Did You Have Fun?

I’ll admit it. I stole this idea off of an article that I read on Runner’s World this morning. As you know, I do a fair amount of racing, and 99 times out of 100 I’m running to be competitive, or as competitive as I can. For most of those races, I’ll get asked the inevitable question “Was it fun?”

I thought the article of Runner’s World (you can read it at that link) did a great job explaining it. Generally speaking, racing isn’t fun. In a race of any distance, if you’re pushing yourself, there is a fair amount of pain involved. If you’re pushing to your limit, the race probably, in the moment, isn’t fun. In fact, it’s the opposite many times.

The race-day experience, though, is more often than not, amazing. The buzz before the race, and the excitement, relief, and beer of the post-race is a great experience. Running a race with friends, or others that you know, enhances that experience even more. That part is fun, gutting out anything from a 5 to 50k is less fun.

I can think of two times I used the word “fun” when describing a race. One being the Frozen Feet race in Minnesota. Running in a group of three at the front on snowy/icy trails was oddly fun. The other being the Beer and Bagel this past year. But I’m a bit biased on that one, as it remains the only race I’ve won outright. Being able to run the last half mile knowing you’re going to win really leaves a good taste in your mouth.

When I think of this topic, I think of a conversation I had with a friend at the starting line of the Gopher to Badger Half this past year. She was running for a PR and likely a top 3 female finish. I was running my first long race since Grandma’s Marathon, and it would be my first run of longer than 12 miles since then. She mentioned I could run for fun, and I replied that I didn’t think racing was ever fun. As two competitive runners, we agreed on that one.

But as you may have noted, I did say 99 times out of 100, I race for competition, which means I don’t always. Every once and a while, I’ll run a race without the intention of PRing or placing. One such instance was the Townebank 8k in Virginia. After a long flight, I was planning to run a shakeout anyway the day before the Shamrock. The 8k being a part of the weekend was simply a convenient way to do this. I deliberately ran a slow and easy pace. No PR, and definitely not racing. I’m planning on running a 50k later this summer as well. I’ll definitely not be running competitively in that.

Run: I think the last time I wrote I talked about my pending speed work. Progression 6x400s went surprisingly well. Soon I’ll likely bump up to 8x400s and start the progression a little quicker. And in August I’ll get started on some Yasso 800s. Trail Thursday was again a nice and easy run. And finally my Saturday run was glorious. 12 easy miles at a consistent pace. It was so nice to not be racing. So so nice.

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Race Recaps: The Triple Crown

If you follow this blog, or just talk to me, you would know that I was set to run not one, not two, but three races on Saturday. So here are the recaps for those races.

River Falls Days 10k: If you could consider one of these races an “A” race, then it was the River Falls Days 10k. Aside from the fact that I was stoked to run a race in River Falls, I also wanted a shot at taking down everyone who was faster than me in college. Of course, none of those people ran the race. Oh well.

You couldn’t have asked for a more perfect morning. Little to no breeze, clear skies, and a temperature in the low 60s at the start. This was a classic small town and small race, and most participants picked up their packet in the morning, and just milled around the park before the start.

At the starting line, both the 10k and 2 mile runners lined up together. And, like any small town races, a lot of the young kids were the ones who toed in line, in front of the rest of us. And as always, they shot out of the start, only to be passed by most of us within the first quarter mile.

After we passed over the swinging bridge (weird enough to run over a suspension bridge) a clear lead pack of about 7 runners formed, with another runner a few meters between me and the pack. Heading up the first hill, I noticed my pace was getting a little quick as I was chasing them just a little. I caught myself, and reigned in my pace by the top of the hill, and waited for the others to fall back to me.

I made my first two passes just past the two mile mark when I passed two runners who had gotten out in front, but were fading rapidly. I began to close on my next target when we made a turn onto our longest straightaway of the race. After crossing a small bridge, I was able to make that pass as well.

I got the next runner (the one who was between me and the pack earlier) just after a turn by the high school. Shortly after, around 4.5 miles, I made what would be my last pass of the race. After running a very even race, I noticed that I might have made my move a little too early to make this pass, as I still had about 1.25 to go in the race. Soon, the course made a turn I didn’t expect, and ended up sending us up one of the more unpleasant hills in River Falls. This was one case where knowing the community was huge. While the hill physically jostled me, it didn’t mentally hurt.

The last mile, though, was a struggle. Easily my slowest of the race, and it included me getting passed by another runner in the final half mile. While I hate getting passed at that stage, I had absolutely nothing left to run with him.

