Not Even Showing Up to the Start Line

Yesterday, I was supposed to run the Pacific Association cross-country championship race in Golden Gate Park. And, by “supposed to” I mean that I hadn’t exactly signed up yet, just that it was on my training schedule and I fully intended to go.

But, I didn’t go.

It’s not that I dislike the PA XC Champs race. It’s terrible fun and I’ve done it most years. And, usually, it falls the day after the high school cross-country sectional race, so I’m all invigorated to go out there and run some crazy stuff over logs and up hills and through sand. This year, though, I just wasn’t.

I was worn out and tired and things hurt. The combination of a few days of TRX, Crossfit and my last/only 20-mile run left my body pretty beaten up this weekend and running around the high school meet didn’t do much to help. In fact, it hurt my toe more, with all the sprinting back and forth across the field in random shoes without the orthodic, etc. So, when I woke up at 7 a.m. yesterday to eat breakfast and head to Golden Gate, instead, I just didn’t get up.

This isn’t exactly a strategy I would advise and it’s left me with more than a few doubts going into CIM, which we’re just going to not talk about, and a little sad I missed the terrible fun. But, when you know it’s going to be a hard race and you know you’re going to spend a lot of the race questioning why you care about coming in 43rd or 39th, you kind of have to be all in at the start and not asking those questions beforehand — or it just isn’t going to go well. (And, the last thing I need right now is another shitty race.)

So, instead, I slept until 10 a.m. and went for a mountain bike ride. Hoping that was the right decision, right coach?

My high school boys, who I assistant coach, took second at cross-country sectionals yesterday. It’s the seventh year or so in a row that the team has qualified for the state meet — which is some sort of record. Everyone wants to know now what it is that the head coach is doing, what’s his secret. He sent out an email with this quote from ‘Once a Runner.’ The secret.

And too there were questions: What did he eat? Did he believe in isometrics? Isotonics? Ice and heat? How about aerobics, est, ESP, STP? What did he have to say about yoga, yogurt, Yogi Berra? What was his pulse rate, his blood pressure, his time for 100-yard dash? What was the secret, they wanted to know; in a thousand different ways they wanted to know The Secret. And not one of them was prepared, truly prepared to believe that it had not so much to do with chemicals and zippy mental tricks as with that most unprofound and sometimes heart-rending process of removing, molecule by molecule, the very tough rubber that comprised the bottoms of his training shoes. The Trial of Miles, Miles of Trials. How could they be expected to understand that?

The Making of Champions

The pennant.
The pennant.

Yesterday, my high school boys won the conference championship race. It was very exciting and I yelled a bunch at them during the race, things like “you need to pass him” and “come up, close that gap” — all very original and brilliant coaching. (I also am hoping none of their parents get mad that there’s a picture of them on the internet here, since there are also pictures of them on the local newspaper’s website.)

The day before the race the newspaper wrote a preview of it. In it they said the boys’ title was locked up, guaranteed, no surprises, it was going to be won by a school that wasn’t us. Which was weird, because the rest of us thought it was up in the air between three teams. I’m pretty sure that article did nothing except motivate our boys to show everyone.

But, it made me think about how we respond to obstacles and expectations. Why do we decide sometimes to say ‘screw you, I’ll show you’ and sometimes ‘oh well, I guess I’m not that good?’ Why do some people fall apart under expectations and some people rise to them?

As soon as I figure this out, I’ll let you know.

Training Week: Oct. 14-20

Part of the whole the last two weeks sucking hard thing is that I’m only just getting around to some things (like this). You remember in college how you’d work really hard for a few weeks and then the deadline would be over, the finals would be done and you could do nothing for a week or two. I wish that was still how things worked. I keep thinking I’ve reached the end, so I drop the mic and walk off-stage. And, then, I keep having to go back out and pick it up and dust it off and keep going.

Maybe I should have chilled out on the training during all this. I’m not sure, because on the one hand: stress is stress, but on the other: I’m super not prepared for the half-marathon I’m racing next weekend or the marathon in six weeks (or five weeks? who knows?). So, I sort of had to keep going, right?

Monday

1,000y swim. I was very, very worn out from the wedding and the dying cat and the long run the day before. I meant to swim more, but it was sort of all I could do to swim this much.

Tuesday

12 x 800 with the high school kids. We did them in a half-mile loop around the park, so it’s cross-country-like. Two of the 12 we did as tempo, around 3:20, but the other 10 were hard, very hard. I wasn’t particularly consistent, because it would depend on which of the kids I was sort of running with. The 800s ranged then from 2:52 to 3:07, but the majority were in 2:58-3:04. I felt pretty good about that workout, but also pretty tired. Plus, with warming up and cooling down and 3′ jogging in between each 800, it took forever and was like 9 miles of running.

Biked about 18 miles to cross-country practice and back home. Very, very slowly on the way home.

Wednesday

Jog — I usually hate the word jog, but it was probably apt in this instance — 2.5 miles.

Crossfit with Nate. Except I was so tired that I couldn’t do anything. I tried to pick up a barbell and it didn’t move. Sort of eased my way through the workout instead.

Thursday

Biked 14 miles-ish to the ferry, from the ferry to work, to cross-country, to home.

Ran about 6.5 miles with the high school kids easy with some strides thrown in.

Friday

Planned resting.

