilly but good run over. Traffic was non existent so we could have driven over but really running was the way to go. I was now warmed up and of course immediately got in the porta a potty line and then got in line again, which is really the trick for me...just keep getting on line because you have to wait around anyway and by the time you have to go again, it's too late and the line is too long. So after two times there, I dropped my bag with some warm (but not warm enough I later discovered) clothes and headed to the start.

I dropped my stuff off just as the Star Spangled Banner was playing, at 6:30 on the dot. This race was punctual! I actually had to ask which direction was the start because people were everywhere and I didn't see any big blow up arch that is typical in races. Turns out it was around a corner and pretty far from where I was. I used to feel it was pushy to move up front if I wasn't already up there early enough. Now, I don't feel that way. I politely excuse myself up to the starting line. I usually don't get right on the line but one row behind. I figure that the winners are usually up there and one second won't kill me but more than that might. I am sure some runners see me pushing past and are like, uh, where does she think she's going? She doesn't look so speedy. But hey, I figure if I have a shot at placing in masters overall or age group, I should be up there because they often use gun time for awards. So I got right up there and John, Laura and their friend Brian were already up there. It also pays to be up front because then your blurry face can be seen for 1 second on the local news clip on their website! My one second of fame.

Good thing I weaved my way up to the front quickly because unlike some other local races I've been to that haven't started on time, this one actually started early. My watch said 6:35 on the dot when the horn went off. It was still dark and a bit cold, but really perfect for the race. As we started to run, I tried to prevent myself from going all out, which is hard when you are up in front. I had to try hard to slow down and just let go of the thoughts I had while people passed me. Of course many of these were people who are fast but were laid back and didn't care if they moved up to the start. I am not sure who these people are, as I don't believe I know any of them! And others of these were people who go out crazy fast the first mile and then burn out by mile 3 or 4. Often guys with gym shorts, ipods and tennis shoes. So I focused on my average mile pace, knowing I needed to keep it below 7:15 but should really be above 7 or 7:05 in order to not run out of steam. I was determined to run this race at a more even pace. It was flat enough so it should be possible. As I ran the first mile and tried to settle into a good pace, the sun wasn't even up. Even through the second mile, it was still dark. It felt really good to be out so early before most people were even out of bed. It was also perfect weather. A bit brisk but not uncomfortable. As we headed down Lumina Ave into Wrightsville Beach, there were a few people out cheering us, and a woman with a little baby who was clearly up anyway, was out there ringing a cow bell and shouting, whooo, go runners, let's wake up the neighborhood! I thought that was pretty funny. It was really a great start to the race.

Not having looked at the course that closely since I knew I'd likely have people to follow, I wasn't quite always sure where we were, but I think that the first few miles were on Harbor Island and on Wrightsville Beach proper. Then we ran back over the bridge onto Harbor Island again and then over the drawbridge where I noticed a pretty strong cross wind. Still it felt good to be out there. We headed now onto the mainland making our way towards the Landfall neighborhood where the latter part of the race is run. I felt good for the first 3 miles, and as I have noticed in other races between 10 and 13 miles long, mile 4 was where I started to feel the first signs of being mentally tired, struggling to maintain the pace. In particular in this and a few other races, where the front of the pack (ie: the first 100 or so runners in this case) were by now a bit spread out. So if you were in that group, you were starting to now run single file. From my experience, it's much harder to judge pace once you reach that point. So as opposed to the first few miles where I had to try to slow down to be above 7 minute miles, at mile 4 I had to speed up to keep under 7:15.

I am at a disadvantage as I write this post now because I sent my dirty running clothes, along with my Garmin, back home with Keith who left on Sunday afternoon. So I'll have to go back and update this once I have my Garmin in hand. Beyond mile 5 I felt better, as I usually do. I believe that around the 6 mile mark or so is when the race enters the Landfall neighborhood. It was a nice change from the open road. The sun was now up and it was a beautiful day. So far the only negative was the Heed at the water stops (yuck! and orange flavor, even worse) but I was aware of that so I was prepared for it. At least they had paper cups...for anyone involved in the beverage container selection for races who may be reading this (I am guessing no one, but putting it out there), there is nothing worse than providing plastic cups at a water stop! They crack and then you either spill the water or gatorade (or worse yet, Heed) on yourself or on the ground, or you try to drink without squeezing them and then get it up your nose. Not a pretty sight. Of course, one 5K race I ran a few years ago had the ultimate worst, plastic DIXIE cups. Essentially a thimble full of water, not at all useful. But back to this race...

