Sunday, February 14, 2010

At least I didn't get lapped

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


  1. It was not a disaster! It was your first cross country race in the midst of some very hard training. I hope this experience doesn't scare you away from cross country in the future. Do you do all your running on roads? I forgot what you'd said about that. If you do, it's so easy to get into a groove because the footing is steady. Compare this to XC where you are running on grass or dirt or both, or sand, etc. Your legs work harder! And they were working harder on top of being tired from all your training. You did not get lapped! I would seriously take that as a personal victory, especially when running with the women you ran with! You did great, Jaymee! And it's nice to see how you're going to make changes in the future in order to take care of yourself and protect your longevity in this sport. Next year at XC Nationals, you will be way up there in the front!

  2. +1 to Glorybelle, no disaster to be found (though of course we get where you're coming from). Everything you mention would definitely come into play as hindering a "best" race, the hard training, the first time doing something new, the shoes, all of it.

    I never buy Runners World but I got it this month because of the Kara Goucher article everyone was talking about. It's a wonderful article and if you haven't read it, get a copy. It sure gives perspective to those crap races we're all gonna have at one time or another. Sorry it was your turn.

  3. sorry you had a bad experience this time around... but i'm sure you will have a great x-country experience in the future.
    about eating: angela and i have recently started drinking a protein drink immediately after we run, just so that we get some calories and protein right away. it's met-rx and it has about 20 grams of protein. i drink it really cold and ASAP after i run. i often drink coffee right after i run too, but if you down one of these drinks first, i think it gives important nutrients to your body.
    i do think it's smart that you will be paying close attention to how your body handles training these next few weeks. this is especially important as a masters runner. and i often find if i go over an edge, all i need is a few days of rest and i'm back in the game.
    and finally... i do think sleep is really important, though i do think people can pull great things off even if their sleep is not ideal. ever since i've had my sons, i am pretty sleep deprived... and sometimes it does take a toll... but lots of times you can still pull great things off. but lately i have been lucky to get as much as 7 hours of sleep a night sometimes because the boys are in a good sleep pattern. it really does seem to make a big difference in terms of how i feel not just physically but emotionally. anyway... good job this weekend. it's how you handle the tough days that builds a champion. it's easy to be tough when things are going good.

  4. I am moving my old blogs to my current site and I came upon a report for my first track race -- a 1500 -- in 30 years. It begins, "What can I say? A disaster." and includes, my coach "Devon says, 'it can only get better.' That's true, the bright-side."

    I suspect the problem with your disaster was that you got hit with being in a race in a somewhat familiar but fundamentally different environment. Even if you run on trails and grass, it's nothing like the intensity of going out hard in a cross-country race. Things start to hurt in new, disturbing ways. "I've run this fast a zillion times. Why are my legs about to explode? And I've got another 6K." And then mentally things start going south.

    It takes getting used to. But even then it's tough. Every time I race the 5K at Van Cortlandt there's a spot where I just want to quit, about 1.25 in. Every time. And I've raced there since I was a sophomore in HS.

    Throw in all the other stuff going on. Let's face it, you trained through this thing. I think the recovery issue is how well you recover from workout A to be ready for workout B. But you were not tapering for this.

    Chalk it up to a valuable learning experience and, more important, a one-off that doesn't reflect your true condition. I agree. Don't be put off about running cross again, because with your strength background you'd probably prove to be pretty good at it.

    As to Fitzgerald, while he has some useful stuff to say, in the end I don't think he provides the magic formula for improvement that his presentation of a totally-new principle suggests, i.e., it's basically Daniels lite.

  5. So sorry your race didn't go as well as you had hoped. I ran the Erik Anderson Memorial Run at 9am. I came down that first little hill and thought wow this is slippery! My next thought was man I would not want to be running this course on the last race of the day!!
    Spokane is a great place to run-the Centennial Trail is really a great place to run and bike. I feel so lucky to have it nearby!

  6. Yes, "J" your analysis is the correct one. Too much training going into this and your mind has to know what to expect if you are to override it and pull out a special time.

    That feeling of wanting to but not being able to is frustrating but a lesson better learnt now than later.

    You'll have a good one again just do what you know, have written, you should.

  7. Thanks everyone for your thoughtful comments, suggestions and encouragement!

    GB, You always have a way of finding a ray of sunshine in whatever nasty predicament I'm in. Thank you!

    GIM, I appreciate your corroboration of my assessment that a bunch of crap led to a bad day. I will definitely read that article about KG. I have it sitting on my coffee table at home.

    t-meat, Thanks for sharing your experience tweaking nutrition and sleep. The stupid thing is that I know that I'm supposed to eat/drink something right after a workout and have a pantry full of mixes. I've just become lazy or maybe complacent about it. I will try the Met-rx stuff. I'm always on the lookout for new products. Glad to hear you're able to get more sleep. When I have in the past, I have seen a change in emotional health too. It can only help.

    Joe, Thanks for the track meet anecdote. Very apropos. I am actually pretty comfortable running fast on the grass even though I've not raced on grass before. When I first started running, I did extensive speedwork in a grass field because our coach was a huge cross country fan. We would run 1000m repeats at various fast efforts with very short rests. i remember having no problem meeting if not exceeding expectations on the grass. I guess I believe that any race/workout I would have run yesterday, road or cross, would have been poor given all of the factors I had working against me. Though I realize it looked like I was calling you out on the Fitz book, that was not my intent. I appreciate you explaining your opinion, which I agree with. It is more synthesis of what others have done before and certainly not anything new. What is new is the way he presents it. For some reason the way he writes some sections of the book resonates with me and helps me "get it" in a way I haven't before. I find that useful.

    berylgruvr, You were there! You know, I didn't really have a problem with the course, I thought it was fine and the weather certainly was ideal. Maybe a little windy. You are lucky to have that fantastic trail in your backyard.

    Scott, I like the way you summarize the lesson. That's just the sentiment I was looking for, and you did it in one sentence! I tend to be quite verbose, as you can see. I do have confidence in my fitness and won't let this one shake my confidence.

  8. Don't praise Scott like that Jaymee, or he might start thinking he knows what he's talking about ;)

    Sorry you had a bad race, but as has been said before, one usually learns more from a bad race than a good one.

    Joe mentioned you 'training through' this race. Sometimes that will come off (usually if the competition isn't so strong), sometimes it won't. The big picture is you're training for a marathon, so a poor cross country race is hardly a disaster.

  9. Good analysis by yourself and others. I was surprised that you ran in the open race rather than the masters race, but figured it was a team thing. Given that you mentioned recently that you're doing tempo work at 6:30, that pace made me think you were just having an off day.

    One tip: Don't even wait until you get home for post-workout recovery food. I find that half a ham and cheese sandwich is perfect. You can keep it in the car or a bag. Chcolate milk (hot or cold) is also the right balance.

  10. Whoops -- make that "doing tempo work at 6:00..."

  11. Ewen, Thanks for the reminder that training through is a dicey proposition. I do think it was a wake up call to change things up a bit in my routine lest that bomber of a race be something really important, like my marathon.

    Julie, I would have done quite well in the Masters race even with the race I ran. As one person noted, I was the oldest person in the race. That actually doesn't give much comfort.

    How did you know that my favorite gu flavor is ham and cheese? I actually can't believe that you eat a sandwich right after a run. I think I have to stick to liquids. I have a pantry full of recovery mixes. Why don't I use them? Who knows.

  12. "I have a pantry full of recovery mixes. Why don't I use them? Who knows."

    Maybe it's because most of them taste like floor cleaner.