Tuesday, June 24, 2014

New Age Group

I tweeted the following babble yesterday (which you already knew because you are fresh on all things me, I'm CERTAIN), because no matter how stark or sad, it has felt true.

Seriously. The notion of going out and running 26+ miles sounds like a better use of my running time/prowess/competitiveness/whateverness. Gross. Gross! Such mental midgetry. After work yesterday, I started to write on fearfulness, of goals becoming unnerving and questioning how to combat that which gets us off course...and it was unsatisfying, repetitive. Felt like a dead end. So I pushed the computer aside, laced up my shoes and went out for a soupy few miles under the early evening sun.

Took it intentionally easy as I've taken some time off this month to cross train, rest up my tight hip and mentally realign heading into whatever lies ahead. At least until the final mile, passing through the final point where I get stopped by a light and intersection. For lack of a better and crass-free qualifier, I fucking destroyed it, dipping into the 6:20s for the final half mile+.

It felt good-- no. If it makes me a wanker to say it, so be it, but it felt right to be moving that quickly. I closed my final relay leg earlier this month at sub seven minute pace, mainly because I really wanted to be done and had limited concept of pace or time at that point in the journey, but afterwards while looking over my watch data, I wasn't that surprised. Ability doesn't fade, but when fear interjects....it's rough to right the ship back where it belongs.

Closed out the final run of my 20s the way I was too cowardly to run for the portion of the decade that I actually ran. And instead of feeling dour and down about time lost and wasted, I felt amped that I have that gear, and that to me, running fast is fun. Enlightening. Self-contained adrenaline was exciting to possess once again, if only for a short while. I want more.

Taking a conservative approach in my training shouldn't have made me afraid or undeserving to run fast. Tampered my ability to race intelligently. Seep into other pieces of my being. That changes, because the year is halfway over and too many goals are going to fall short if I don't do something now.

Don't have all the pieces in place but I know two of 'em:

-Run more 5k (and shorter! looking at you, opportunities on the track and road mile) races.
-Never feel tentative to go after what matters.

No more repeating mistakes, I'm in a new age bracket after all. What comes next: building a base starts this week for the next some odd weeks. Then we see what we can do this fall. Probably the best birthday gift I can provide.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Stars Belong To Everyone

Per my Garmin, I set out for 5.28 miles in Oak Creek, Wisconsin at 2:56 in the morning this past Saturday. I ran almost seven miles a few hours prior, before the sun began to set Friday evening, and would go on to cap off my first Ragnar Relay with a four-ish mile jaunt in the North Shore, along the Metra line. I know where Ravinia is now. 

The greatest appeal of signing up for a relay with strangers was the chance to run at night. Because you cling to my every word, I mentioned in my last post that I was initially kind of bummed that my second leg was slated for around 4:30 a.m. or thereabouts, which wouldn’t have been anything special given my early morning 4 a.m. efforts on a daily basis last year. But you knew that.

My team’s starting time was changed to 90 minutes earlier than originally scheduled, and a late substitute in the days leading up shifted my projected start time for around 3:30 in the morning.

Folks were swift for leg number two, and time was made up in the darkness. So off I went, illuminated (safety first, folks).
Fun fact: I bought a child's headlamp. It has robots on the band. 

The early morning summer chill was all encompassing, notable in comparison to the harsh heat of leg one, the warmth overwhelming my yet to acclimate senses because I’m a delicate flower. Wasn’t feeling all that great, but set out conservatively so as to not keel over and succumb to the wilds of suburban Milwaukee. After an exchange with the runner prior to me in a parking lot, I ran along a nondescript sidewalk before heading onto an asphalt bike path.


I ran the Madison half last fall, which meant I was in Wisconsin. One of the few people I know who hails from Wisconsin, someone I would consider exceedingly Wisconin-esque, was an old colleague of a friend named Carl. In my mind while in town for the half marathon, everyone in the state of Wisconsin looked like Carl. For reference, Carl looks pretty damn similar to former Badger basketball player Jared Berggren, albeit much smaller and not as skilled at basketball. So, as any logical person would, I referred to Berggren as 'Mega Carl' while watching painfully low-scoring Big Ten Basketball.

Why bring this up? Ah, well in my ridiculous, rather sleep-deprived mind, this is what I envision Slenderman looking like. Not some faceless thing, but a hulking giant Wisconsin-looking white guy, lurking in the bushes. Mega Carls EVERYWHERE. BEHIND EVERY SHRUBBERY. 

This got weird fast.

The requirement of a headlamp at night was a new experience to quickly adjust to, as I’ve only previously run with one held in my hand or just gone with a flashlight (or in all honesty, nothing at all). It was a bit jarring at first as the light created a halo effect and created an odd tunnel vision of sorts, as it grew darker in a hurry. So as the hazy yellow glow from the street lamps on the sidewalk dissipated behind me as I trudged onward into the unlit darkness of the paved path…my senses heightened pretty fast. Being tired and feeling sickly earlier didn’t matter.  There was a fellow runner off ahead of me by maybe no more than 500 feet (I eventually passed them---or rather KILLED THEM, a relay mark of pride, nothing more---within a half mile), known by the presence of the required taillight, there’s a blinking red beacon within sight. And as my vision adjusted to my surroundings, that was it.

Except for two shining eyes staring at me from not that far off the path.

Takes a tired brain a bit longer to process things. In the span of about 30 feet, my mind went from “Oh, its just the reflection off of a metal sign or utility box” to “nope, that isn’t metallic” to “OH SWEET BLOODY FUCK DON’T MURDER ME” as I sped up and past what I realized was a deer.

