Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Race that Wasn't

I am sure you are all shocked to see a blog post from me show up in your reader!  I know I am!  Life has gotten busy, life got hard and things like blogging took a back seat.  I want you to know though, that I have been keeping up on the reading for the most part.  I read many of your blogs on my phone when I get a free chance, but being able to comment has been put on the back burner.  I already follow so many of you on Twitter and Facebook that I haven't felt too out of the loop, and that has been my main source of communication with many of you.  If you want to keep up with all things Katie, you can follow me on Twitter, SJRedGirl is my handle, come on over and find me!

Work is mainly what has been keeping me busy - it is hard to balance your own schedule when you don't punch in and out of the same job day after day.  Learning to balance my time with personal things, work, training is a constant balancing act.  But I think I am getting the hang of it.  The good news is, I am actually making this "work from home thing" work and I couldn't be more happy being able to make my time work around my schedule.   One day I am super busy going from one client to another, while the next day I am completely free to do what I please.  Plus, it has allowed me to actually have time off with my hubbs since his day off always lands in the middle of the week, which before was a problem when I had a pesky day job to go to Monday through Friday.  Balance - it's what I am trying to achieve ;)

But, as you can see from the title of this post, it was a hard race experience that has brought me back to my blog.   My running and training has been going just awesome and I couldn't be more happy with how I am progressing with my running.  I have had quite a few races since Eugene and each one I have met my goals.  I actually have won, YES WON, two races since then and now have the confidence needed to push me towards my ultimate goal in Portland in October for a sub 3 marathon.  Actually, my training has been going so well I was bound to hit a rough patch.

This past Sunday there was a local half practically in my back yard that I hadn't raced for a couple of years.  The majority of the race was ran on a trail I run on quite frequently and knowing the trail was a big plus.  So, as I find myself doing with almost any race I enter now, I stalked the past few years of winner's times.  The Jungle Run has had some fast women show up the past couple of years, but each of their time's were not as fast as I have been running.  Last year's winner won in 1:28:xx and the previous year before that was 1:31:xx, both of which I have been running faster.  My last half, the See Jane Run in Alameda a couple of month's ago I won with a 1:25, so my confidence was through the roof that I could totally win a decent size race when I signed up.  

With the massive amounts of miles I put in each week, running 13 miles doesn't sound as far anymore.  I know for many runner's, this is still a hard distance.  And it is, don't get me wrong.  But I have progressed in my running that it isn't scary anymore - the other side of this is though, that I may not take it as seriously anymore.  I don't have the same pre-race rituals I do as with a full.  I don't take the day off before and rest, I don't worry about logistics as much and I don't necessarily watch my diet, but I also don't stress about it.  Again, this may be a down fall.

The day before the Jungle Run, I ran an easy 9 on the hamsterwhizzle.  A little bit of speed work thrown in, but if you have been following my running, 9 miles the day before was actually quite easy.  My legs felt fresh and strong and I wasn't stressing about my legs showing up to get the job done.  What I did stress about was getting to the start on time.  The race started at 7am, which meant I needed to leave the house by 5:30 (I like to get to any race at least an hour before), which meant I needed to be up by 4:30.  Yes, 4:30 is early, but I know many of us get up that early to get our runs on, especially on race day, so I wasn't too stressed about that actual time I had to get up.  The night before though, I think I ate too late.  The night before any race or long run, I like to eat by 6pm.  Well, the day before this race I didn't get to eat before 8pm, but again, I didn't stress about it too much - I was only running a half, right?

I went to bed nice and early and fell asleep just fine.  My alarm went off at 4:30 and this is where the spiral down happened.  Mistake #1: I guess I slept too well and turned if off completely!!  I NEVER over sleep!  Even though I work from home, I am up most days around 5:30.  An hour earlier shouldn't have made that big of a difference.  Apparently my body & mind had other plans because I didn't wake up until 5:10!!  AAAAAAAAAAAAA!!  I shot out of bed and quickly turned on the coffee pot and scrambled to get ready.  I had 20 minutes to get out the door and I rushed around like a crazy woman.  We got in the car at 5:30, right on time and I proceeded to eat my peanut butter toast in the car - mistake #2.  I know better than this, and it even crossed my mind if I should eat at all.  But I was planning on racing all out and knew I needed to eat so I gobbled down my breakfast.  I usually need at least 2 hours for my breakfast to digest otherwise I have a sour stomach.  But I was so worried about needing good fuel that I ate anyway.

By the time we got to the race start my stomach was in knots.  From pre-race jitters, to the stress of over sleeping and then shoving my breakfast down my throat so fast, my stomach was a mess.  I told the hubbs quite a few times I was worried about my stomach acting up but he reassured me like a good hubbs that by the time the race started I should be fine.  I had to believe him, it was all I had.  But as the clock ticked closer to 7am my stomach was still a wreck and I had no idea how I was going to do.  I wanted to run, my legs felt great but I was nauseous and just felt like garbage.  

