Friday, July 29, 2011

Dam race, damn hip

I’ve come to the realization that I run for approximately two reasons:  1 – to eat unlimited amounts of ice cream, and 2 – for exciting blog material.  There are probably other reasons as well, but those are the ones that stand out.
                Last night was the second race in the Woodland Trail Series at the West Hill Dam in Uxbridge, put on by my running club Tri-Valley Front Runners.  Last month my hip was too cranky to run it, and instead I volunteered and had an unexpected blast.  I’ve been looking forward to helping out again at this one, assuming my hip wouldn’t be in shape to run.  I’ve babied my hip lately with short, flat runs on the treadmill and even managed a 3.2 mile run earlier this week at a campground I was staying at.  A few days ago I got a message on Facebook from Joanna, a friend from high school and college, saying she was running this race.  We hadn’t seen each other for a zillion years and I was thrilled that she was coming.
                As the day wore on yesterday I started thinking, wouldn’t it be fun to run the race.  Real slow, of course.  Plus, it would make much better blog material to RUN the race (one-legged) than to volunteer again.  I tossed around the idea, and ran it by a couple people.  The general response was: No, you dumb idiot!  YES, absolutely run it!  Even driving home from work I still wasn’t convinced I should run, hip throbbing as I sat in my car.  But before I could talk myself out of it, I walked in the door, changed into running gear, packed a change of clothes, and flew out the door.  I got to the race and several buddies looked at me in disbelief, saying “You’re running?!”  My response: “Um, I think so.”  Even 10 minutes before the start I pondered if I could get my money back if I changed my mind.  I don’t think I’ve ever had less confidence heading into a race than I had last night!
                By 6:30 I had run out of opportunities to back out of the race and took off at a trot with everyone else.  I started at the back of the pack, and that’s exactly where I finished!  The course was nice (very familiar since it’s in my backyard) and the bugs weren’t bad at all.  I averaged a 10:00 pace, tiptoed in the rough sections, and walked up and down some of the hills.  Most people were out of sight by the time I hit the 2 mile mark, and I was thankful for my thorough knowledge of the trails.  At one point I wondered if I was dead last, but after rounding a corner, I heard a volunteer clapping for people behind me.  I certainly took my time and tried not to be discouraged at the Garmin display as it edged up to 11:00 and 12:00 minute paces.  On sections of good footing I tried to move out a little more, but my hip reeled me back in with a quick burn.  I crossed the finish in a record slow 50:18, but I was greeted with lots of cheers from the club and that was a great way to finish a race!
                Joanna and I stayed to watch the awards before heading out for some post-race victory beers, and we were shocked when she won 1st in our age group and I won 2nd!  We laughed about it, saying we must’ve been the only people in our age group, or there must’ve been a mistake.  We had our picture taken and it made for a good story afterwards at the bar.  We were award-winning runners!

Joanna & I - award winning runners.  (I want Joanna in all my pictures from now on, she makes me look so tall!)

                This morning I got an email from the club apologizing for the confusion, but as it turns out one of the runners in the 20-29 age group was mis-categorized and really belonged in my division, and oh by the way she actually won.  So… victory was sweet while it lasted, but Joanna got bumped to 2nd and I got bumped to 3rd.  I have no plans to disclose this to the people at the bar, who think I’m a running genius.  Let them go tell their families about the award winning runner with the pronounced limp they met in the bar, who guzzled well-earned Sam Adams like a champ, and then left abruptly…in search of ice cream.
Some of the TVFR runners and volunteers: a fun (and sweaty) bunch!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The treadmill reunion

