Race Report: Icebreaker 8k

I feel a bit silly writing this race report. Generally, this sort of non-goal race would barely even get a mention in my running log, much less an entire post. However, in an effort to keep up the blogging habit I’ll give a brief rundown of my first win of 2014.

I do not like short races. I have gravitated to marathons and ultras for a reason. I do not like winter weather. I run midday in August for a reason. Yet, I found myself at Lake Conestee Park on Saturday morning registering for an 8k race in 21F with a wind chill of 11F weather. For people that live in places with “real” winters, I understand that it wasn’t so terrible. For me, I was in actual pain from the cold before the pain of trying to race 5 miles even began.

I think I’ve impressed upon you how cold it was. Now, for the race itself. The course was a winding mix of trail and paved path that was sort of an out and back, though only parts of the “back” were the same as the “out”.  (Why am I using so many quotation marks today?) I lined up near the front, and as the race director blew the start whistle, I found myself just outside of the top ten overall and in first place of the women. I didn’t know how close any other lady was behind me, and I’m not one that ever looks back during a race. I have enough nerves and self-doubt about my running abilities without the added stress of knowing what lurks behind me.

The up side of the trails is that we were largely sheltered from the wind and the ground was frozen solid. I’ve run probably a thousand miles on the trails at Conestee over the last couple of years and it can get very swampy and muddy at the merest hint of rain, so I was happy that I didn’t have to worry about sliding all over the place. Additionally, given the amount of time I’ve spent out there, I was feeling pretty confident about my trail running ability. These are not at all technical trails, but the added bonus of knowing every single turn and root and washout definitely helped.

During the first couple of miles my hands were utterly frozen. This was annoying, but then my core started to warm up. I was still the first place woman and I’d settled in to a decent pace, but suddenly the feeling started coming back in my fingers. The stinging, stabbing pain of my hands thawing out was enough to make me consider dropping out and taking a shortcut back to my car. It HURT. I wasn’t even thinking about running anymore and I know I slowed down a bit. Luckily, my hands finally stopped throbbing and I closed up the little gap that had developed between me and the guy ahead of me. About this same time however, a woman and man passed both of us. This was exactly what I needed to shake me out of my complacency and get me back in race mode. I immediately fell in behind the woman, realizing that I felt fine and wasn’t struggling at all now that I wasn’t worried about freezing.

We were coming up to the turnaround point. The u-turn was actually at about mile 3, since the way back was only two miles, and essentially downhill or flat. I stayed behind the woman, trying to decide if I could go again. For some reason, she took the turn around really wide, so I stopped planning on going and just went. There was a small downhill that we’d just come up and I bombed down it, thinking that I should probably get a gap as quickly as possible. There was an added bonus in that during this section I would be passing the slower runners still heading to the turnaround point. There is definitely something motivating about hearing, “You’re the first woman!” and “Go girl!” I tried to smile and give a wave to the cheerers, but I was also concentrating on widening my gap. This section of the course was paved, and knowing that I’d soon be back on the slower trail section, I tried to push as much as I could.

I was also hoping to catch one or two of the men in front of me, but they were all too far ahead of me. I ended up 12th place overall, and 1st place woman. This is cool just because I don’t really ever win races, and this race was actually the first in a whole trail race series they are doing this year. If I run and place well at 4 of 6 events, I could potentially become the series champion. Clearly, this isn’t a huge series, but it’s kind of neat to think that I could win a thing. I like winning things.

I was so cold after finishing that I was really rude and didn’t stick around for awards (it always takes FOREVER before awards ceremonies start!). I just wanted a hot shower and coffee!

If you are interested, the results are here: http://book-events.com/results/

My next race is on February 8th, but I just got a pair of running shoes that are a whole new model so I’m planning to review them next week once I get a few more miles in them. Until then!

Race Report: Harbison 50k

I headed down to Columbia on Friday afternoon, January 3rd. I made my way over to packet pick-up for the Harbison 50k and snagged my race number and t-shirt. Generally, I’m over the whole race shirt thing, but Harbison 50k managed to get Brooks technical shirts…and even had the women’s specific tops! I’m always a huge fan of anything Brooks, so I needed to mention the shirt since I’ll actually use it!

When I told David, the race director, my name, he kind of grinned and said, “You know you have bib number 1, right?” Sadly, I thought this would be the case. Whatever (OBVIOUSLY FAULTY) algorithm UltraSignup- the go to registration site for ultramarathons- uses somehow had me ranked at number one even though I did not have the best predicted time, or anywhere near the credentials to be that close to the top. I didn’t even finish an ultra at all in 2013!

