Friday, June 20, 2014

The one where I run a 1/2 marathon distance PR

That's right kids. What are the chances that both half marathons I run this spring end up being long, and not just a little long from Garminization, but 3/4 mile long? I feel like I should play the lottery some time soon. Here's a picture of me right after I finished. Do I look pissed?

I think this is right before I exclaimed, "Damn it, Chad!" (a Fleet Feet Event Mgt. employee) as he put my finishers' medal around my neck.
I have put off writing this race report because, quite frankly, it isn't fun to write about failures, and I also needed some time to cool down. I am not going to bash Fleet Feet Event Management, the organization that put on the event. They typically put on really professional races, but they had some bad luck of their own in the days leading up to this one. In short, they were short on volunteers for the event and they weren't able to supply enough course monitors to man the half marathon course. I'm sure they thought they had set up enough barriers and laid down enough chalk to keep everyone straight, but the course was very confusing to even the cyclists with maps who were leading the runners all over Sacramento.

The first problem I had that day was forgetting my Garmin. I have never done that before! I thought I might try to be Zen for this one and just not use a watch, but OMG am I glad I found a loaner! I can't imagine how much more disastrous that race would have been had I not known how long I had been running after I lost the course. And, then having a record of some of my splits for posterity's sake since the recorded time was about 5-6 minutes slow. I saw my friend Erika right before the race and luckily she had a friend, Jacqueline, who was running the half marathon and generously offered me her Garmin. I was so humbled by this gesture! I will pay it forward one day, I promise!

As I saw the pleas for volunteers from Fleet Feet Event Management stream across Facebook in the days leading up to the race, I had a bad feeling that something might go wrong. Given my experience at the Parkway Half and the fact that I had missed a 10k race the month before because of my health issues, I just wanted to run a legit race and test my fitness.

I met the eventual winner at the start line and introduced myself. She runs for the Oiselle Racing Team, and I knew that she would lead the race from the gun since she has a 1:17 half marathon PR. I also found a friend at the start, Kristen, whom I have met at other races and expected her to be right up there in front too. This is an all-women's race, by the way, so the three of us formed the lead pack. Except that we really weren't a pack. From the gun, Alison was in the lead as I expected. She went out hot. I stuck to my race plan which was to run 6:10-6:20 pace for the first couple of miles to get in a groove. I didn't become discouraged as Alison and then Kristen increased their lead on me in those first few miles. I had read a fantastic race report from Ellie Greenwood, the winner of the 2014 Comrades Marathon, the day before where she emphasized the importance of never giving up. You just never know what might happen in a longer race. Especially a hot race. The temperatures would reach 100+ later that day, and I think it was about 80 degrees when I finished, so not exactly cool. I have been heat training so I knew I would race relatively well in those temperatures and that would be an advantage.

Back to the race: Alison had gained a lead on Kristen and me by mile 3 and a cyclist dropped back to help us figure out where to go since we could no longer see the lead runner. Kristen was right with the cyclist and I was a few seconds behind her. We made a couple of turns and then I saw the cyclist stop abruptly while Kristen followed some cones around to make a left turn onto Folsom Blvd. This is one of the most heavily trafficked roads in Sacramento and I was a little surprised that they would shut down traffic for the race. In actuality, I wasn't really thinking. I was racing and following the cyclist and Kristen. As I turned onto Folsom, the cyclist, parked safely on a side street, looked up from his phone and smiled at me. I could see Kristen running in the vehicle lane and, at first, there wasn't any traffic coming toward her. I thought it odd that they wouldn't have coned off the shoulder of the road for the runners, but whatever. Then, the traffic light changed at 65th and Folsom and cars started streaming toward us. I was in the gutter at this point recognizing that something was seriously wrong, but Kristen hadn't caught on yet and cars had to swerve around her as she held her lane. I finally realized we were screwed and yelled at Kristen to turn around, but she was wearing headphones and didn't hear me. Don't wear headphones in races, peeps!!!

I took the first left that I could, which was 65th street and took it to Elvas Ave. I knew that the course hooked up with Elvas at some point, though I didn't know whether it was on the way out or the way back. At this point I had no idea how to get back on course or whether I was cutting it short or running long. I finally found a police officer acting as course monitor and stopped (and didn't stop my watch) to ask where I was. He directed me down an off ramp and I started seeing what looked like course markings. It wasn't until I found an aid station around mile 6 that I found out where I was on course. That's when I knew this was going to be 3/4 mile long. I also found out that the leader had run the correct course, so now she was completely out of reach (as a side note: she ended up slowing a lot in the latter part of the race, which makes me wonder what Kristen or I could have done in the latter stages as we caught up to her). I didn't see Kristen anywhere even though I half expected her to catch up to me as I had lost some motivation at this point. I found out after the race that she was misdirected not once but twice and eventually dropped. Unlike the Parkway Half where everyone ran a long course, I knew that no adjustments would be made to my time for this one since at least the leader had run the correct course. How deflating.