Cancel the Amber alert, call off the dogs, send the search parties home…I have been located.  I wasn’t found pounding the pavement on any local roads or stomping through the trails.  I was hiding out *gasp* on a treadmill.  That same dreaded belt I cursed all winter long as snow banks reached heights exceeding the arc of my swinging ponytail.  I joined a gym specifically to use the treadmill in lousy weather, and although I was thankful to have it, I quickly burnt out over the winter.  I haven’t even been to my gym since February and honestly didn’t expect to be back there until this winter. 
                My mileage has decreased significantly over the summer.  I’m partially okay with that, because I expected to back off during the summer and pick it back up in August to prepare for a half marathon in October.  Obviously that plan is on hold at the moment until I meet with the surgeon regarding my hip.  Although the hip is quite cranky, I’ve been trying to at least get moving a couple times a week.  My running log is embarrassing these days.  I managed a whopping 34 miles in June and only 26 so far in July.  I got a couple runs in last week from my house, which is a combination of trails and roads, with some hills.  The hills seem to irritate my hip more than anything, so even those runs have become more of a walk/jog than a “run”.  My other excuse (I have an endless supply of them according to Todd) is that we’ve been stuck in a miserable heat wave this week.  I know my limits, and I know that I will literally boil to death if I run in extreme heat.  While Todd and Jaimee skipped off for their lunch time runs in 90 degree heat, I stayed inside and missed more opportunities for miles.  My hip has continued to throb, a constant reminder that I shouldn’t feel guilty about missing these lunch runs, but I still do.
                Today I decided to switch things up a bit and head to the gym.  I haven’t run in a full week and wanted to put in a few miles without burning to death.  Plus, I thought it would be a nice break for my hip to be able to run without hills, and the added benefit of being able stop at any time if the hip became too sore.  So off to the gym I went, all decked out in my running gear.  I hopped on a treadmill and was immediately disappointed at the lack of entertainment.  Running on the roads is a great chance to sightsee, check out peoples’ gardens, explore new roads, and perhaps spy on neighbors.  Today at the gym there were very few people to spy on, so it was a chore trying to stay interested enough to keep running.  I managed to get through 4.6 miles, and amused myself by watching all the people that came and went as I continued plodding along.  Seems that I can still outrun most people at the gym, even with a torn hip!  (At least this is what I tell myself).  I alternated speeds every quarter mile to keep it interesting, and by the third mile my body was in the “long distance” groove.  It’s funny how for the first couple miles of a run my body continuously wants to stop, and then after I settle into my groove, my body seems to concede that it will be working for a while and stops asking.  I did take a couple of walk breaks, but I have a bit of a limp when walking and it’s really awkward on a treadmill, so for my safety and to avoid stares I tried to keep running most of the time.  I also cursed myself for drinking that 4th margarita last night, which provided a constant source of heartburn during the run.
                Today’s run, albeit boring, was a success and might just be the alternative that will keep me running for a while (pending surgery at least).  If this ends up being the case, I’m going to have to start inventing some new mind games to hold my attention!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Big things in little Rhode Island

I have a tendency to make fun of Rhode Island.  The weird accents, hot weiners, corrupt government, huge debt, and doomsday street names (Can you say Breakneck Hill Road?).  Don't get me wrong, some of my favorite people are from Rhode Island, and my favorite place to ride my horse is in Rhode Island.  And then there's Newport, a favorite of mine for shopping, dining, beaching, perusing mansions, and strolling down the Cliff Walk.  Yes, Rhode Island does have lots to offer if I stop and think about it.

A couple months ago I bought my son a new Cannondale mountain bike.  He had borrowed mine and loved it so much he wanted one for himself.  I was thrilled at the idea of having an activity to share with him, but I wasn't thrilled about the pricetag on the bike.  If he truly wanted to ride this bike, I explained, he would have to be willing to ride it regularly.  For our first ride we went on the trails behind my house.  There are some good gravel sections but also some more technical trails with rocks, roots, and hills.  In hindsight I probably should have started him off with something easier.  He did pretty well, but I think he got a little discouraged when he took a couple tumbles.  After that debut, we decided to get on some easier terrain, which is when we scoped out the Milford bike path.  That was our first time on a bike path and Andrew loved how much easier it was.  Instead of rocks and roots and hills, the only obstacles we had to work around were crowds of teenagers.  I let him ride this path a couple times as confidence boosting rides, but then we headed back to the trails.  The trails have gotten a little easier for him and I've avoided the more difficult ones.

In the meantime, we had heard of another bike path in Rhode Island.  Although personally I like the challenge of the trails, I thought Andrew might like a change of scenery to keep him interested.  I have to skillfully manipulate encourage him and thought another bike path would be fun for him.  The Milford bike path was nice, but short and some of the questionable characters we passed made me a little uneasy.  I heard the Rhode Island bike path was longer, so we decided to check it out.

Another reason for my sudden interest in checking out the bike path was that I just bought a new bike rack!  No more stuffing bikes into the back of the SUV.  So naturally I was dying for an excuse to test it out.  Of course, never having used a bike rack before I was instantly confused and started panicking a little.  I made an emergency call over to Scott, who lives in Missouri.  Yes, the only person I could think of at that moment that might be able to help me out lives 2,000 miles away.  So I verbally explained my confusion, and he walked me through some steps.  I snapped a couple pictures of the bike rack with the bikes attached and sent them over to him for review.  After some gentle heckling regarding my purple mountain bike, he gave me the green light.

Whoa, nice rack!

