Thursday, June 7, 2012

Track - 6 weeks later

Six weeks ago I attended my first track workout.  As a complete beginner to track I had to learn what 200's and 400's were, and how to avoid starting out too fast and fizzling before the end of the session.  I was also given modified assignments since I was not only new to track but also not in peak running condition.
The word on the street is that regularly incorporating track sessions into your weekly routine can make you a faster runner.  Coach said to give it a month before I should start expecting any improvement.  But like everything Coach says, I have to translate that into my very specific Jill-Dog Years-Fat Ass-multiplied by 3.14 slices of pie- formula.  I waited six weeks to reflect.
So here we go - the six week results:
Week 1:
200: untimed
200: untimed
400: 1:46
400: 1:46
400: 1:43
At the end of that first workout, I was definitely depleted.  I couldn't have run another 400 in under two minutes if Channing Tatum was waiting for me at the finish line in nothing but a bow tie.
In weeks 2 through 4, we added different distances and increased the number of intervals, but I still never completed an entire workout.  Week 5, I finally completed the entire workout, did my first 1200, and managed to still match or beat my previous weeks' times.  Holy smokes!  And that brings us to...
Week 6:
200: 47
400: 98
800: 3:38
800: 3:38
800: 3:36
400: 98
200: 43
I'm pretty psyched that I managed to shave significant time off the 400's (and the 800's, which I did in 3:51 on week 2).  I'm also pleased that my times stayed consistent or improved throughout the workout, I completed the entire workout, and I didn't even vomit doing it!  For me, an exciting milestone is getting my 400 times into double digits.  Coach counts anything under 1:40 in seconds, so I slid in right under the wire.  Go legs!
About halfway through last night's workout a family with some kids on scooters and with soccer balls showed up at the track.  I figured they would get in our way but they were pleasant, and I overheard the kids say, "wow they run so fast!!"  After we were done a boy of about 7 or 8 came up to us asking if he could do a lap on the track.  The coach timed him while we all watched and waited for him to come back around.  We clapped for him, and would you believe he did it in 89 seconds!  That little squirt blew my doors off!  You could tell it totally made the kid's night to be running with the "track runners", and he asked if he could run with us again next week.  I think we have a new recruit!

So, in my uneducated opinion with nothing but 6 weeks of modest experience to back me up, if one were to ask me how to run faster, here's what I would say:  Running faster makes you faster.  I think if you run 15 miles a week at a 9:00 pace, you probably won't finish a 5k at a 7:30 pace.  You might, but it will probably hurt a lot.  Again, I'm speculating.  I think if you want to run faster you have to train your body on how to adapt to faster paces and sustain it, which can be done through these grueling intervals that just keep getting longer and longer.  Again, I'm just thinking out loud.  Or, maybe all it really takes is the heart of a 7 year old.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Tornado Alley Relay

A few months back, my friend Joanna invited me to join her in an inaugural relay race called the Tornado Alley Relay.  I was a little apprehensive about the whole thing because I had never done a relay race before, didn't know anyone else on the team, and had no idea how healed my hip would be by then.  But, she had a couple good selling points to lure me in.  1. it was for a really good cause: raising money for folks impacted by the tornadoes in western Massachusetts last year, and 2. the run segments were all very short and manageable*.  And oh heck, the relay was months away so I had plenty of time to train!
*Short and manageable until you read the elevation map
Our team was made up of friends, friends of friends, and replacement friends of friends.  Who knew how hard it could be to nail down six runners!  At the last minute we were down another runner, and Kerri was kind enough to join in the madness.  I was pretty psyched about this since now I had another friendly face in the team.  A couple weeks ago we all met up for a pre-relay fun run so we could get a chance to meet each other. That definitely helped break the ice and we got a glimpse of the size of some of the hills we would be facing on the relay.  Yikes!