Of course, dropping out crossed my mind A LOT in the second half of the race. Luckily, my friend Christina Applegate was on her bike not only giving me info on what was going down from an effed-up race standpoint, but also keeping me focused on getting my job done. I love that she decided to put these words on this photo she took because they are the same as the title of Ellie's blog post. I did not give up!
Thanks, Apple, for the pic and the support!
The final insult happened when I approached McKinley Park and there was a cop directing traffic at an intersection. He had his back to me (!) and was waving cars to move through the intersection. I made eye contact with the lady in the car who was being directed to cross the lane I was in, but she just kept moving right on through! I kept running thinking she would stop until she eventually nicked me with her bumper as I yelled out in surprise. I wasn't hurt at all, but Jesus Christo that was ridiculous!

I didn't quit the race even though I did slow at the end. Even running to the 13.1 mile point and lapping my borrowed watch was pointless because I had stopped running a few times to figure out how to get back on course without stopping the watch. I am still unsure what I really ran that day, and I guess it doesn't matter. I estimate I was about 5-6 minutes faster than my gun time but who knows?

I ended up coming in second place and found out that a pack of runners behind me also ended up running different configurations of the course., though most ran shorter than me because they figured out the mistake sooner. Eventually, someone figured out the problem and the rest of the runners were directed along the proper course.

I am not going to lie and say that I let this one roll off my back. I didn't. I really felt sorry for myself after this one. I didn't get to run a single legit race in my build up to the Eugene Marathon because I was either anemic or the course was long. That is some bad luck.

The next day, my health issues cropped up in a major way. I had cramps of the same magnitude as the ones that sent me to the ER back in the winter. This time, I had a bottle of Norco to ease the pain, and I knew that it was just my fibroid baby talking to me. But, holy cow, those cramps are debilitating. It took me out for the entire day. Then, I started bleeding like crazy from Tuesday until, well, yesterday. I had my blood levels taken on Monday to just get a sense of where I was and I was only borderline anemic (hemoglobin = 12.3; clinical anemia is < 12). This actually made me happy to think that I could experience as much blood loss as I had the week prior and still not get nearly as low as I was back in March (hemoglobin < 10). Nonetheless, these levels are still low, and I have found anything under 13 has a noticeable impact on performance, particularly my endurance. I ended up having to skip both of my hard workouts last week because of the uncontrollable blood loss, but I am back training as normal again this week.  

I ran a long workout Wednesday (shout out to Jen P. for getting my butt out there!) and attempted the workout as written. I knew I would have to play it by ear given how I had been feeling, but I wanted to give it a try. The workout on my schedule was 16 miles with 5-7 mile warm up and 4 x 2 miles at threshold pace. I was pretty certain my threshold pace was going to be slow but I thought I might be able to do at least 3 of the repeats. It went better than expected with my 2 mile splits at 12:15 for the first 2. I could definitely tell I was working though. I ran one more mile at around 6:08 pace and then the wheels started coming off. The last mile was around 6:15-6:20 pace and I knew it was time to jog it back in. I didn't really jog though. I finished all 16 miles at an average of ~6:50 pace, so that was another surprise. I will say that I felt like hell afterward. However, I rebounded quickly and enough to get in a TRX workout that evening.

I am on a new medication that is supposed to help control the bleeding, but it does have side effects. It is basically a super dose of progestin. It seems to be working to control the bleeding so far (fingers crossed).

So, what does this mean for my Eugene Marathon training? It means that I am going to continue to train as if I didn't have these health issue and just do what I can. I can't push my body harder than it can go, but I am hopeful that these new meds will keep the bleeding to a minimum so I can use the next 5 weeks to create more red blood cells. The good news is, once my hemoglobin levels get close to 14 again, I am going to feel like a freakin' rock star! I have been there and I know that feeling. It may or may not happen before Eugene, and that's okay. There will be other races for me to attempt to run under 2:43.

If I've learned anything from this spate of bad luck and bad health it is to never, ever give up on myself.