The Spring Thaw – a multiloop race in a park near Pittsburgh with 10, 15 and 20 mile options that you could swap up or own on race day (even mid-race!) – marked my second race of 2012, my first “race” of my new training cycle, and my first long run of the training cycle. My goal? Simple: run 10 miles at my half-marathon goal pace (around 8:45-9:05 miles, which would more than get me a sub-2 hour half). I knew I had it in me. My heart, legs, lungs and mind were ready. Nine minute miles have become increasingly easier. I’d even venture to say that for moderate length runs, 8:35 is sort of my “cruising” speed. Not quite easy, but very comfortably hard.
My schedule called for an eight mile long run last week, week one of training for the Pittsburgh half-marathon, my first A-race of 2012. So I modified a bit: I skipped my easy 2 miler Friday morning and took the day off. It was probably a good plan anyway, given I’d spanked my tempo run (well, my garmin says I spanked it, but considering the data has me literally bouncing off buildings at the turnaround in Oakland, pretty sure satellites got screwy. It didn’t end up off distance-wise but it had my max speed as 2:40 pace. Uuhhh…) on Thursday and pushed hard in spin class the day before that. By race morning, I was raring to go.
Relatively speaking, it was a late wake-up for a race. The race didn’t start until 10 a.m. and the course was about 25 minutes away; we wanted to get there by 8:30 to get parked and get to bag drop. NB and I woke up at a leisurely 6:30 a.m. at his apartment, and he joined me in my walk over to the local coffee shop for a cup of joe.
Can I complain about the weather for a second? It was COLD. It had been mid- to high 40s ALL WEEK, even getting into low 50s. Unseasonably warm, as has been the pattern this winter thus far. But as seemed to be the case for all our long runs and races (and weekends in general. I hate staring at gorgeous weather from my desk and getting sucky weather on weekends), the temps dropped just in time for our run. It was crazy windy and had snowed. Balls.
We knew we had to layer up. I was only doing 10, so I sported underarmour cold gear as base layer, my Brooks midlayer, Pearl Izumi rain’/wind jacket, and tights and light running pants on bottom. And of course, hat/earband combo and gloves. NB is very hotblooded, but he had signed up for the 15 and was planning on doing 20 (his first go at any distance longer than a half-marathon), and I knew from experience that when his temperature equalized, on cold days it would eventually plummet and he would get cold. So he sported a nice midlayer jacket (Asics) we’d gotten from our New Year’s Eve race this past December, and he was quite glad for it in his final loops.
I sipped at my coffee and we both had a lot of water and heaping bowls of quick oats with brown sugar. I stuffed my pockets with Gu, and NB did even more so: he packed seven, I believe, one for pre-race and the rest for the race. Better safe than sorry when the bonk comes a-knockin’.
At about 8 a.m., our friends Y. and V., both ladies in NB’s Ph.D. program, came by to park at the apartment, and we all drove together in my car to the race site. The roads were dicey, but when we entered the park, we could see the course had been well-salted, much to our relief. No slippage or slowing down on account of icy/snowy road for us! We were able to get pretty close parking at the Rose Barn where there was pre-race packet pickup and late registration upstairs, and indoor bathrooms and post-race cafeteria for foodage downstairs. Most of us had gotten our stuff already, so we chatted with running friend and speed demon Rob, who was of course doing the 20 miler. We got our stuff situated and about 30 minutes to start we headed to the boathouse where we got our drop bags marked and put away in a secure room guarded by volunteers. Such a great set up. We love these races run by the local store, Elite Runners and Walkers. They’re always fun, well-organized, with friendly and helpful volunteers. True, the race director/store owner can be a bit of a sadist when it comes to hills (Frigid Five “great uphill finish” anyone?) but he’s a very cool guy.
We dicked around back at the Rose Barn for a while, and V. and I chatted while we stood in line for one more bathroom stop (there were of course no paper towels. Damn). When we finished, it was time to take Gu, get one last sip of water, and shuffle off to the start.
It was cold. It was mid- to low 30s, with high winds, so felt more like low 20s. We all gabbed and jumped around and tried to stay warm. We saw one super crazy dude (who I think ran 20?) wearing only a singlet, shorts, and arm warmers. Maybe gloves, too. But seriously. HOW DID HE STAND IT??
It was a chip start, and we didn’t want to get sucked into a fast group, so we stayed back. We didn’t even hear the gun, but suddenly, we were off! I started my 90 minute playlist, punching START on my garmin a few strides before the timing mat, and it was go time.