Saturday

I ended up riding 2:30 (maybe 35 miles?) over Marshall Wall with Pete and Ilyce in the afternoon. I almost bailed so I could go home and lay on the floor about a dozen times, but the Wall ended up not being as wall-like as I remembered. I did, however, bail on core work and swimming for probably the third time in the week.

Sunday

Nike Women’s Half. 1:36:47 for the race, probably about 13.5 miles total with the running to the start and weaving throughout the race. Good times.

TOTAL: 11:00

My goal this week was to swim more, since I’m not even hitting my very weak target of 1-2x/wk, and to do more strength work. So far, I’ve failed at both. On the whole I felt pretty good about the training I was able to get in, but it may have taken it’s toll…

Race Report: Pacific Association Golden Gate Park Cross-Country Open

The Pacific Association races are hard to explain to people. No one knows about them and they’re insanely stupid painfully fast.

The Pacific Association is just the regional section that covers California, etc, of the USA Track and Field national governing body. But, it’s also shorthand for their sanctioned series and races that are stupid hard. “Doing the PA race this weekend?” “Are you kidding? I can’t deal with that shit.” Because, to be an official PA race you have to offer some money — typically small, like $1000 total over three races — and you have to have points for teams. So, it tends to draw athletes who are trying to make money running or who are doing the running bum thing or who are fast enough that regular races aren’t quite exciting, but not quite fast enough to make it on the international circuit or some who actually are making it on the international circuit (ie. at a world or Olympic level) but they live in Northern California so they come out to these races. Also, there are a lot of fast people in Northern California.

Basically, it’s skinny, stupid fast girls and some Olympians.

One time, I convinced my aunt and my best friend from high school to do the PA race in Marin when they were here for our wedding by telling them it was “just like a local 5K.” Which, I suppose, technically was true. It was 5K and it was local. But, we ended up coming in like fourth to last and I probably should have warned them more about what they were getting into.

Right now is cross-country season, so yesterday I did the Golden Gate Park cross-country race. It’s actually the exact same course that the cross-country championship is on in November, which I’ve randomly done like four times, so I more or less knew what I was getting into.

I’m also practicing looking like a stupid fast skinny runner girl by wearing tiny spandex shorts for races. My logic is that if I wear tiny spandex shorts maybe people will assume I’m fast and then they will become discouraged and stop trying to drop me as hard. In Steve’s bike races they always work extra hard to drop the guy who doesn’t have shaved legs. So, my logic is not as shitty as you thought at first. But, I’m not 100% sure it worked.

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And, yes, that is Tupac the Cat trying to lick the dirt off my legs.

The race pretty much went like this: I ran 6:15 miles for the first two miles and thought I was going to die. I still got passed. Then, I ran like 6:40s for the second two miles + change and also still got passed, but managed to pass a couple people who were running slower than 6:40 miles.

The course is two loops that are, in theory, each two miles. But, if all the GPS watches that were beeping at the mile markers are any indication it’s more like 4.2 miles total. It starts on a long open downhill field and then a long, wide-ish downhill trail for about a half-mile. People go hard. You tell yourself you’re not going to go too hard, but you sort of have to, because after that it turns sharply into single-track and you start running through bushes and over logs and in sand. My mantra for the first mile was: “Oh, fuck, I am not prepared for this.” Because, well, I wasn’t. Physically, mentally, or emotionally. It was painful, really painful and I felt like I was full-on sprinting, except, you know, for FOUR MILES.

My mantra for the second mile was: “I’m not going to make it through a second lap.” In the second mile, I sort of lost contact with the girl from my team who I’d been running with. She got a couple steps ahead of me and I never quite re-connected.

The second lap wasn’t quite as bad, but that may just be because I slowed down. Evidently, you have to keep running hard the whole time. I started to work my way back up to the girl from my team, was almost right on her shoulder, and then she pulled away again. A couple of girls from other teams passed me and I would go with them and then lose them and then they passed her and she’d go with them and then lose them. My mantra for the second lap (miles 2-3.5) was more or less: “Well, really, what’s the point?”

You can see I’m working on the whole positive thinking thing.

But, really, when you’re 30-something out of 140-something women and there’s not a whole ton riding on this race, it’s hard to care much if you run 27:00 or 27:20. And, when it’s cross-country, it’s hard to get too worked up about pace. I mean, you DID just jump over a log. So, I had one of my existential race crises, but in the scheme of those, it wasn’t my worst.

The last half-mile I tried to stay with a woman who passed me, tried to pick it up and fight the last hill and descent, but she got a few steps on me and I figured, everyone sprints the last quarter-mile, of course she’ll sprint, you won’t be able to catch her. But, I did. I pulled her back in the last 50m. And I ran a 27:23.

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Aren’t you supposed to take glamorous shots of your legs/shoes all the time.

I thought I had run a 27:08 or so back in November, so I was eh about my time yesterday. But, it turns out I ran a 28:08 in November, which was still a minute faster than I ran it in November 2011 (when I fell in the mud twice and then opted to ‘jog’ it in). And, it’s like minutes and minutes faster than when Justin and I randomly did this race during school back in 2005. So, improvement?

It was also a good race-seal breaker to remember that running fast is painful and to keep it together when it does hurt (which I mean, really, I did much better than I used to). And, I must have run hard because the rest of the day my stomach had that painful empty feeling that no matter how much I ate wouldn’t go away. Usually, that only happens with longer races.