Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Bolder Boulder

Photo from the Daily Camera: This is the wave I started in
In the eight years I have lived in Boulder, I have avoided the annual spectacle that is the Bolder Boulder 10K. Various reasons have kept me away from the start line. Conflicting races. Injuries. Apathy. But, mostly, I have stayed away from this legendary race because of the enormity of the number of racers.

This year, I decided that I had run out of excuses. I signed up for the race. In doing so, I embraced all that the Bolder Boulder weekend had to offer. Mark and I went to the Boulder Creek festival on Saturday and the race expo on Pearl Street on Sunday. Adding race day on Monday, I had three very full days of crowd control.
The happy group race morning: Mark, JZ, Krista, Lara, Billy
My race was over right from the start. I had trouble breathing almost immediately. When I reached the 2k banner, I was contemplating just running home since it was much closer than the finish line. I forged on though, mostly because Mark was running as well and we had planned to meet at the finish area. I backed off the pace in hopes of feeling better. Just after the 4 mile marker, I was stooped over on the side of the road wheezing like a pack a day smoker who just climbed a flight of stairs. After about 10 minutes, I stepped back onto the course and finished the race.

Fortunately, my asthma has been under fairly good control lately, so this episode was unexpected. Despite all of the years of experience with asthma, and despite all of the counseling I have given to other athletes with asthma, I was still incredibly disappointed that this happened. Later in the day, I commiserated with a fellow asthma sufferer who dropped out of the race at the very spot I stood on the side of the road. It turns out that misery truly loves company.

When I was discussing the race with Mark, I was lamenting about my frustration. He asked if I would have been happier if I had just run poorly and turned in a bad time. I replied, “of course, not,” to which he responded, “There is no such thing as a “good” bad day.” His words, which made me chuckle, are so true. I never jump for joy over a bad race, no matter the circumstances.

Despite the less than awesome outcome of this race, I had the opportunity to make some interesting observations.

Triathletes really stand out in running races. Runners pin their race number onto their shirt. Triathletes use a number belt. Runners either wear a full hat or no hat. Triathletes use a visor.  Finally, runners wear their Boston marathon gear. Triathletes sport their Ironman gear. The wearing of the race shirt during the race seems to be a universal faux pas. Compression socks have made the jump from obscure triathlon fad to being respected apparel during run races. Today, I pinned my number on my top, but I wore a visor; apparently I am still a triathlete at heart.

Just in case you men out there were wondering, us ladies are well aware when our “headlights” are showing. No, we do not like it; it just happens to be a side effect of racing in scanty clothing. I have been caught on numerous occasions in photographs with this embarrassing affliction. I have tried different sports bras to no avail. I was grousing about this to my friend Kim recently when an indecent photo surfaced after a recent race. She owns a specialty bra shop called Boulder Fields (I liked the name The Knocker Locker, but she thought it was too crass). She recommended a product called DIMRS (you know, “dimmers”; such a cute name), a silicon protector which smoothes things out in the chest area. They worked fantastically and will now become a part of my race kit.

Racing at altitude is hard. I can’t wait to head to sea level this week to tackle the Rock ‘n Roll San Diego half marathon.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

One track mind

I have only run on the track twice this year. “That’s heresy!” you say? Yes, it is true that triathletes have a strange fixation with the track. I, too, have done hard time on the track, running up to two workouts a week going around and around and around the oval. This year, I shied away from the track, instead running intervals on the trails, roads and bike paths, with occasional treadmill workouts thrown in when the weather was uncooperative.

Certainly the track has its merits. It is flat, usually a cushy surface, and the length is perfectly measured (disregarding the track near my house which is uphill on the first turn, paved with precarious cracks all around, and it is slightly longer than 400 meters. It is, however, where we run our annual beer mile). You don’t have to worry about stepping on dogs or avoiding oblivious walkers. With a large group, running on the track keeps everyone together.

I contend that breaking away from the track for some workouts is refreshing and may even save your legs. The constant strain on the inner leg is never quite equalized by running the recovery in the opposite direction. Running on the track somehow beckons for running faster than one should actually run. If a workout calls for 5k pace, doing it on the track will invariably result in times much faster than one can conceivably hold for 5k. Look, I am just as guilty as you are of running too fast on the track.

And, who doesn’t get workout anxiety when there is a hard track session on the schedule? Somehow, 8x800 on the track is far more intimidating than 8x3 minutes (or thereabouts) on a lovely trail, even though both are virtually the same.

Now, I am not saying to avoid the track altogether. The track is perfect for shorter, faster intervals; or, if you cannot find a flattish stretch of road to run on; or, to just do a workout every now and again.

But, with GPS watches, it is easy to measure out any distance you want to run and check your pace obsessively at all times. This year, I have run intervals from 30 seconds up to 10k in training. My trusty watch keeps me in check, so there is no guess work involved. I know my target pace for each workout, before I start, and I do my best to hit those paces.