The rest of the course essentially goes through the Landfall neighborhood and then brings you back out along the main roads in the area again. I recall going through Landfall around mile 8 and being passed by a few men, but was listening to the breathing to see if any women were approaching. I was thankful that one guy just sounded like a girl when he breathed. I sensed there was probably a woman back there gaining on me but really what could I do but just maintain my pace since that was a challenge at this point. I dropped to a 7:30 pace around that point so quickly sped up to bring it back to under 7:15. I did see a woman in front of me and thought I could probably pass her just by keeping my pace between 7:05 and 7:15. Around mile 9, a woman did pass me but she was going much faster so I knew it would be a bad move to try to catch her. I did, shortly after that, pass the other woman. So all in all I maintained my place in the race as far as females go through the entire race.

Mile 10 is around when you exit the Landfall neighborhood I believe and turn back out onto the main roads. I felt tired but pretty good. Mile 11 is usually where I have difficulty. Since I wasn't really hurting anywhere and didn't feel bad, I figured this would be mostly mental fatigue during this race at mile 11. Well that plus the wind, which I know everyone mentioned but honestly I didn't feel it as much as the feeling of just wanting to maintain pace and get this over with. I tried instead to focus on the run and the fact that it was really a nice day to be out there and I may not get to run again for a few days. That helped a little. And the cheering from the crowds back out on the main roads was also a good distraction. At that point though I was just looking for the turn off to the finish line. I got through mile 11 and kept my pace and then just tried to focus on the last 1.1. It was a struggle to keep below 7:15, and I creeped up to 7:20's and then back down to 7:17 or so. Once we got to the traffic light which I thought we were making a right at, back into the Landfall neighborhood, I realized that the half marathoners were actually going left instead, into a shopping center.

At this point there was about 0.6 to go, so I just tried to "keep the wheels" on, even though I was really feeling done by now. The rest of the course twists and turns around so that you really don't see the finish until you are nearly there, which again for me is usually a good thing. Once I saw the 13 mile marker and managed to keep that last mile below my 7:15 goal. Then I came upon the final corner and I sprinted to the finish. For the first time, I was able to see my total time on the big clock. I had my Garmin on average mile pace so the overall time isn't on that screen. It was 1:34 and change, which meant I'd get my PR and my goal of sub 1:35. I kind of knew that I'd make it by about mile 10 or 11, barring any injuries, because all miles were sub 7:15 which was what I needed to achieve sub 1:35. But still it was good to see on the big clock. I crossed the finish feeling quite nauseous from the sprint, but didn't actually toss any cookies (or whatever I ate for breakfast) thankfully. My final time was 1:34:22 chip time, 1:34:25 gun time.

I had seen John around mile 12 so he came in right after me (due to an injury) and then we saw Laura and Brian who had been finished for a while now. It was actually pretty chilly so I got my bag of dry clothes (or semi dry since I had worn the shirt on the jog over to the start) and changed, got some pretzels and cookies, and a beer! Then there was the long windy chilly wait for the results to be posted, followed by the award ceremony wait. Not that I am complaining, as awards are great, but the wait is sometimes hard when you are cold and tired. There were plenty of great stores in the shopping center, and I had been smart enough to bring cash and a credit card in a small plastic baggy in my running shorts pocket (having to walk back from the Boston marathon finish 2 miles to the hotel due to no cab fare helped me to remember that), however ALL were closed as it was early on a Sunday. So I finally broke down and got a fashionable heat sheet and wrapped myself in that as I waited. I had seen on the results that I was the 3rd masters (geez I hate that word for some reason) female overall. I was also 12th overall female out of 1016 women and 71 overall of 1574. When it was time for the awards, I got a Quintiles beer glass with a check was in it. In error they gave me the first place one, which was $100. Darn, I had to give it back and get my $50 check. But still, I'll take it. It was a great race course, well organized, and a great morning to run it. Even the wind wasn't too terrible. Get me some gatorade next time instead of Heed (and make the water and gatorade cups different to be really top notch) and I'll be very happy to do it again next year. :-)

As we waited for the race results and awards, we spent the time looking at the real-time results from Tobacco Road since many friends were running that on the same day, just 30 to 45 minutes behind our start. It was a great day for some, and not as great for others. As runners, we can all relate to that, some days are PR days but many are not. I was proud to know so many runners out there who were giving it their all. Congrats to all who met their goals, whatever they were. To friends who didn't achieve what they had hoped for this time around, we all know how hard you worked and are so proud of you and know that at a race sometime soon, it will be your day! And we'll be cheering you on, either from the race course, running along in the race with you, or from an iPhone somewhere else. :-)

After the awards, we thankfully were able to get a ride on the trolley bus back not just to the starting line but to our hotel itself, which we weren't expecting. After showering, I went with Owen to walk on the beach, which by now was very windy and cold, and then to grab some lunch. Keith and Grace left around lunch time so they could get back for Keith to work Monday. I decided to keep Owen here with me for a few days since he is tracked out so that he could have some mommy and Owen time, like Grace had with me on Friday. We met up with John, Laura and Sophie, Laura's daughter, for lunch. Then we did the required pool and hot tub since Owen hadn't had much time on Saturday to enjoy that. We had a good dinner at Bluewater, but I decided I liked Bridge Tender better, just nice ambiance.