On Saturday we ventured out in search of the bike path.  I got directions to the start of the path which took us deep into Woonsocket, which also has questionable areas.  Driving through the city, I had very low expectations.  My biggest concern was the value of the goods attached to the back of my vehicle.  I was thankful I opted for the rack that has a locking hitch and a locking cable that goes around the bikes.  No one's stealing my precious cargo!  We got to the parking lot safely, and when I started unloading the bikes I realized two major errors I made.  In my excitement of using the bike rack, I forgot to 1. pack my Camelpak, and 2. check the air pressure in my tires (which for some reason were a little low).  It was a rookie mistake and I'm sure as I get more comfortable with packing up the truck I'll develop a better routine.

After double and triple checking that everything was locked up, we headed towards the path.  Since my tires were a little low and I didn't have any water in the 88 degree heat, I didn't expect we would be out very long.  Immediately after getting onto the path, we were amazed at how nice it was!  The path follows the Blackstone River (the name of the bike path is actually the Blackstone River Bikeway).  We could not have been more shocked or pleasantly surprised at this path.  There was a cool breeze coming off the water, and the path was tree lined and very scenic.  There wasn't a lot of traffic on the path and everyone we passed was pleasant.  The path was well groomed and maintained with plenty of places to pull off, benches to sit on, and access to the river for fishing.  We even spotted a pair of deer!  We stopped at this scenic waterfall in Lincoln, RI.

It may not have been the challenging workout I was aiming for, but Andrew and I had a blast and before we realized it we had already gone six miles.  We stopped for a water break and then turned around for the return six mile trip.  What's great is that we only scratched the surface of the length of the path, so I'm anxious to go back and go further!  I also thought that in the future this will be a nice place for me to get in some long runs when preparing for any upcoming half or full marathons.  It's a safe and mostly flat route, and it would be a great way to get in long miles without the interruption of cars.

So, Rhode Island is starting to grow on me.  It seems that the things I like about the state are starting to outweigh the things I don't like.  I even just learned about a new race in Newport called the Newport Bridge Run, which sounds incredibly cool.  It's a loop around Jamestown and then 2 miles up and over the Newport Pell bridge.  Depending on how things go with my hip, I might think about signing up for it.  As long as they don't serve hot weiners at the post race party!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Those who can't...volunteer!

The term “volunteering” for me has always been one of those things that you don’t necessarily want to do, but you know it’s the right thing to do. Kind of like how kids are obligated to give their estranged relatives a hug and a kiss once a year on a holiday. They don’t want to, but they do it because if they don’t, they won’t get dessert, or get to play with their new toys, or get to go home. Volunteerism is essentially doing what you have to do, in order to get what you want.

I don’t discount the usefulness in volunteer efforts. Imagine how many houses wouldn’t get built from the efforts of Habitat for Humanity. Or how many Boston Marathon runners would keel over from dehydration or get lost because no one was there to hand them water and point them in the right direction. Even some small town fire departments (like my own) survive thanks to the efforts of the volunteer firefighters. Volunteers are by all accounts critical to the success of many operations, large and small.
Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been looking forward to running the West Hill Dam trail series. It’s been on my 2011 race calendar since January, and I have a soft spot for this race because it’s right in my backyard. I ran it once last year before I was a member of TVFR and I really enjoyed it. It was my first trail race and I ran it very conservatively. Since then, I’ve been getting out on the trails more often and working to become more comfortable with the varying terrain. I’ve been excited to get a chance to run the race again with more experience under my belt. Earlier in the year I coordinated a trail clean up day to freshen up the trails, which had seen a rough winter. I solicited assistance from a few TVFR runners who joined my other club, the Bay State Trail Riders, for a “fun” morning of tree trimming and culvert repairs. (Don’t worry, it wasn’t all grueling. There was pizza at the end).