I lined up at the front of the race and looked around for my competition.  From my view point, there didn't seem to be any "fast" chicks showing up.  I have learned this year how to look for the competition.  Yes, fast chicks do look different.  Don't act like you don't know!  They are usually in sports bras and shorts, speedy light shoes and sans iPod's.  None were around me.  I was the only crazy standing around in my sport's bra looking ready for a race.  This gave me a bit of confidence but not much, as my stomach was still a wreck.

When the gun went off I took off with the lead pack of guys and never looked back.  I knew that the men were going to be fast so I tried to stick with them for a bit.  With in the first tenth of a mile you are hit with a good hill and I charged up it giving it all I had.  I have been eating hills for breakfast in my preparation for San Francisco on July 31 so I actually got up the hill quite well.  But at the top of the hill I felt like I was going to puke!  I looked around and there were no women around me except for one, who recognized me as the winner of the See Jane Run race.  She congratulated me and I thanked her and took off.  I still had that pukey feeling though.  I was pushing as hard as I could.  I knew if I wanted a sub 1:26 I would need a 6:33/mi pace.  When I looked down at my watch after the hill and recovering from it I was in the low 6's!  Holy cow, slow down!  So I backed off and tried to collect myself.  I knew right away though, it wasn't my speed that was killing me, it was my stomach.  I was burping up peanut butter and felt like I was going to spew at any second.  I tried really hard to push it down and just run.  It wasn't working though, and when my Garmin beeped a 6:18 I knew I was in trouble.  I couldn't catch my breath, my breathing was very hard and I felt like absolute trash.

I decided to keep pushing and hope that my stomach would calm down if I backed off a bit.  There were NO women around me so I knew I had some cushion if I slowed down a bit.  It didn't work though and by mile 1.5 I had a volcano burp that sent so much acid into the back of my throat that it burned it!  Ugh!  My breathing was so hard at this point too, and I just couldn't catch my breath.  In all reality, maybe my first mile was a bit fast, but nothing too crazy I couldn't handle if my stomach had been cooperating.  I tried hard to talk myself down, to catch my breath, to just keep moving but it wasn't working.  My throat was on fire, I felt like I was going to puke at any second and I had no idea how to keep going.

My second mile beeped in at 6:27 and I knew I didn't have much left in me.  That mile felt like it took forever and I wasn't recovering.  I began to realize I needed to stop, that I couldn't keep running.  I couldn't catch my breath, the burning was so bad that one more step just felt too hard.  I tried so hard to push those "just stop!" thoughts out of my head but it wasn't working.  I was slowing down a ton and the spiral down just kept coming.  I finally couldn't take it anymore and stopped at 2.5.  Right away I started crying.  My whole throat burned, I couldn't breathe and I was so heart broken that I had STOPPED during a race that I was an instant wreck.  But...I knew I couldn't keep going, so I hit stop on my Garmin and pulled over to the side.  A few runners passing me asked if I was okay but I told them to keep going - I knew my race as over, don't loose any of your race on my sorry butt on the side of the road.  Tears came instantly.  So many emotions came over me.  A minute or so later, the hubbs found me on the bike and told me to start running.  "I can't," I yelled at him!  He offered me a Gu but I knew that was the last thing I could get down.  I couldn't swallow without it burning!  I told him my race was over and I sat down on the side of the road and cried.  A few minutes later the first woman came by and tired coxing me to get up and start running but I told her to keep going, that she had this and off she went.  That stung as much as my throat - I had a TON of time on the second place woman and the race was mine!  But there I was, on the side of the road, throat burning and in a puddle of tears.

I don't think I have ever been so disappointed in myself until that moment.  I cried as I walked the 2.5 miles back to the start.  Actually...I sobbed.  The hubbs tried to be supportive but I think he realized that it wasn't helping so we walked in silence - well, almost silence, I was after all, crying.  One thing that I have learned from my running and racing is that was separates the rest of the running crowd from the "elites," is that the elites are able to push down pain and doubt.  They can run through the hard stuff.  And for the most part, I usually do.  Trust me, running 110+ miles a week there is pain.  Not every run is good, not every day is pain-free, but I keep pushing through, both mentally and physically.  And this was the source of my disappointment.  I push through so much during my runs in the week and today, when it counted - I couldn't.  I knew that I had a lot stacked against me with this race.  I over slept, I ate late, I ate my breakfast too late - things that are usually controllable but became uncontrollable that day.  I took for granted my ability to go out and race 13 miles, I didn't take it seriously enough and as a result I ended up on the side of the road with my first official DNF.