Still, I rolled back to the finish in a 39:26, knocking a solid 20 seconds off my 10k PR which was set three weeks prior. Throw in the fact that I ran an immensely even race, I was very pleased with the journey in River Falls.

Midnight Madness 5k: Of course, that led in to the Midnight Madness races Saturday night in Ames. There are a handful of races in Ames that allow runners to go back-to-back in the 5 and 10k distances. However, Midnight Madness is the only one that scores runners for the 5k, 10k, and the combined 15k.

The 5k isn’t the premiere event, although it is the one I take more seriously. I was hoping to squeeze under 19, even after PRing in the 10k earlier. All things considered, the first two miles went fairly smoothly, despite the hot and humid temps in Ames. Just after crossing the second mile marker, I was hit by a side-stitch. Certainly, this doesn’t happen often, and it likely had to do with some poor refueling from River Falls Days. That slow-down certainly dipped my last mile.

Still, I was able to roll in at a 19:08, while getting passed by plenty of others along the final stretch. But that just proved that I still don’t have a finishing kick. All things considered, a 19:08 in the heat, and being my second race wasn’t a bad day. It burns me a little that I was a side-stitch away from going under 19 (probably) though.

Midnight Madness 10k: And the final race. In a nutshell, it was ugly. I knew I would not be going out in a sub 40 pace, because I don’t think my legs had that in them. While the temps were dropping, the humidity was on the way up.

I wanted to get this race in under a 7 minute pace, and right around marathon pace. Through the first 3 miles, I was right on target, laying down 6:46s with a fair amount of ease. But around mile 4 I just ran out of steam. Both fueling and fatigue hit me hard as my last three miles certainly were not sub 7.

I got passed by a few other runners who I had gotten in the first half of the race. I was able to pull in the sub 7 pace, though, for the night. Still a 43:36 was substantially slower than the morning, and about a minute slower than my 10k from last year. Still managed a top 60 finish in both the 10k and 5k at Midnight Madness.

I mentioned that Midnight Madness combines the 5k and 10k into the 15k as well. Last year, I finished the 15k in the dreaded position of fourth in my age group. This year, I was able to make the jump into the top 3. So despite coming off of a PR race in the morning, I was able to notch a top 3 age group (and top 15 overall) finish in the 15k.

On Sunday (and still today) my legs were exhausted. But it was worth it.

Hot vs Cold

Living in the Midwest, especially in Iowa, we get our fair share of weather. From heat and humidity pushing the triple digits, to air temps as cold as -12 (without windchill) we get the wide range of weather.

So what’s best for running? More accurately, which extreme is best for running? We all know that most runners see their best runs and times in temps of about 40-50 degrees. But in terms of training, which would you rather run in?

Hot weather is brutal, and of course can be dangerous if correct precautions are not taken. In the heat, we lose a ton of water, so hydrating before, during, and after a run is a must. The sun itself can be dangerous, and many runners will utilize suntan lotion (I don’t…but probably should) to prevent any burns or worse.

But running the heat and humidity can have some great payoffs as well. Obviously, running in the heat forces our body to use energy to cool us down. After months of running in hot weather, the transition to cool weather is a welcome change, as our bodies have built up energy which can be focused on running, instead of cooling.

Running in the winter is completely different. The cold is dangerous in a different way, especially if runners don’t wear enough clothes. Longer runs become more of a struggle due to the extra weight, and cold air on the lungs. Runners also sweat about the same amount, but maybe don’t realize it as much as it is much less visible.

On the same token, while unpleasant, there really isn’t a “too cold” temperature to go run, while I would say there is a “too hot.”

In my opinion, the biggest con to winter running is all the gear. It just takes so much longer to get ready, physically and mentally, for those cold weather days. It also seems to me that you don’t get as many benefits to winter running (like the aforementioned heat to cold) as you do in the heat.

While it might be slightly more pleasant running in the winter (not fun…just a little better), I think I would take the heat. One because, it’s just more pleasant when not running, plus you feel like a beast when the fall rolls around.

Run: Two-a-days are normally a struggle. Of course, they’re meant to be. Doing a stair workout on the second half of a two-a-day in 90+ degree heat and humidity was an absolute beast. Even without those factors, 1,035 stairs up would be brutal. But as one of my friends said “One step closer to Boston.” I sure hope so. Trails tonight.

Race Location

This is a topic I’ve been thinking about since the Rock N’ Sole run. I understand that it could be purely coincidence, but I have noticed (personally at least) the farther away from home I run my race, it seems like the worse I do. Or, rather, outside of a certain radius, it seems that my performance declines.

