Recap of the race
If you've already seen the results of the National Championship Cross Country Meet in Spokane, you may have gathered it was not a lot of fun for me. I wanted it to be fun, but it just wasn't. I finished in a time of 31:59 (6:30 pace) and came in 11th place in the military competition. I really don't know what place I was overall in the race, but I'm sure my name was not far from the bottom of the list. After the race, I was listening to one of the Navy runners talk about how she got lapped by Shalane Flanigan and that it was pretty cool to see her smoke by. I told myself then, “Look on the bright side. At least you didn’t get lapped.”
Despite my lackluster performance, my Air Force Women's Team (and the Men's Team) won the military competition and many of my teammates had fabulous races. We were awarded these shiny gold medals during the awards ceremony last night. I felt a little guilty accepting a medal since I didn’t contribute much to the team’s win, but I also felt like I had competed well in 3 other races (marathons) for the team and was due a stinker.
As a reminder, this was my first cross country race ever, and so I was kind of nervous-excited for it. I didn't know what to expect, but I also wasn't putting a whole lot of energy into psyching myself up for it. It was not a focus race for me in my training program, meaning that I didn't taper for it at all. I thought that I might be able to pull off a decent race given that the first week of February was a recovery week where I only ran 62 miles.
That didn't seem to matter. From the gun, my legs were made of lead. I mean, I had nothing in them whatsoever. I was running too fast at first, like everyone else, but I think that had little to do with how I felt. My initial pace was around 5:30-5:40 for the first 1k. I have had the experience of heavy legs at the beginning of races before and sometimes it goes away. This time, it just got worse as time went on. I started slowing and think I was at 11:15 or so at the 3k mark. People started passing me one at a time. My legs got heavier even though my breathing was not labored. I have to admit that I had little will to finish the race and certainly had lost all confidence in my ability to rally. I am not a quitter, typically, but, had I not had a team depending on my score, I would have dropped out after the second loop. Maybe even the first. It was not my day. I finished the race at a ridiculously slow pace though I haven't had the heart to download my Garmin data yet to see what it was.
I wore XC spikes for the first time and found out the hard way why one wears socks with them. I started forming blisters on my arches during the first lap on both feet and have some nice blood blisters on my heels as well. These were borrowed spikes and they were a bit small. I didn't take the time to find a thin enough pair of socks to fit in them. The blisters under the arches are ridiculously painful.
The atmosphere of the race was great. It's fun to watch cross country races because there are so many opportunities to see the runners around the course. When you're having a bad day, however, that means everyone gets to see just how epic your crash is multiple times around the course. Despite all of the wonderful support from teammates and coaches, I was unable to respond to their pleas to go faster and pick off my competitors.
This race was, of course, part of a longer workout this weekend. I had 20 total miles to run including the race and was then supposed to pull off 3 miles at goal marathon pace during the last 11 or so miles. My Teammate, Cap’n E, shares my same coach and is also training for a spring marathon. We had the same workout and had decided ahead of time to run the additional miles together after the race. After I finished, I told her I couldn’t possibly get any more miles out of my legs let alone 11.5. After a mile or so of cool down and consumption of a Clif bar while watching the men’s race, I changed my mind and decided to give it a shot. I guess I wanted to salvage something from the day. If I didn’t have a good race, at least I could call it a workout and get a long run out of it.
Spokane seems like a great place to run. There is a long, paved bike path that runs along the Spokane River and past the race venue as well as our hotel. We picked that up and headed back to our hotel. As we were leaving the park, I spied a runner coming toward us that looked like he belonged on the cover of Running Times Magazine. It was Ryan Hall out for a jog. His wife Sara was in the women’s race that I ran. By the time I recognized him, I was barely able to get out a little chirp that may have sounded like “hyyeee” before he jogged past. Ryan Hall. Wicked cool.
My legs still felt heavy, but they did feel better the more I ran. As we progressed along the trail, we kept speeding up. Eventually, I found myself running 6:30 pace and thought WTF? How can I do this at the end of 20 miles on such tired legs but not get my butt moving any faster for 5 miles?