On Monday we spent the entire day in Wilmington, doing everything from a horse drawn carriage ride, to lunch on our own private balcony overlooking the Cape Fear River, to touring the USS North Carolina battleship, where Owen exclaimed "this is the best day of my life!". Unfortunately there were no boat tours running this early in the season on a weekday, but we had lots of fun anyway. We then went on the beach for a bit and had a late dinner, again at Bridge Tender after trying to go to two other places that ended up being closed.

So now we are getting packed up and heading down to our last trip to the pool and hot tub before hitting the road. The trip was awesome and the race was lots of fun. Thanks to John, Laura and Brian for including me in the trip over to the start and back to the hotel. It was nice to have some company there. And thanks to Keith for bringing the kids back and forth to the beach so they could have a mini vacation.

Next race...not sure yet. I am registered for the Second Empire 5K in mid April, but may do a race before that if I feel up to it. I still have my sights on a sub 20 5K this year, which will be a challenge. I think that will take a bit more training, so don't expect I'll hit it in April, but the Second Empire 5K will be a good test run to try to even out my 5K pace in preparation for chasing that sub 20!

P.S. - I added some of the "lovely" race photos to this post.  And keep in mind these were the best looking ones, so you definitely don't want to see the bad ones!  Yikes.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Run for the Oaks 5K, March 12, 2011

Once again I am behind in my blogging, which is kinda sad since I only blog about races and have only run two this year. Work has been quite busy with a bit of travel so that is my excuse right now. I am sitting in the room at the Holiday Inn Sunspree in Wrightsville Beach, NC so before Owen and I start our day at the beach, I though I'd get started on my post on both the Run for the Oaks 5K (this post) and the Quintiles Wrightsville Beach half marathon (next post). In case anyone is following along with my 2011 race schedule (probably just me), I did end up skipping the St. Patty's Run Green on Mar 5th. Too many things going on that day (soccer, birthday party, dinner with friends, etc) and I also had flashbacks to the hot hilly 2009 race, so decided to skip it.

I ran the Run for the Oaks 5K in 2009. It was only my 3rd race since being in NC and the first one where I really sort of trained for it (I started running with the Raleigh Trail Runners in February 2009). It was freezing rain or really just barely above freezing because it was technically rain. So this year was beautiful in comparison. A bit chilly but perfect weather really. I got to the race early enough and got a great parking spot right on the corner of Blount and Hargett, across from Marbles Museum. John W. was just coming back to his car when I got there so we went over to pick up my race packet and of course find a port a potty (my ritual). We saw Sarah and Barry there too and a few other familiar faces from the local running scene. As I was not going to do a long warm up, I brought back my stuff to the car and then got ready for the race by taking off any unnecessary clothing. I ended up just with shorts, tshirt and my arm warmer thingys and gloves. I was so excited (sad I know) to finally wear them in a race. They are pretty awesome.

I found Sarah and Barry again and after another trip or two to the porta potty, Sarah and I did a really quick warm up and then ran to the starting line. I always make sure to get up front these days because I know awards are based on gun time and I need all the help I can get! I was hoping for a PR today but didn't feel I really deserved it because I hadn't really done the training I had planned to do. It had been a cold winter so I did speed work only once outdoors and a few times on the treadmill. But not really any in recent weeks. My planned Thursday tempo runs (target of 7:20 or less) had also turned into fun Thursday Cary/Apex area runs at about 8 to 8:30 pace, which I enjoyed but then really had no idea if I could keep up the tempo run pace since I hadn't done any recently. But you gotta have some fun right?! Beyond a PR, which was 20:49 (Run for Healthier Babies 2009), I also was hoping for a sub 20 5K at some point in 2011 but that would be a miracle if it happened today.

So at the starting line I tried to focus on thinking positive, mind over matter, which I truly believe in because I have willed myself through many races to achieve several goals. Now I am not saying that you can just pick a time and achieve it with no training, but I do believe the mental part is what prevents many runners from achieving their goals. I went to the start of my first half marathon in a long time thinking I was aiming for 1:40, but I ran it in 1:36 which made me realize that the only thing holding me back was the thought that I couldn't run that fast. I don't think that positive thinking will get me to a sub 19 min 5K, but for sure it got me under a 22 min and then a 21 min 5K, so maybe a sub 20 is in the cards someday.