Take this, in Milwaukee I have run two Halfs, a Full, and an 8k. Those two Halfs are two of my three slowest (granted one was with injury), the Full was a DNF (injury), and the 8k was decent, but not great.

I’ve run two races on Colorado and California each as well. In Colorado, I opted in for a 10 miler which I ran at a 7:12 pace, slower than most of my regular 10 milers; and a Half which rounds out the bottom three Halfs I have run (again…injury). In California, I also ran one of my slower Halfs and my slowest marathon.

In fact, none of my marathons have been close to home. Grandmas Marathon was the closest at about 6.5 hours away, followed by trips to Virginia and California this spring. And while my marathon PR is in California, I felt I was in better shape than a mere 20 second PR.

My focus on this was fueled by two recent instances. After going back to back with the Cherry Creek Sneak and Pony Express Marathon, I added in the triple crown by running Market to Market in Iowa. At M2M I put down more sub 7 miles than I did in the two West Coast races combined. And again, this was the third race week in a row, so fatigue should have been a huge factor.

After falling apart at Rock N’ Sole, I chose to run a 10k the following weekend. In equal (I would say greater) heat at the 10k, I ran a far superior race. Granted it was half the distance, but a good race is a good race.

So what was the difference? The races in Colorado and California involved significant flight and drive time within two days of the race. Running both M2M and the Run to Exile involved under an hour drive time, plus a night’s sleep in my own bed. I’m starting to think there is something to be said for that.

It seems to me, that my “preferred radius” for races is about 3-3.5 hours. In fact, with the exception of the Marathon, all of my PRs in the 5k, 10k, and Half are all either in Iowa or Minnesota. Looking just at 2016, all of my top races have been in Minnesota or Iowa.

I would speculate this is for two reasons. One being (specifically for Iowa races) the ability to sleep in my own bed. Comfort and familiarity is huge for a night’s sleep. The other being drive-ability. Obviously the races in the Des Moines metro area are a close trip. Even Minnesota is a mere three hour and change drive. That really isn’t a taxing drive, especially if it comes a few hours before the race.

Take my runs in Milwaukee. While an easy drive, six hours still takes a bit out of you, whether you realize it or not. I can throw the drive to Duluth in here as well. Sure, I’ve normally given myself a day or so between the drive and race, but it might still have an effect. Your body is on high alert, and it seems we as people do tend to get a little stressed when traveling anyway.

Obviously, this is expanded ten-fold for my destination races. Time on a plane and in the car adds up. This especially played a role in my Sacramento race; having driven from LA to Sacramento to San Francisco and back to Sacramento. Probably not the best planning on my part. Ditto with flying into San Diego and running La Jolla less than 24 hours later.

Of course, you could argue that my Marathon PR was in Virginia. I would argue, though, that I grossly underachieved in that race.

Of course, for some of these races distance and travel isn’t the only factor. In the Cherry Creek Sneak I was coming off of being sick for a week (the same bug that put me down when I attempted the Leprechaun Chase a year earlier). And the Pony Express was, of course, a week later coming off of running a race while sick.

Two races in Milwaukee and one in Colorado were strictly hampered by being injured. And the Rock N’ Sole saw high temperatures plus an incredibly poor job by me of pacing the race. And the Shamrock Marathon saw us run into a 30+ mph headwind for over half the race.

So let’s not blame it all on distance from home.

Still, it is something to consider. It’s a big reason why I’ve determined that the Twin Cities Marathon will be my “A” race this fall. In fact, based on my work schedule, I will just have to make an hour to hour and a half drive to the Twin Cities four days before the race. Talk about convenience.

I’m a fan of destination races, and utilizing my travel schedule for work to hit races I wouldn’t normally be able to. I’m beginning to mentally determine, though, that maybe these races are more a perfect storm to have things go wrong. Or maybe I just need to learn how to travel and race a bit better.

I’m sure I’ll have more updates to the story as we go.

Run: On the Fourth of July I ran up to watch the 5! on the 4th race in Ames. It’s always a nice experience to be a spectator for a race. Plus, it gave me a good excuse to run up to Ada Hayden Lake early on my day off. I got a solid 10k in, negative splitting each end of that run. This morning I went in for about 7 miles, and boy was it tough. With some storms rolling through I didn’t sleep well, and was probably still feeling the affects of my margarita the night before more than I would like to admit. It wasn’t a bad run (pace wise) but it was a struggle. I’ll be going out in the blistering heat after work to tackle some stairs. So at least I’ll have some shade?