I may not have deserved it, but it *is* pretty cool looking to have bib #1 with my name on it.
I may not have deserved it, but it *is* pretty cool looking to have bib #1 with my name on it.

After getting my stuff, I drove over to Palmer’s parents’ house to stay the night. They live right off of Lost Creek which is a pretty significant part of the Harbison course. This means that while I had some knowledge of the trails that awaited me since I run from their house every time we go visit, I also had a reason to be nervous. Remember when I said I hadn’t finished an ultra in 2013 (until I did a 50k at Epic in Dec.)? Well, it was after the first loop of Harbison last year that broke me. I quit. I thought I’d quit ultras for good, even. I know now that I was just undertrained and in a terrible place mentally, but I was going into the 2014 edition with the idea that I could not have a repeat of last year. I was fitter, and despite the number on my bib, I just wanted to finish.

Race morning dawned overcast and COLD.

Brr! (Photo via Harbison50k Facebook page)
Brr!
(Photo via Harbison50k Facebook page)

I was glad I’d opted for tights and remembered to wear my ear warmers. At the start line I chatted with a girl about how expensive running tights can be, but frankly, I’ll pay almost anything to stay warm. Winter weather is not for me. Give me the steaming hot August days any time over freezing temps. Luckily, the race started without much of a wait, so we were all able to get some blood pumping. Unfortunately, not too far into the race, probably almost 20 people or so ended up off the correct trail. I think some folks only went a tiny ways off, while some went wayyyyyy off. I was somewhere in the middle of that. I had gone left for probably about 3-4 minutes, while listening to the mutterings and chatter about the course, before an image of the course map sharpened into focus in my mind. I knew for sure we should be heading towards Lost Creek at the beginning and I knew for sure the way I was running was not towards Lost Creek. I turned around and trekked back up the way I came, reminding myself that I probably shouldn’t just blindly follow the person in front of me at races. Especially trail races.

Pay attention. Trust your own instincts. Good lessons to learn, and be reminded of, for racing. (Photo via http://www.cartoonstock.com/lowres/animals-lemming-second_thoughts-suicides-jump-jumper-wpa0649l.jpg)
Pay attention. Trust your own instincts. Good lessons to learn, and be reminded of, for racing.
(Photo via http://www.cartoonstock.com/lowres/animals-lemming-second_thoughts-suicides-jump-jumper-wpa0649l.jpg)

I don’t know for sure if this situation is what led to my later troubles, but I’d venture to say that the resulting adrenaline rush and several miles of fast running to catch back up to where I was burned a few matches far too soon. Eventually I got through what I felt like was the bulk of the traffic and settled into a decent rhythm. I was behind some guy wearing sandals (my toes were so cold for him) and another guy had fallen in behind me. Soon, I passed by sandal guy and it was just me and the guy behind me. I glanced back, and told him just to let me know when he was ready to pass me, but he seemed content at the pace I was holding. We chatted a bit, as he looked very familiar, and it turns out we’d both been at Epic in December. So, my new trail friend Jonathan and I made our way through the rest of the first loop together. I know I held him up on the downhills, but I was fast enough on the flats/ups that it didn’t seem to bother him. I’m so used to training and running all by myself that it was odd to have a person to talk to. Anyway, I was actually quite pleased to have company at Harbison. Jonathan and I would talk for a couple of minutes then lapse into silence for a few miles. It was just the right amount conversation for someone who is used to being stuck in her own mind for hours on end during training.

After the first loop, we picked up a few more people to add to our group. I was the third place female at this point, and for awhile I was pretty sure I’d be able to hold on to my place. This is about when my earlier adrenaline fueled running came back to haunt me. I started to get aches and pains here and there, and while that’s what I was focused on, in retrospect I realize that I didn’t eat enough to make up for that early fast pace. For the whole race I only had two gels, a few ounces of Coke, and a few swigs of pickle juice. I messed up. Now, I don’t generally take in a ton of food, but that was nowhere near enough for this day. I stopped listening to my what my body needed and I paid for it over the last ~8 miles. I lost a ton of time, and ended up losing several places.

Competitive me is super bummed about dropping down to 7th woman at the finish and running a 5:46 when I know I am capable of so much more. However, I can’t be sad about finishing this ultra. It was a redemptive race for me, a reminder that I do want to be an ultra runner despite my road racer mentality. I remembered that I love running just for running’s sake. I remembered that the ultra community is so nice and supportive. I remembered that I’m not a quitter.