The Event:
The Tornado Alley Relay was put on by Back of the Pack Productions.  It's a 57 mile relay course from Monson, MA to Charlton, covering much of the terrain that was destroyed in the tornado from one year ago.  Teams consist of six runners, with each runner doing 3 legs, a total of anywhere from 6 to 12 miles.  

The Team: "Vortex Vixens"
Team Captain: Diana "hostess with the mostest"
Jodie: Triathlete and Master Tweeter 
Joanna: Team contortionist and official "woo hoo'er"
Kerri: The Ninja
Missy: "I'm game!"
Jill: "You can fix anything with a foam roller"

Friday night Kerri and I headed out to Sturbridge to join our teammates in the pre-race pasta dinner at the Sturbridge Coffee House. We had a nice meal with Diana, Jodie, and Jodie's husband John.  Much of the conversation centered on stories of the tornado, and it was the first time I had heard anyone's first hand account of that day.  After dinner we headed back to Diana's house to spend the night.  On the agenda: arts and crafts!  Diana came up with the idea to have matching team shirts and socks, with the shirts each having one letter on the back.  When we all stand side-by-side, the shirts spell TORNADO.  Cool, right?
Kerri took control of the shirts

The finished product

As we were just finishing up the ironing (and by "we" I mean Kerri), I casually mentioned how I liked being "O2" ("2" is for my runner number).  Then we said, who's T1?  Wait a minute, I don't remember seeing a T.  Did anyone cut out a T?  And with that we realized Jodie's shirt accidentally had a big fat O ironed into it instead of a T!  And since we couldn't very well end the relay spelling OORNADO, we needed quick damage control.  We tried everything to lift the letter back off the shirt without luck, and finally at 9:30 at night, Joanna ran out to get another shirt.  She saved the day!  It made for a whole lot of laughs, and we spent the rest of the night chatting over some wine and relaxing before bed.

Race day - The weather
I woke up at 5am, after an outstanding night's sleep, to the sound of rain pelting the roof.  I hoped that it just sounded worse than it was since I was sleeping on the top floor.  But no, one look out the window confirmed what I feared: It was POURING.  This wasn't just a little mist.  This was mother nature making up big time for the drought over the last couple months, dumping out torrents of rain and soaking everything.  It stayed like this all day, except for occasionally when it rained even harder.

The wheels
Captain Diana, the hostess with the mostest, was able to secure her mother's Suburban, which offered us a roomy mode of transportation. Her amazingly patient and very Irish husband spent the entire day as our "escort", driving six soggy women around in the big rig.  His duties included reading maps, driving the course, stopping repeatedly, jumping out to offer someone water, and a whole lot of honking and turning around... and around... and around.  If I had a nickel for every time someone said, "Brian can you put it in park so I can open the hatch?"  He was a saint to us!  All of our gear was stored in the far back of the Suburban.  Luckily all of us prepared well with plenty of extra sets of clothing and gear to keep dry.  This meant three of everything, multiplied by six.  It was bag upon bag, and by the end of the day there were so many sopping wet clothes scattered about, it was like a tornado went through the truck!

The start
We piled into the Vixen Van and headed to Monson, to the start of the relay.  It was pouring so hard it was actually tough finding the race!  We signed in, listened to the safety briefing, and got good and pumped up for the relay.  One concern all of us had was finding enough toilet facilities on course, so we all took the opportunity to stop in the ladies room before heading to the start of the relay.  Well, make that 5 of the 6 of us.  We all left the ladies room and looked for Jodie, runner #1, only to find that the race already started and she was hightailing it down Main Street!  Doh!  Well so much for cheering on our runner!  We completely flubbed up the start of the relay!  We jumped into the Vixen Van and took off after her.  Finally we passed her with honking horns, windows down and lots of screaming and cheering.  She was bundled up with her raincoat on and a reflective vest, marching solidly into the pouring rain. 
Jodie, are you under there somewhere?