The first few miles felt fantastic. We’d run this route before, pieces of it and the loop as a whole, the latter at Just a Short Run for which we ran the 8.1 mile option, which included a 5K loop plus the 5 mile lake loop that constituted the course for this race. We were running it he opposite direction of JASR, so I was happy to know that one of the hills I remembered would be a downhill, though honestly the hills on this course are pretty kind. Its very rolling so you get a boost and a break from every downhill that more than equals out a slightly pace slowing on small uphills. My Garmin was decently off the mile markers, but my paces were nevertheless pretty good: I was staying comfortably in the 8:40-8:50 range, even telling myself a couple times that I needed to ease off the gas a bit. I had a long way to go. NB stuck with me. His easy pace is around 9 minutes and we figured we’d run mostly together the first two loops before I finished and he kept on. Miles one to three felt amazing. I wasn’t carrying water and didn’t take anything at the water stops yet. I was plenty hydrated, and feeling awesome.
And then, a problem reared its ugly head. My left foot, including my toes, were growing numb. I’d noticed my lower legs were tense, but that sometimes happened early on for me on runs and they’d loosen later on. Apparently I just wasn’t relaxing, because my left foot grew more and more numb and tingly. I tried to wiggle my toes every few strides, and then very stride – which is challenging to say the least. After a while, I was getting frustrated, and I told NB I needed to stop for a second. I wiggled my toes, shook out my foot. It got a bit better, and I tried to press on. Maybe a quarter mile later, it was back with a vengeance. I stopped again, tried relacing my shoes, wiggling my toes more. It improved, and once again I pushed ahead. Around the mile 4 mark, there was a water stop and I took my first Gu, washing it down with a gulp of the icy cold water. I stopped once more, getting angry and frustrated. NB was ahead but noticed I wasn’t behind him so he held up, even as I tried to wave him on.
The numbness got worse and worse. We were along an active road and had a guard rail on one side, so I was stuck for a bit before I was able to stop again, retying my left shoe to be much looser across the top of my foot. I was near tears and getting myself very wound up. NB tried to talk me down, and asked if I wanted him to wave down a cop (there were patrol cars circling the course slowly, keeping an eye on the runners, since there was still active, though light, traffic on certain segments). I shook my head, finally giving in to a long walk break, and the very real possibility of a DNF: my first.
I knew I couldn’t run on this. NB reassured me that I wasn’t just quitting: I was feeling good, and my earlier splits told the real story. I had the run in my legs and lungs and heart, but running on a totally numb left foot would be insane and horrible. We walked for maybe a third of a mile, and I planned to just pull up at the finish and let NB go finish his race.
Then, with a half mile to go, the steadily improving numbness completely went away for the first time in about a mile and a half. I decided to jog it in. I was feeling good, and returned to my previous pace. My mile 4 and 5 splits were pooched, but whatever. I’d get through this loop. I neared the FINISH banner for the first loop and the numbness hadn’t returned, not even an inkling. NB and I decided I could keep on as long as it kept feeling good, and if I had to bag it, I would. We’d flag down a cop/I’d walk it in if it was close if the numbness returned.
Loop 2 was awesome. I had no discomfort. I felt fantastic. My paces were perfect. Mile 6 was a little slow, probably because I was trying to click b back into rhythm and I was taking stock of my foot. After that, I relaxed, and returned to 8:45-9:05 minute miles. I thanked the volunteers profusely, saying, “thank you volunteers for being out here! You guys are awesome!” (NB informed me after one water stop that one volunteer returned, “YOU’RE awesome.” I laughed) They stood out in the cold and wind, holding icy cold cups of water. I later learned the race director had them working in shifts – see what I mean about well organized? Wow.
NB and I kept taking stock of each other, chatting about race course memories (like the signs that were n the SPEED HUMP signs – only visible going the other direction – at JASR which read “that’s what she said!”), noting cool shirts or shoes (I complimented a girl on her “Black Girls Run!” shirt – it was so cute, and RW just had that great article a few months ago about that group). We speculated where our friends were, if they decided to move up or down a distance.
Soon, we were in the last couple miles. I cruised through mile 9 comfortably, and as we entered mile 10, I knew I wanted to push it. NB knew it too, and we discussed pacing a bit, and he told me to just go with it. If he had to drop back, he would. I kept my eye on my lap pace on my garmin, seeing it click lower and lower. As we slipped into low 8:30s NB quipped that he was going to back off if I was gonna keep this up, giving me a smile and a good luck, which I returned. I picked it up even more, my lap time kissing my tempo pace, and I dropped NB with the finish line (and the cones that lined the parking lot to extend the loop to five miles) in sight. I had Trent Reznor’s cover of “Immigrant Song” singing in my ears as my legs churned. My garmin beeped 10 miles prematurely – per usual – with a mile time of 8:22. Oh yes.
I came down the driveway to the boathouse parking lot and near the orange cones. I flew by Y. and a friend of hers who had just finished the 10 miler. I hit the throttle. I felt like I was slowing, crawling, my legs gelatin as my music screamed in my ears.