Race Report: Afton Trail Run 25k

Wow. That was tough.

I knew that I was in for some hills, and was hoping my experiences at Ledges would help pull me through the race. They kind of did, just not the entire time.

This being only my third different trail race, I was amazed at the difference in people at the starting line. What I mean by that is at any given road race, a substantial amount of the runners are there to cross something off a bucket list and/or drink beer at the end. At Afton for a 25k and 50k, you’ve got some slightly more serious runners.

The start of the race itself was about perfect. It was a crisp sunny morning with minimal wind. Really, you couldn’t ask for better weather, especially in July in the Midwest.

After watching the 50k start, those of us in the shorter race had another hour to wait. It was definitely an odd feeling for me, not really having a goal for time or for place. My mind still remains focused on River Falls Days and Midnight Madness next weekend.

At the start, I deliberately slid into the front-middle of the pack, as to not get sucked in to a pace that would be unmanageable for my first true trail race.

The start of the race sent us flying down a hill, and I was amazed at how fast so many runners got out. At a pace just over 7 minutes even, I wasn’t anywhere near the top pack. Then we hit the first big climb, and things evened out.

Normally my plan in a race is to attack the hills. However, knowing what awaited me, I took a different strategy to Afton. Be controlled on the hills, and cruise in the flats and downhills. For the first 9 miles this was a golden strategy. I was moving up in the race, picking off runners on the flatter portions atop the hills.

My problems began at mile 10. A steep climb through some pine streets (which reminded me of Muir Woods) really taxed my endurance. However flying back down the hill onto a long straightaway brought back my pace on confidence. That straightaway, however, was my downfall. I should have used it as some recovery, knowing two major climbs were coming in the last 3.5 miles. Here, though, I was grouped with some other 25k runners, and learned this is where the race began. Foolishly I got sucked into that pace which would have been fine in a road race, but not with the longest and steepest climb of the race coming.

That climb did me in. From about 12 and change to the finish it was a struggle for me. I couldn’t make the climbs, nor were my legs prepared to fly on the downhills. My legs and body were taxed at that point. All the work I had done to move up in the first 11 miles was undone as well.

Still, I was able to put down my first 25k finish, although I would have liked to be under 2 hours. And I finished in the top 10% at the USATF Minnesota State Trail Racing Championships. So all things considered, not too bad.

I’ll likely return to Afton next year and will do somethings different. First, I’ll actually work on some hill training. Also, I won’t commit the cardinal sin of racing (or as I would say, I won’t make a bush league mistake). Despite knowing what awaited me, I didn’t eat any breakfast the morning of the race, and went in going off of whatever fuel I had left from dinner. It was stupid, and certainly played a role in me running out of steam by the end.

All in all, though, it was a good day. My calves burn today, but that’s alright. I got more elevation than I ever have on a run as well. Now it’s time to prepare for the impending 25k this weekend, between three races.

Race Season

It has been a while, and for that I apologize. But work has been nuts, and my running has probably slacked off (mileage wise) a bit as well. Still, going mostly strong, even though I’m slipping a bit on the quest for 2,016 miles in 2016.

Anyway, I want to talk about Race Season. For most runners, myself included, peak race season is in the fall. We all find an A race to aim for whatever goals we have. For me, I finally decided to opt in for the Twin Cities Marathon. This will represent the closest marathon I will run to home, cutting out hours of travel and stress in getting to the race. I’ll follow that up with that is sure to be a painful race the following weekend at Mount Desert Island. I’ll wrap up the fall by returning to the Milwaukee Running Festival and run that simply with the goal of finishing after my DNF last year.

However, the end of June and early July has brought me a mini-race season as well. I know the middle of summer is weird time, but oh well. After the Rock N’ Sole and Exile runs took place in back-to-back weekends, I’ll again be going back to back the next two weekends.

Tomorrow I’ll hit my third, and likely final, trail run of 2016 at the Afton 25k. This will be the first time I race over 13.1 miles, but not hit the 26.2 mark. The race also doubles as the USATF Minnesota State Championships, so I wouldn’t mind making a good showing there.

Next weekend is one I have been looking forward to for quite some time. It will be my own personal triple crown. I’ll be hitting the River Falls Days 10k in the morning, and follow that up with the Midnight Madness 5k and 10k at night. As always, I’ll be running those three races to the best of my ability, but I’m certainly targeting the RF Days 10k as my main race. It’ll be fun.

Run: Obviously