Unfortunately with my lousy stinking hip (which coincidentally was injured on these same trails) I had to bail out of participating in this race. Although I was pretty bummed out about it, I knew it was the right move and it was the only way my hip would be healthy enough for the 10k on July 4. Since I couldn’t run the race, the next best thing I could think to do was volunteer. Volunteer! Totally unprovoked, unsolicited, good old fashioned lending a hand for nothing in return. Wow, I really am maturing.
I walked to the race (it’s just a mile through the woods) and immediately was assigned to the registration table. It was a bit of an unorthodox process involving a lot of handwriting and categorizing runners into age groups using colored stickers, and after a quick tutorial I was churning through race applications like a pro. The registration table was a blast and I got to have a brief chat with just about everyone racing. Things really heated up at the table just before the start of the race, and it was pretty hectic for a short time. I was processing applications right up until the gun went off, and then immediately I transitioned to start setting up the finish table. We had a lot of prepping to do, and I eagerly absorbed all the directions and useful tips shared by my experienced co-volunteers. It felt like we had just finished setting up the finishing table when the winner came barreling toward the finish line! From that point on, it was a frantic process of tracking the numbers, keeping everyone in order, and carefully writing everyone’s times on a scoreboard. Runners, as I am keenly aware, are very passionate about their times. As a result, I had a revolving crowd of runners hovering over my shoulder trying to get a sneak peek at their official time. They probably weren’t thrilled with my left-handed, steeply downward facing chicken scratch!
Once all the runners had crossed the finish line and were accounted for, I had a few minutes to mingle with some of the runners before listening to the awards and then starting the cleanup process. As expected, the TVFR members had a strong turnout and grabbed a lot of awards. My friend and new TVFR member Nancy won an age group award and donated it to her trusty friend Tucson!

What really resonated with me was the sense of appreciation that the runners had for the volunteers. On countless occasions, runners approached us and thanked us for our efforts. Not because we handed them something, or helped them with something specific. They just walked up to us and thanked us for being there and putting on a good race. That was pretty awesome. I thought about other races where I have tried my best to thank every volunteer that handed me a cup of water, shouted out a mile split, or told me which way to turn. I never once walked up to a volunteer and thanked them for all their efforts. I noticed at the 10k at Patriots Place yesterday that I heard many runners shouting out “thank you’s” to the police officers for directing traffic and firefighters for lining the streets. Runners are almost without exception a breed with great character.

So, why did I volunteer for this race? I certainly wasn’t coerced. There was no carrot dangling in front of me. In another club I belong to, volunteering is a requirement in order to be eligible for year-end awards. I can see why they have to do that, but it’s sad that they have to. I can also say in the hundreds of hours I’ve volunteered for that club, no one has walked up to me and thanked me for helping make a successful event. I don’t for a second think that people are ungrateful. I simply think that the average participant in any event has little awareness of the efforts required to make the event run smoothly. I volunteered for this race because it was the only way I could participate, and it made me feel great. It was an absolute blast and gave me a small glimpse into the level of resources required to coordinate a race. With two more races in the summer series, I know that I will be torn between running and volunteering, but with my unpredictable hip injury it’s nice to have options!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Harvard Pilgrim 10k race report

Today was the 2nd annual Harvard Pilgrim 10k at Gillette Stadium, and I've been looking forward to this race since I ran the first one last year.  About a mile into this run I thought to myself, why the HELL have I been looking forward to this??  True, it's a fun race.  Yes, it's a super flat course.  Yup, very scenic.  Definitely a fun experience to run through the inflatable helmet and cross the finish at the 50 yard line.  So what's not to like?  Just the fact that it takes place on the 4th of July which is bound to know...HOT.  As we New Englanders say, it was a real scorcha!  The sun beat down on us with very little shade, and the result was people dropping like flies all around me.  I can say I was very grateful for already determining I would be running super slow due to my hip, which eliminated any pressure for me to hit a time goal.

The day started off fairly cool and I was hopeful that it would remain that way throughout the morning.  Unfortunately the race started at 9:00am, which I think is a bit late for a mid-summer race.  I wish they would consider starting it early.  I packed up my race bag as well as a cooler full of goodies for after the race, ate my bagel thin with almond butter, downed two preemptive Motrin, and headed to Foxboro.  My son Andrew came with me and was on camera duty.  I asked him to take some scenic shots while I was out running.  Apparently Andrew and I differ on definitions of "scenic".

About 15 minutes before the race started I lined up, and stayed in the 10:00 minute pace area.  Within that 15 minutes of standing in the sun, I already had worked up a good sweat and knew that the race was going to be tough for me.  I never do well in the heat.  We started off and I tried to stick to my slow pace, and kept about a 9:40 pace for much of the first couple miles.  I was running amongst all sizes and shapes, shufflers, limpers, stroller pushers, and speed walkers.  Less than two miles in I got passed by Captain America.  I also got passed by a guy in combat boots and camouflage pants carrying a giant American flag.  Although some of this was a little discouraging, I had two main priorities with this race. 
  1. Don't cause further damage to the hip, and require a lift back to the stadium
  2. Don't get heat stroke and die, and require a lift back to...wherever dead runners go
I stuck to my plan, grabbed water and walked at every water stop, and even built in a couple extra walks in the shade when I needed to.  I did get a little nervous at one point because I started feeling chilly and had the goosebumps.  I reflected on the last time I ran these streets, back in February during the very frigid Foxboro 10 Miler, and thought of how many layers I was wearing that day.  Today I was thankful to be wearing a nice light airy singlet.  Around mile 5 I caught up with Team Hoyt.  Seeing Dick Hoyt pushing his son Rick in the wheelchair was uplifting and gave me motivation to forge ahead.  How can I possibly complain about being a little hot when he's pushing his grown son in that chair, and he's twice my age.  I continued on until I reached the stadium and then did something unusual.  I slowed down!  It's kind of instinctual for a runner to speed up near the finish line.  "Finish strong!", we always hear.  But running through the tunnel, then the inflatable helmet, and finally out across the field...this was an experience I didn't want to pass too quickly, and I decided to enjoy every moment.