Transition 1  (Don't worry, I won't detail all 18 of the transitions!)
I hopped out of the van and waited for Jodie to arrive, hunkering down under an umbrella to stay dry.  (Ha!!) 
7:15am, the last time I would be wearing all dry clothes for the next 9 hours
Suddenly everything happened so fast.  I heard "runner coming!" and then someone said, "It's Jodie!".  Quickly I ditched the umbrella, straightened out my safety vest, gave a few high fives, and waited for Jodie to come barreling in.
Jodie runs so fast she blurs
Then I was off!  I knew I had a long gradual hill to start off with, but I was pumped with adrenaline and absolutely freezing, so I started off at a brisk pace.  The climb wasn't bad, and a mile into the race I settled into a nice comfortable rhythm and started to warm up.  I thought to myself, this hill really isn't so bad, and then realized I had barely even begun to climb.  Up, up, and up I went, chiseling away at the hills while my pace slowed.  I trained for this, I prepared for this, I knew this was coming, I can do this.  It became a mental game with a lot of self talk to get me up those hills.  At one point the cheering Vixen Van rolled alongside me, asking how I was feeling.  "These hills are a bitch!" I shouted.  Eventually a guy caught up to me and shouted out the dutiful "lookin' good!" sentiment, even though I'm pretty sure I looked fat and wobbly.  I told him how this hill was just sucking the life out of me.  He responded, "You're doing great!  Just a few more of these and you'll be done before you know it!".  WHAT?  More??  I really wanted to ask him some follow up questions but I, 1. couldn't keep up with him, and 2. couldn't breathe.  A female runner also passed me, griping about the hills.  Once she passed me I got my rhythm back.  One thing that's hard about a relay is there are big chunks of time, if not the entire time, where you never see another runner.  Without someone to set your sights on, it can be tough to stay focused.  I let that lady pull me right into the finish line, and I finished strong!  I was very pleased, and a little shocked, in finishing this 5 mile run in 44 minutes.

Am I reading this right? And, does anyone have a hair dryer?
I can't be sure, but I think Joanna was doing the moonwalk while waiting for me
The transitions all became a routine of whipping off clothes, sliding into fresh clothes, finding a toilet, a water, and a snack.  Once I was back in the Vixen Van, we headed off to find Joanna, who was running strong and remarkably fast.
Lucky duck had a flat to downhill 5 mile course!  (this luck wouldn't last, she discovered)
I settled into the back of the van and chomped on Chex Mix and Swedish fish, which turned out to be a great snack in between runs.  I also broke out the massage stick and did a lot of massaging during my downtime.  There were some skeptics in the group, but everyone became a believer that day.

Diana must have somehow drawn the short straw when the assignments were handed out, because she got stuck with a monster of a hill.  This hill was almost an impossible climb at a run, but sure enough when we passed her she was smiling!

Quick question, what do you get when you cross one of the Village People with Gene Simmons, while listening to Thriller?  Answer:
Diana was more than thrilled when she finished that merciless first run, and if I'm not mistaken, she may have done a little Irish Jig when she handed the wristband to Missy.
Missy in Warrior Pose as she heads out on her first run
Missy headed out into her run bundled up like nobody's business.  Personally I don't know how she could run with so much clothing on, but she likes to be warm and it worked for her.  Missy handed the wristband off to Kerri, our sixth and final runner.  It was at this point that an interesting subplot began to form.  Kerri took up a little rivalry with a man on another team.  She was a fair distance behind him but was closing the gap.  The Vixen Van rolled up beside her and we gave her the order: "Kerri, faster!  Ninja his ass!".  And with that, Kerri became the team ninja.  She nodded to us, understanding the directive, and zeroed in on her new rival.  She easily passed by him and he gave a little wave in defeat.  This would become a recurring theme for the rest of the event.
Kerri finishing strong
Kerri transitioning to Jodie to start the 2nd wave.  Jodie shed some layers.
Here, the scenery was breathtaking, stunning, and devastating.  The sheer magnitude of this storm's destruction is unimaginable.  You can't fully appreciate it until you see it up close, and you can't help but feel for these people that lost so much.  It's easy to see now why this course is so winding and hilly.  It was designed to show us the damage up close and personal.  It was heartbreaking and inspiring all at once, and I'm betting all six of us ran a little faster because of it.
This used to be a forest, across from what used to be an auto garage in Brimfield, MA