Those 2.5 miles back to the start/finish were the longest 2.5 miles of my life.  I actually took the side streets off the race course because I couldn't bear to see everyone running.  Here I was with legs that wanted to run but I was sidelined due to stomach issues.  It was just too painful to watch - which is the exact opposite for me.  I LOVE to cheer on fellow runners, but that day I just...couldn't.

When I got back to the start I saw my two girl friend's who came out to cheer JUST FOR ME!  I walked over to them and they had looks of disbelief on their faces.  I just started sobbing again and they listened to me as I retold my tale of disaster.  Thankfully though, these chick's rock and reassured me it was just not my day.  And they were right.  I say it all the time, race day can bring ANYTHING.  You can do everything right and still have it fall apart.  Or, you can do everything wrong and walk away with a PR.  In all reality, race day is a crap shoot - and any day you get to race, and on top of that race your best, is a gift.  The real journey, the real prize is the training that got you there, not your finishing time, not the medal around your neck.

I am a few days out from this and I am still saddened by what happened.  I am a bit more clear headed about it, and a lot less "woe is me."  I set myself up to fail in a way, and I only have myself to blame.  I should have gone through the motions of preparing for a race like I used to.  I should have eaten earlier the night before, I should have re-adjusted my breakfast....shoulda, woulda, coulda.  What I did learn from all of this is that a) every race needs to be taken seriously, especially when you have big goals for yourself, b) that it is ok deviate from some rituals, like breakfast, c) that you will survive and see another day after your first DNF.  

On the drive home my ego hurt as much as my throat.  And believe you me, that is hard to type.  My throat actually hurt all the way into Monday - I burned it good!  But my ego took a hit too, my confidence went down the toilet.  I was ready to scrap all my hard training, all my hard work and call myself a failure simply because I couldn't finish.  I knew though, that we all have days or races like this and in the end it isn't what the outcome is, it's how you handle it.  I will be honest, I needed that 24 hours of feeling like garbage to move past it.  I needed to wallow in my own shame and pain to see that I really am better than the DNF next to my name.  On Monday morning though, I got up and ran.  My legs felt awesome!  My spirits were on the mend and you know what?  I ran that 13.1 miles!  I didn't run it in a time that would have landed me on the podium, but I did run it in a time that would have gotten me a NY qualifier - which is awesome in and of itself.  Just a few months ago, that was my big goal - sub 1:37.  Now a days, I can run that on a training run no problem - and that is the lesson I take away from all of this.  I have made HUGE leaps and bounds in my training the last 6 months, I have PR'ed like crazy, I have hit miles I never thought possible - so when it didn't happen one day I needed to be slapped back down to reality to remind me that running isn't always easy.  Running is hard, running can't be perfect every day - and that yes, even on race day, there is a chance it won't be "my" day.

I am back on the horse this week and nailing my training runs already.  I feel good, I feel renewed and a new fire has been lit.  I am looking forward to October 9, the day I toe the line for the Portland Marathon.  It is my main focus right now and I want nothing more than to get to race day ready and knowing I did everything in my power to reach my goal.  In the meantime though, I have San Francisco to get through.  I feel like I have been training for this race for so long that it just can't get here fast enough so I can really start focusing on Portland.  But I know SF will serve it's purpose and I will get to the other side of it with a renewed energy for Portland.

I think what brought me back to my blog was the need to type out all of my thoughts.  That is one thing I have missed about blogging.  I don't get to "down load" all of my thoughts about my training or races.   But I haven't kept up with it because really, there isn't that many exciting things going on in my life.  Who wants to hear about another 20 mile double day I ran, or the speed work and times I just hit?  I don't even that much!  Yes, I have been racing and accomplishing things, but for me I have been really trying to live in the moment and appreciate things for what they are and then move on.  But this race really struck a cord for me.  I was knocked down hard but now I know that it is probably just what I needed.  I needed a reality check, I needed to step back from the miles and times and PR's and see what the big picture is.  Not every run or day can be fabulous, and not that I live like that, but I do live with a sense that every run is a gift and I try not to waste it.  That is why I have been pushing so hard - all of this could go away in a second.  I don't want to waste this moment, this run, this time.  I have big goals and dreams for myself and I want to do everything in my power to reach them.  Sometimes things need to be put aside to focus on them, and unfortunately, blogging has been one of them.

I promise to keep reading and checking in with all of you.  I LOVE reading how all of you are doing and what you are accomplishing - it is such a source of inspiration for me, so thank you blog world, your words are very powerful.

If I don't get around to updating again before SF, good luck to all of you racing and running.  I do promise to come back and update you on SF and fill you in on all of my goals and training for Portland.  Your support and comments mean a ton to me, and I hope that my experience here will help some of you.  Running is a gift.  Every day we get to run injury free is a gift.  And I intend not to waste it.
Happy Running Peeps!