The one thing I am really bad at is even pacing. I usually go out fast hoping to bank some time and then get slower as the race goes on. My review of all my recent 5K times showed that very clearly. Sometimes mile 2 was slowest but usually that is because it was a hilly course at mile 2. Most of the time mile 3 was slowest. So with that in mind I was trying to not do that this time. But it's hard to not want to jump out there to get a head start. So while I ended up kinda doing that again this time, I didn't go crazy and held back a little bit. My first mile felt pretty good, I had to consciously try to slow down because it's easy to run down Person Street at full speed seeing everyone else doing the same thing. Still I ended up doing the first mile in 6:23 which I knew was too fast.

In the second mile, to my defense, there is a bit of an uphill climb. But I slowed down on that one quite a bit, with a 6:41 pace. I was starting to get a cramp or pull in my right hamstring, which is one area that typically doesn't bother me. Knees, calves, inner ankle and quads in long races, but usually not hamstrings. So this slowed me down quite a bit. Still I was determine to keep the pace as best I could. At that time I had my Garmin set, as I usually do, on the average pace for the current mile. So I just kept trying to keep that as far below 7 as possible. I have run quite a few 5Ks where the last mile gets above 7 minute pace, so I was determined to prevent that this time, hamstring pain or not.

During the end of mile two or early in mile 3 I saw a kid, Winston, who I used to see in most of my races in 2009, but hadn't really seen for a while since I didn't do many 5Ks in 2010. He was 12 the last time I saw him, so now he is 14 and much taller and with bit of a deeper voice. Wow I was feeling old when I chatted w. him before the race! Anyway I passed him which I sometimes do, and he sometimes passes me, which I am sure will be more the norm from here forward! He is one of those runners who doesn't always seem to know how fast he is. Mind over matter...perfect example. Well that day I guess he thought "ok, no way am I going to let some 40 yr old woman beat me!", so he passed me again shortly thereafter. I wasn't bothered by that as I was running for time and I was proud of him for taking back his rightful place. I have seen him give up a bit (my perception at least) in some races that he clearly had the speed and stamina for. As for me, I was just trying to run through my hamstring pain to the finish.

The last part of the course gets a bit twisty turny going up and down several streets. I actually like this because running a mile straight back down a long wide Raleigh street is torture for me. I'd rather run around the little streets and then "oh surprise there is the finish" so close that it's not as painful. So this is why I like this course. I am told there is a part where you can see the finish line (big blow up arch in the road) on one of the turns far before you reach it. I guess if I saw that, it would be torture, but I was so oblivious I didn't see it so that was nice for me.

By the time I saw the finish, it was fairly close so I did my best sprint to get this over with. The last mile ended up being 6:50 pace. And the last 0.1 or so was a 5:47 pace because I saw the clock was under 20:49, my "old" PR. My now "new" PR, if you count chip time, which I do, is 20:34, 20:37 gun time. So not quite close enough to the sub 20 I was miraculously hoping for, but enough to earn me a new PR, a first place age group finish, fifth female overall, and 45th of 393 total runners. This race doesn't have an overall masters category, bummer. I would have been first in that category as well. I guess last time I ran it I wasn't 40 so didn't pay attention to that. I ended up with a gift card to TAF, I think it was $20 or something. Last year I got some Run for the Oaks water glasses, which I hardly use, but I have to say I prefer that over the gift cards. Still it was a great day for the race and despite the hamstring issue and feeling undertrained, I PR'd. Go figure. I guess that gives me hope for the sub 20 later in the year since if the hamstring didn't hurt and I went out slower in mile 1, I would probably have done better. And who knows, if I actually followed the planned track workouts and did some tempo runs, that would probably also help!

Beyond the race itself, it was nice to get back out to a local 5K and see so many running friends. Pauline (4th age group) was there and looking hot with her new sleek hairdo, barely looked like she sweated with perfect hair after running a super fast race. John W. ran a sub 20 in his first 5K in like 20 years, wow! And Sarah (3rd age group) and Barry ran together, shaving 5 minutes off of Barry's prior PR. If he keeps that up he'll be passing all of us! I saw lots of other runners I know from the Boston Marathon plane ride, from a few runs at ATT and Umstead, etc. And after the race a few of us grabbed a quick coffee and breakfast (mmmm, chocolate chip scones!) at Morning Times cafe. All in all a great way to start the spring race season! Next race (which I have already completed at the time of this post), Quintiles Wrightsville Beach Half Marathon!