I could see the finish, and pulled out a headphone, then the other, as I tried to figure out in my haze where to go, before finally figuring out finishers went left, extra loops went right (I mean, duh. It was obvious, but clearly I was Not All There). I felt like I was barely moving, but my garmin registered 7:19 pace as I crossed the finish with arms raised.
Garmin time: 1:35.05
Chip time: 1:35.03
Splits: 50:28/44:36 (how’s that for a negative split? stupid numb foot)
I quickly wobbled over to the side, edging the cones dividing the finishers from the multi-loopers so I could send more good luck wishes to NB as he came by. I would see him in two more loops.
I made my way over to the bag drop, thanking the volunteers profusely as they handed me my bag, my winter coat tied around the strap. I quickly put it on, feeling my body temperature plummet as my heart rate normalized. I made my way to the Rose Barn, carefully crossing the track in front of the runners to get to the other side. My glasses instantly fogged when I came inside and Y. had to shout my name and flag me down. We chatted for a moment before I set down my things to go grab a piece of pizza (eh), a banana (yesss), and chicken soup (awesome), and made a second trip to get some very watery hot cocoa (can’t complain. It was still hot cocoa). We chatted about or race experience and I told her about my almost DNF and how it turned into a victorious day. I can maintain my HM pace for 8 miles, likely more! That’s a victory in my book.
We tried to catch NB on his third loop but I think we either just missed him or left just a little too soon. We did see Rob going flying by. He wrapped up 20 miles in 2:11.52 for 6th overall and 4th in AG (they only gave AG awards + overall for the 10 miler, no awards for 15, and only overall for 20 miles). We headed back in and decided to head back out at the 2:50 mark so we wouldn’t miss his finish. We warmed ourselves some more and kept chatting until about 12:50 when we made our way over to see the hardened 20 milers bringing it in. They were apparently very chatty with each other, I imagine because of the sense of camaraderie for being out that loud, the crowd thinning to only the most resilient. (for more on the 20 milers experience, check out NB’s race report)
We stood out for a bit, realizing we were out there a bit early. I wanted to be optimistic abut his 3 hour goal, but given the conditions, and how desperately we wanted to stay warm, we headed into the HEATED ladies room at the boathouse to wait until 1:00 to try to catch him. We chatted with some other ladies who were warming themselves while waiting for friends and family or changing to clean and dry clothes. One woman asked me about the Air Force marathon (I was wearing my hat) and we talked about great local and semi-close out of state races. I love local races, and the running community in general. So friendly and chill.
A little after 1 p.m., we lined up at the cones that began the extension around the parking lot, which I imagined was even crueler to the 20-miler’s eyes. We chatted with race director Kevin about how this day was sandwiched between nice, sunny, warm weather, and we thanked him for an awesome race. We cheered in runners, clapping and shouting, telling them they were doing great, and to bring it in strong. They either smiled or gritted their teeth harder, even more determined.
We kept seeing guys in black technical gear, but at last we saw NB’s telltale white Google winter cap. We waved and clapped and shouted. As he came down the driveway and around the cons, I jogged over to the finish, carrying my bag. I shouted for him and clapped and told him he was doing awesome and he was almost there. He looked like he was in pain but I knew he was going to finish.
I met him after the timing mat and grabbed his arm. He seemed steady, just very tired. We got him back to the barn and got some water and a couple bananas in him. I tried to get him to take some soup – I should hve insisted harder – but he said he just wanted bananas. He tried to stretch some, but had to sit for a while with his head low as I rubbed his back and shoulders, trying to ease his muscles. He was shaking and tired, his muscles absolutely destroyed. Rob came by to congratulate everyone and to see how Shannon was doing after his first 20. When he felt well enough, we headed to the car and I blasted the heater as soon as the air got warm. It took a good 15 minutes of the drive before he stopped shivering completely.
The rest of the day we were total lazy butts. His appetite was pretty good: we had bagels and more water at home after we showered and put on our compression gear. We watched episodes of Stargate and massaged out sore spots, keeping things elevated when we could. Later that evening, we hit up Chipotle, both feeling like we could eat horse (especially NB).
And how do we feel now? Well, my easy run sucked a little for the first couple miles on Tuesday, and my calves were tight for a few days, but otherwise I’m fine. No numbness on my runs this week. NB has been sore but nothing terribly bad, he said. I think we may make marathoner out of him yet. 😉
We had our first track workout (just 2×1600) this morning and both spanked it despite 18 mph headwinds every half lap. Our next race is actually Just a Shot Run at the end of March, and we’re running the half-marathon. I haven’t decided yet how I”m doing it. It’s technically a recovery week, which is good cause the runs that week will let me recharge, though the cutback long run… won’t exactly be a cutback long run. I may try to do descending intervals or something. It’s a flat course so I COULD logically PR if the stars align. But I’ll evaluate more as that gets closer…