Officially I have said all along that I didn't have a time goal in mind since my goal was just to finish this race, but my unofficial hope was to finish in less than 60 minutes.  My official time was 60:07.  I guess maybe I shouldn't have wandered quite so slowly to the finish! 

Ronnie & I after the race.  (He hasn't discovered technical fabrics yet)
After crossing the finish line I made a beeline to a giant container of water bottles and ice.  I grabbed handfuls of ice and stuffed them down my shirt.  That really did the trick and I was feeling cool in no time!

Bumped into fellow TVFR member Charlene at the finish line...

Once I finally caught back up with Andrew, we snuck him onto the field so he could feel the experience too.

We met up with more of Ronnie's friends, fellow runners from Papa Gino's.  We snapped more pictures before heading out.

Ronnie with his Papa pals
Finally with the race behind us and heart rates back in a normal range, we left the stadium and headed over to Ronnie's house for a cookout.  Lounging around in the pool all afternoon with a couple Corona's was a perfect end to this holiday and a great post-race treat.

Triathlon training
Notice I've said very little about my hip?  Honestly, it wasn't too awful.  I think the strategy of running slow and sticking to flat runs is a good one!  (I know, I sound like such a wuss).

Yes, I will most definitely have this race on my calendar for next year too.  I'm just going to pray for a cloudy morning!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Picking battles

The hip drama continues, a constant cycle of rest, run, reinjure, repeat.  I can honestly say I've been a better patient over the last couple weeks though, and as a result I've been feeling pretty good the last couple of days.  I'd like to say it's because I'm maturing, but I think honestly it's because I was really just in too much pain to run.  Some days it was almost too painful to walk.  Tomorrow is the Harvard Pilgrim 10K at Gillette Stadium (home of the Patriots!) and I've been looking forward to this race all year.  The thought of having to miss this race gave me the motivation I needed to give my hip a break.  As promised, I even bailed out of racing the West Hill Dam 5 miler on Thursday, although I did still volunteer.  (More about this in an upcoming blog when I can do it justice). 
The extensive rest seems to have helped a bit, because the inflamation has definitely gone down and my hip has been feeling a lot better.  Finally, on Friday I had to test it out.  I knew if I had any chance of running a 10K this weekend, I had to at least see if I could run.  So, Friday night I slowly (and I mean slowly) jogged 3.75 miles around the West Hill Dam trails.  At an excrutiatingly slow pace I shuffled along, testing out the hip and all other body parts.  Everything in my body seemed to say the same thing.  What the?? I thought you retired us!  It was frustrating running so slowly, especially when my hip was burning and I was hovering close to a 10 minute pace.  The run was a success though, and mission accomplished.  My hip wasn't any more sore after the run, and everything else seemed to hold up just fine.  (And, no heart failure!)  After that hip-tester run, I finalized my weekend plans for the 10K.

On Saturday Kerri, Andrew and I took a drive down to Patriots Place in Foxboro to pick up our bibs.  It was a nice afternoon to check out the shops and it was a great chance to see Gillette Stadium when it wasn't mobbed with people.  It really is such a beautiful stadium.

Gillette Stadium. Eerily quiet!
We took our time wandering through the shops and I grabbed a couple horsie shirts in the Life is Good store.  I scoped out some future watering holes.  I'll be paying this place a visit real soon!

I'm excited for tomorrow, and it's a fun feeling to have no pressure going into this race.  Not that I've ever been a fast runner, but knowing that this race will most certainly be my slowest, and that I'm truly running it "just to finish" somehow is a relief.  It's going to be a great time with a fun atmosphere, lots of friends there, and my son cheering me on and taking pictures.  After the race, a bunch of us are heading over to Ronnie's for a little grilling and swimming.  I'm hoping for some cool water to soak what's sure to be an aching hip.  Reader beware, the next race report blog post is bound to be a colorful one!  Happy 4th!