I feel obliged to acknowledge that Cap’n E saved my butt near the end of our run. As I turned a corner on the trail, I saw a large shepherd-mix of a dog sniffing around on the side of the trail. I looked for the owner and quickly noticed that there was no owner present. The dog looked very at home in this spot and quickly turned as I approached to tell me I was not welcome. Hair raised on his back, he started to growl, bark and move toward me in a threatening manner. I had forgotten exactly how to respond in this situation and apparently decided to stop running and break into a Karate Kid move in front of the dog. I was also yelling and clapping my hands. Cap’n E turned the corner behind me, saw my ineffective attempts at scaring the dog and started screaming like a banshee. The dog retreated decisively and did not chase us down. Of course, I thought to myself at least I didn't have to worry about rabies.
So, what happened?
My anal-retentive disposition naturally desires an explanation for why this happened. Here’s my answer: my body was reeling from a combination of a lot of stressors including hard training, lack of sleep, hormonal cycles, travel, work stress and not so great nutritional habits. Oh, and then there’s the 9 shots I’ve received in the last month (8 rabies and one H1N1). As for the hard training, when I thought back to what I had done for the 7 days leading up to the race, I realized it was pretty tough:
2/6 8 miles + 2 x weight circuit
2/7 16 miles w/7 miles up a hill @ LT effort
2/8 10 miles with 1 set of hill drills
2/9 15.2 miles with 2 mi. @ LT effort (5:58), 10 x 90 sec. hills @ 5:40 pace, 2 mi. at goal marathon pace (6:15)
2/10 8 miles easy + core 200 + 2 x through weight circuit
2/11 10.1 miles with 10 x 100m cut downs (10k effort down to mile effort)
2/12 6 miles easy
2/13 20 miles including XC race
I was suffering from DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) the entire week from the weight workouts and hills and was definitely feeling that in the race. My breathing was not a problem, but my legs just said, "oh no you don't."
Despite Joe’s recommendation to the contrary, I picked up Matt Fitzgerald’s book Brain Training for Runners a week or more ago. I like the section on overtraining and found it useful to re-read this morning. I like the adaptive approach to testing training limits he advocates, which is that you have to bust them in order to know where they are. If you’re constantly training below that limit, you will never reach your highest potential. If you go over that limit too often and for too long, you will go past a point of no return that requires months of rest to recover fully. The bottom line, however, is that you have to flirt with that upper limit in order to know where it is. I believe, yesterday, I began my flirtation with that limit.
Looking back on the last few weeks, or even farther, I can see that I have not been allowing for proper recovery in nearly every aspect of my life. The balancing act begins anew as I try to adjust my life to maintain a hard training program while avoiding an over-trained state. I really think I have to continue to push my training, so that leaves tweaking my lifestyle. I will maintain my training schedule and attempt my next few hard workouts. If they continue to go poorly, I will definitely back off my training. I also plan to do the following through the Eugene Marathon in order to maximize my recovery:
Alcohol is banished. I did this at about the same point in my build up to Twin Cities, and I believe it helped me. Today’s recovery after last night’s celebratory festivities in Spokane with my teammates reminds me of the impact alcohol has on the body and why I don’t normally do tequila shots. Last night, it was a rite of passage. I had not “reported in to the Colonel” yet according to my indoctrinated teammates and was required to do so. This ritual included a salute and downing a tequila shot. Of course, I didn’t stop there last night, but I will stop there as of today.
Get more sleep. People often mention that they don’t understand how I do everything that I do. The answer is simple: I don’t sleep. I average around 6 hours of sleep a night. That’s simply not enough. I’m not sure what I’m going to give up to make this happen for the next 10 weeks, but I have to figure it out.
Eat sooner after running. I run early in the morning and have gotten into the habit of waiting until 10 a.m. to eat breakfast—sometimes 3 hours after I finish my workout. I drink coffee after running, but I am definitely waiting too long to eat. This is an easy thing to fix by simply taking a recovery drink with me for post-workout consumption or by eating something as soon as I get home from my workout.
This isn’t rocket science, but it’s amazing how far out of whack I let things get sometimes before recognizing that they are askew.
Finally, though my cross country debut was a disaster, I refuse to count myself out of the sport in the future. I can see the allure and believe I would be good at it and would have fun doing it under different circumstances.
There is no failure except in no longer trying ~Elbert Hubbard