Monday, December 5, 2011

Hot chocolate 5k race

I raced six times last weekend, while doing 5.5hrs of running in two days. I would never have guessed it, but that sort of weekend will leave you really sore. What's up with that?

Phil Bricker set a chase sprint race at Cemetery Hill for Saturday, and though only 29 people showed up, they were all pretty serious orienteers. The format was that you ran two separate sprints, and then your time was added, and the final sprint was a chase start, a la pursuit style, so that whoever came home first won the day. I had some issues getting my legs going, and then had an up close and personal encounter with some thick spiky stuff in the final sprint, not my finest day. Results.

Punching the finish.

After some much-needed pizza, a whole crew of us headed out to do a night-o at a park that shall not be named. This went alright for me, although I didn't feel like I had a ton of energy. Most of the boys beat me this time, but I still had a good time out there and didn't make any huge mistakes. The night-o was followed with dinner at Peter and Gail's house, and then a respectable amount of boggle.

Sunday morning dawned clear and cold, and I was very stiff, and quite sleepy. Some yoga took care of the stiffness, and coffee took care of the sleepiness, and soon I found myself in a car heading down to Northampton for the annual Hot Chocolate 5k race, trying to figure out a race strategy. I expected to be maybe 30s faster than the xc races - so somewhere between 20:30-21ish minutes. I ran the course to warm up, and quickly discovered that my legs felt really light and snappy. I had unfortunately eaten the sort of breakfast you'd eat before a ski marathon, which, strangely enough, is not ideal for running, but my stomach quieted itself before the start.

With 3200 other runners lining up for the race, this thing had some serious potential to get crowded. Everyone I'd talked to had said to line up in an area a minute faster per mile than you think you'll run, and although I hate the "I lied because everyone else was lying" approach to this, I figured if I wanted a clear run I'd have to do that. People were pretty relaxed, and Greg Balter (a middle-aged orienteer doing this with me) lined up nearby, he was hoping to break 20min by a bit, so I figured I could start near him and see how that felt. I haven't really run too many track intervals lately, so I didn't have a sense of what pace would break me.

We started out, and the course quickly climbed a steep little hill up to the center of town, and then headed out on a gradual downhill grade. The traffic wasn't bad; there were people all over, but I didn't have to change my line or move around too much, and that first mile felt pretty effortless. They had clocks at each mile, and the first read 6:25 - bang on for 20min pace! The pace may have felt pretty effortless, in terms of cardiovascular effort, but my quads could feel that I wasn't used to going this fast, and Greg had a decent lead on me already. Luckily, we turned a corner and began a gradual climb up to the 2nd mile. This is where I really discovered that my legs felt light - I swung my way up that hill, and it felt like I was just rolling along, no extra effort. Awesome!

I hit the second mile at 12:42; now just under 20min pace. I still felt very comfortable in my breathing, and I found that a little surprising. My legs were beginning to be a little tired, but there was no lactate burn, and I still felt like I was flowing across the pavement. The third mile climbs, fairly significantly, and then descends, again somewhat steeply, into town, and finishes down the little kicker we climbed up from the start. I dug deep on the hill, since I clearly didn't have the leg speed to push the flats hard enough. I began to pass some people, and could see Greg ahead of me up the hill. The positive thoughts were flowing, and nearing the top of the hill I was breathing more raggedly - how I'd expect for a hard effort.

Turning the corner to start the downhill into town, I wasn't looking at my watch anymore. This was it, all downhill to the finish, and that hill had very successfully put me into my own private lactic-acid-filled hell. One of the guys I'd passed going up the hill came back past me, and I realized that feeling of doom, knowing you've dug too deep too soon. Greg was now dangling about 10m in front of me, but I couldn't close the gap, and every step felt like it was shattering my quads. Another middle-aged guy passed me by, but he gasped out - "work with me!" Somewhat unexpected, but I knew it was time to get tough, and lengthened my stride to match his. He pulled me up to Balter, and I knew I had this race in the book. I just had to not trip over myself.

The last 200 meters were excruciating. I wouldn't - couldn't - let up, but my legs and lungs were maxed out, and the downhill was steep enough that I was actually worried I might not get my legs in front of me enough to catch myself as I rolled down the hill. Gone was the floating sensation, instead there was just burning. I staggered past one last woman, and finally crossed the finish line. Oh sweet relief, I can stop running now!

I ended up running 19:39, a new PR by almost 1.5 minutes. MINUTES! That's not supposed to happen at this point in my life, but I'm not complaining. Results, 11th woman, 89th overall, of 3209 total runners.

The sixth race of the weekend, orienteering down in Connecticut that afternoon, was not performed very quickly.

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