By extricating myself from the track and running on the roads (or trails), I believe I am preparing my legs better for racing. All of the places I have done my intervals are undulating and canted, similar to the conditions of the races I intend to run. It is comparable to riding your bike on the road vs. the trainer.

Next time you head to the track, test out the road instead and see what you think.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Colfax Half Marathon

I'm in the blue PowerBar top and white visor.

Have I ever mentioned that I hate being cold? I am the type of person who shivers and turns purple when it is sunny and 60 degrees. My nemesis is cold and wet. I have no ability to stay warm in those conditions. The forecast for the Colfax half marathon was less than desirable, but I optimistically figured that running the LA marathon in similar conditions had given me some resiliency, a shield of armor if you will. Alas, it did not.

Given the 6 am start time and 45 minute drive to Denver, my alarm was set for 3:45. I was worried about being able to crawl out of bed at such an ungodly hour, that I would be weary and tired. My apprehension about oversleeping was unwarranted.  I lay in bed wide awake at 2:45 listening to the rain pelt the window, the gutters, and the roof. Ugh. I was not psyched about running another race in cold and wet conditions.

I finally got out of bed at 3. I had to check weather.com to find out if the rain would continue or abate. It seemed that the rain would stop around the time the race was over.

I played online Scrabble and drank coffee. Evidently, the mind does not work as well that early, because I could not find a word out of these letters: ogd. My body was definitely in race mode, as I was able to complete my “business” at 3:15. At least that was a relief!

We set off for the race venue at 4:30. The thermometer in the car read a chilly 36 and there was no promise of it getting any warmer. I had a very hard time deciding what to wear. I packed my bag with all manner of options. My optimistic self packed shorts, a short sleeve shirt and sunglasses. My realistic self packed heavy gloves, tights, a long sleeved shirt and a jacket. All of the clothing was very confusing, as I now had endless combinations from which to choose.

Ultimately, I decided to race in the heavy gloves, tights and two shirts. I wore the jacket for my warm up and shed it before the start. Standing around in the corral waiting for the race to begin, my feet turned into bricks. Yep, it was going to be a cold one.

My race strategy was to start very conservatively. My ribs had been bothering me all week and the cold air really affects my breathing. I knew my best chance for a good race would be to build the first half, which was uphill and then open it up on the downhill of the second half.

I stuck to my plan and found myself in second place, not too far behind the lead female. By mile 3, I knew my pace was way off. I took over the lead around mile 9 and crossed the line first. My time was about 2 minutes off of my goal.

The first half of the race course itself was not terribly scenic; it was a concrete jungle. Colfax Ave. boasts pawn shops, convenience stores and shady characters. The second half was much nicer as the course traversed some upscale neighborhoods and took us right through a fire station (which was temptingly heated). At mile 11, the finish line was visible, which is torture when you are cold and have to use the bathroom.
Runners going through the fire station
Here is a good tip. I have a history of getting blisters in wet conditions. I got a pedicure before this race and before the LA marathon. Even though my feet were soaked through, I avoided all foot problems.  Coincidence? I think not.

Next up, the Bolder Boulder 10k. I am hoping for a nicer day. Has anyone seen the long range forecast?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The 20 Minute Rule

Do you ever wake up in the morning questioning whether to train? Can’t even get out of bed? How about standing on the pool deck debating whether to dive in? Your body is tired and your brain is frazzled. What to do? On these days, I ask myself, am I really too tired (or sore) to train. If the answer is a resounding yes, then I skip the workout.

Usually, however, I prod myself to start the workout with this caveat: if I still don’t feel right after 20 minutes, then it is time to pull the pin. I have dubbed this “The 20 minute rule”.  It is a highly valuable motivator on days when motivation is lacking.

No workout can be judged before it begins or even during the first five minutes. I have found that twenty minutes is the optimal amount of time to give the mind and body a proper warm up. After the initial few minutes, the blood starts flowing loosening up the muscles. The legs start feeling better and the body awakens from its slumber. It is not enough time, though, to do damage if you are ailing in some manner.

The 20 minute rule is an extremely useful tool and has a number of applications. It is equally effective for swimming, biking and running.

Suppose you have an important bike workout with some tough intervals. You are dragging and no amount of caffeine is helping. My suggestion is to ride easy for 20 minutes and then assess your situation. If you feel better, do a few pickups and start your intervals. If after 20 minutes, you still feel shabby, go home and take a nap.

Right now, I am applying the 20 minute rule on a regular basis at the pool. My rib pain has flared up again, and swimming seemingly makes it worse. If my ribs hurt at the 20 minute mark, I hop out of the pool and sulk in the shower. If at 20 minutes I am pain-free, I complete the workout and smile in the shower.

I have used the 20 minute rule when recovering from illness and injury. It has proved useful when determining if my asthma will be an issue. The 20 minute rule has let me know whether my legs are ready for bike or run intervals. I have never had a successful workout if I don't feel good within the first 20 minutes.

And then there are the days that the 20 minutes of warm up offer up a pleasant surprise: an outstanding workout.

How do you decide whether to work out on days you feel tired?