I run by deer all the time. River Forest abuts a large forest preserve off the Des Plaines River, and given that I run near dawn or closer to dusk, they are there. But never before has a deer terrified me so.

So I sped up. And kept it up. It felt invigorating to move quickly after feeling so crappy and under slept, and eventually fearful for my life, if only for a foolish moment. The elite teams start much later in the day, and I was past by a few squads moving very quickly on that leg (the winning team averaged 5:51 pace, they weren’t fucking around). Those teams made me want to move quickly, too. The asphalt path transitioned into a crushed limestone trail with a noticeable amount of more people to speed past. My eyes finally adjusted and it seemed like the moon reflected off the ground as my legs whipped and churned the cool air as I went by.  My turnover was phenomenal, nothing hurt. I was loving feeling so physically in control. A few final turns and I came to the exchange point, handing off a slap bracelet to the next runner.

But even though I was moving quickly and confidently, I took it in. Because shit, I got to run at a ridiculous hour and saw the stars in a way you don’t see every day. Saw a shooting star at the 12th exchange while everyone else was staring at his or her phones (I’d be totally guilty of this too if it weren’t for a complete lack of service throughout the first 60% of the trip, thanks Obama *I don’t actually mean this*). Isn't this what the winter makes us grateful for?

I’ll wax more on the silliness and the camaraderie facet of this trip later, as well as the experience as a whole, but I wanted to write something new, previously inexperienced while it is still fresh in my tattered brain. Everything I write about always ties back to a past experience. Can't say that about those stars. 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Precursory Thoughts On A Relay

Got back from a jaunt to Target last night and laid out all my wares on the counter like a kid with a semi-disappointing Halloween haul (“Beech Nut gum and no full sized anything? Aww...”). Nothing I suppose out of the ordinary; snacky bits and various accoutrements, side-by-side with a pile reflective stuff and a collective heap of dry-fit shirts to sort through and select.

“This is a weird thing I am doing.”

There are a few things going on in this moment near the kitchen. For starters, I am horrible when it comes to packing. An attempt to be better at such, be more thoughtful and not leaving it until the last moment so as not to intrude on space, is nothing more than fantastically awkward. Newborn baby foal awkward. I rarely pre-plan outfits, much less shove ‘em into big freezer bags.

Secondly, and probably the driving facet of this evening’s noise, is anxiously second-guessing my desires to try something rather different.

I’m going off to spend 30-something hours in a van with people I don’t know, all in the name of running a relay.

This is a very weird thing.

Running is an inherently personal, selfish me thing. Still don’t consider myself a morning person (conversely, I am in denial with how bloody early I go to bed these days. Sorry, 20 year old me, couldn’t keep it going forever. Also: lots of unanticipated things in life will happen, we drink coffee now and went back to being blonde. I know, right? Shibity...), but I like nothing more than to get up and start my day with a few miles, think things over as the sun grows, not get sprayed by a skunk or what have you. If I see people, some acknowledge with a nod or a word in the brief moment as we pass by each other, others don't, but on we both go. I like the quiet nature of my neck o’ the woods, being privy to what’s out there before the rest of the world wakes up to eventually shat all over everything.

But races (like speed work) don’t possess the same solitary quality, at least not any more. It’s nice to be told you are missed for a workout and be someone to push someone else. There’s something to be said about the camaraderie of a bunch of people waiting in a corral.  Being part of a group, sporting a club logo. Transferring that pre-race nervous energy into a pleasant conversation with someone on a shuttle heading to the starting line. Or someone having your sweaty back and commiserating on that slow, agonizing shuffle somewhere ( dear god, anywhere) after a crappy effort.

I’ve always had a squishy soft spot for the relay, originating from high school. Four legs, each with a different piece of the process--lead things off, maintain, keep contact or expand the lead, bring it home. It didn’t hurt that the longer distance teams were comprised of pretty excellent people, too.

Throwback Thursday Click-bait.

Confidence and the notion of responsibility, hell-- throw leadership in there, too---grew from that team facet within a very individualized sport, so the idea of being able to do such in a different realm as an “adult” (questionable, Kind) has always been of interest.

When the opportunity arose back in the winter to be part of a team for Ragnar this weekend, I went for it, joining a group through a contact within my running club. “What the hell,” I thought. “If I don’t like it, at least I’ll have the experience to know that I don’t like it with people I don’t really have preexisting relationships with, so it is what it is. And if I do, well.”

Could get worked up over the unknown, which is a lot. I have no idea what to anticipate.
I mean my god, what if these people don’t like my Simpsons references?  What if my leg falls off? Sleep has been elusive as of late, so how badly (or easily) can I doze off while not driving a van?

I’m in the second van, which is composed of the 7th through 12th runners as both vans of six kinda leapfrog each other throughout the course which starts in Madison and meanders east then south to Chicago, finishing in the afternoon on Saturday. I am looking forward to my second leg of a bit over five miles, which will fall somewhere in the middle of the night in south suburban Milwaukee.

As predicted times ebb and flow based on total pace or shifts in the 12-person team, weather, errant bear attack, etc.,  I was initially kind of bummed when I saw a start time of around 4:30a. My initial mental response? “Well that’s no fun, I used to be up at 4a to run last summer.” You know, because rational folks want to run earlier. I actually thought (think) that was part of the appeal.

Here goes nothing. Or something. I may be tweeting things intermittently, or throwing random stuff up here or elsewhere as things unfold. We shall see. Until later.