My second segment was a nice, flat 5.6 miles.  I was really looking forward to it since my quads took a beating on the hills the first time around.  When I started running, my legs gave me some serious attitude.  The "I already worked today" attitude.  As much as I wanted to run faster, my heavy, rubber legs wouldn't cooperate.  Still, I managed a good time of 48 minutes, at an 8:38 pace.  Not bad for tired legs! 
Peace out, yo!

The best part of this segment was when I heard footsteps behind me.  I knew I was being passed and I was relatively certain it was by a guy.  That was confirmed when I heard a male voice behind me say, "hey, your socks match my skirt!"  Huh?  Sure enough, a guy in a hot pink tutu ran past me, a perfect match to my hot pink Zensah calf sleeves.  Always a joy getting passed by a guy in a tutu!  Oh, and did I mention how hard it was raining?  
Absolutely, positively, soaked
Joanna's second run featured much less forgiving terrain than her first run, but she powered up those hills.  Diana also had some tough hills.  Missy didn't yet shed a layer but at least the hood came down.

Kerri once again ninja'd her rival, who once again looked defeated.  We all cheered!  I definitely started hitting the wall while waiting for my next run.  I was exhausted, and losing any interest in running again.  The one thing I wish I had packed was coffee or Coke.  I could have really used a caffeine kick, and my stomach was craving sugar.

And finally, we were on our 3rd wave.  Jodie finished her last run strong, with her husband John cheering her on.  I hopped out of the van and the cold rain helped to wake me up.  I took off, a quick 1.2 miler around the Southbridge Airport.  I ran a brisk pace and didn't give my legs time to realize how tired they were, and finished in an 8:14 pace.  Relief!  What a sense of relief knowing my run was done, and I had no more hills to climb!

Joanna finished her 3rd leg strong, but surprised at how long it felt.  The hills from earlier caught up with Diana, and no amount of Aleve, stretching or foam rolling gave her any relief from the hip pain she felt.  She came in limping after her last run.  Missy achieved rock star status on her last run, hammering through a 2 miler in under 16 minutes.  Rock star!  And then finally, Kerri headed off for the final leg of the journey.  While she was running we all changed into our Vixen gear so that we would all match at the finish line.  Kerri was just finishing a long climb, and who was in front of her but that same rival!  "Ninja!" we all shouted out the window.  And she ninja'd.  Our Vixen Van slowly rolled past the rival.  He took one look at us and exclaimed, "are you kidding me?? Shit!"  We all laughed, and within seconds Kerri was passing him.  He gave her a big high-five and she took off.

Just before the finish, all of the matching Vortex Vixens pulled in behind Kerri to run across the finish together.  And fitting with the theme of the day, the finish line was a mud puddle. This might be my favorite picture of the day.
Kerri leading the Vixen charge across the puddle/finish line
Everyone was impressed with the official uniform of the Vixens.

All I can say is, thank you Diana for not choosing white shirts

At the end of the race, all of us were freezing, soaked, and famished.  We devoured the post-race food, which included pizza, potato salad, and orzo salad.  The food was good and filling, but we were too cold to stick around and socialize.  Kerri formally introduced herself to her rival and he gave her a hug.  You've got to love the relay sportsmanship!  

And when I mentioned Captain Diana, hostess with the mostest who thought of everything... I mean, everything.  What other team had a tray of specialized mini-cakes?
Eat your heart out 
Overall this relay was a phenomenal time.  I've heard of other relays that require an entire weekend, no sleep, and multiple vans.  This was on a smaller scale and for a very meaningful cause, and I am thrilled to have been a part of it.  The race itself was well organized for such a logistical challenge, and the volunteers were awesome.  I heard rumors that this will become a regular June event, and you can be sure the Vixens will return!