As I crossed the finish line, I was greeted by David, the race director. I later learned that he was there for each and every finisher to give them their medals which I thought was a really nice gesture. I was freezing again as soon as I stopped moving, so I didn’t stick around very long before heading back to Palmer’s folks’ and hopping in a hot shower and eating all the food I could find.

Overall, I am really pleased with how the day turned out. Sure, getting lost sucked, but it wasn’t that bad and I know that I’ll be back at Harbison next year to see what kind of time I can run when I don’t take a wrong turn. The race was well organized, and I must mention how AMAZING the volunteers were. Their enthusiasm and willingness to suffer through that cold morning so a bunch of goofballs could run around in the woods was nothing short of spectacular.

So, that’s my first race report of 2014, and hopefully there are many more to come (I may have gone on a registering spree on UltraSignup and some other road race sites like two days after this race)!

A Quick Glance Back And Forward Momentum

I suppose that if I am going to do this, I should do it before January gets away from me. Kind of like all of 2013 did. I didn’t mean to not blog at all last year, but it never seemed like the right time. By the time I thought I should begin blogging again (I am being charged to own this domain name after all, regardless of usage), it was already 2014.

Penny the Kitty came to live with us in the spring of 2013.
Penny the Kitty came to live with us in the spring of 2013.

I’m glad that 2013 is over. The first part of the year was not one of my better times at being a good human in the ways I would like, and while I got it together by the end of the year, I’m happy to close the door on last year. This isn’t to imply that 2013 was bad. Frankly, it was amazingly awesome despite my occasional tendency to sabotage myself. Palmer and I bought a house in downtown Greenville in December, and that was the icing on top of a pretty cool life-cake we’ve made (sometimes my analogies are a bit of a stretch, I know). Point is, personal life things are still crazy, but like a kind of controlled stream of crazy instead of the chaotic fireworks version of crazy that isn’t very healthy for me. A lot of this new-found ability to be a semi-functional adult is thanks to finally going to see a counselor. I opted for one at Clemson, largely because it is free since I’m still a student, and also because if I didn’t get my brain together then I’d have a hard time finishing my Master’s by May (of 2014. I’m still in school.) and that would suck. My counselor is pretty nice, and it’s just helpful to have a kind of neutral space to ruminate over stuff. Anyway, Clemson and thesis and teaching things happened a lot in 2013 and I really fell in love with teaching. I’m just in charge of two sections of first year composition, but there is something about (mostly) 18-19 year olds that I find so much fun to work with. They are also all a huge pain in the butt, but in a rewarding kind of way.

I wrote a lot of words last year, even if none of them ended up on this blog.
I wrote a lot of words last year, even if none of them ended up on this blog. I may have also drank a bit of wine. Just a bit.

Enough about that stuff. This site had always been Hilary Runs, and that’s what I’ve always intended on writing about. I ran some in 2013. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the worse time for my running correlated directly with my not-so-great first half of the year. I didn’t really even keep a log until June, so I have no clue how much mileage I got in, though I can be sure it wasn’t much. The few races I entered are proof of that. I began 2013 with a DNF at Harbison 50k. Then I had  DNS at another ultra. Then I kind of screwed around and ran real, real slow for a few races in the spring. Real slow. Like, one time in March I ran a 5k in 25:19. That’s 8:08 per mile. Okay, I understand that “fast” is a relative term, but just to put it in perspective, once I got my shit together and did a decent little ~12week training block, I ran Spinx Marathon in 3:20:31. That’s 7:39 per mile. For 26.2 miles. That’s a lot more miles than a 5k (23.1 to be exact) and at a much faster pace.

Finishing the Spinx Marathon in October. It was *cold* that morning!
Finishing the Spinx Marathon in October. It was *cold* that morning!

Anyway, I clearly ended up getting much more fit during the second half of 2013 and that’s the most important part. I even dabbled back into the ultra world after my DNF and DNS at the beginning of the year. In December I signed up for the One Epic Run with the plan to just complete a 50k. There were some impressive runners out there and they logged some awesome mileage, but I was quite pleased with my one and only ultra distance run of the year. While I still have plans to get faster at the marathon, I must admit that the ultra bug bit me again at Epic. This balance of running goals and desires will definitely impact the way I approach my 2014 running and racing.

I came in to 2014 with a good bit of momentum from the end of last year. I know that I have a lot of work ahead of me, but I’m excited for the upcoming races, all of the miles and struggle, and the non-running awesomeness that this year will surely bring.

“2013 was my character development year which means 2014 is strictly action and story progression and i dont know about you but i’m excited” –tapdancers