Friday, July 29, 2011

Ragnar Random

A couple stories which stand out for me:

I finished my 4th leg and was delighted. I'd run strongly and finished well. I was done and even better, we only had two more legs to go and then we were done as a team.  And everyone had run well.  After I finished I walked around for a bit and then realized that there were actual bathrooms at this exchange site.  I went into to dunk my head under the sink since I was hot and disgusting really.

And saw an older runner I passed being helped towards the exchange by his teammates.  I'd passed him on the downhill. He was running but had a bit of a limp/hitch to his gait.  That's not too unusual to see at the end of a relay.  My favorite from last year was seeing a young fit looking guy running his last leg at Reach the Beach Relay and he was carrying The Stick in case of need.  People are well trained and not for this type of relay and dehydration/fueling/sleep issues all play a part in how a runner will run.  it's not unusual to see people struggling their last leg. 

This older gentleman had fallen evidently. His team members went over to help him "run" his last leg in.  Honestly I was very teary watching this.  I get it.  It was important to finish.  After the next runner took off (would that be hard or what?!), they brought him to a shaded area with a chair and I saw a volunteer talking on her radio. Soon we could hear the aid car coming.  Dehydration and heat exhaustion?  Probably.  Spirit?  Definitely. 

I was chatting with a coworker the following day at work.  I had asked him to join the team when we had the team member come down with strep but he was already on a team.  This was his first relay.  And?  What did he think of it?  He described a real sense of accomplishment and as I described a satisfying afterglow.  It seems simple, take a group of people and some challenges and run from point A to Point B. Try it.  You won't be disappointed. 

Ragnar Northwest Passage Relay - The Runner's Version Part 2

I always find it rather odd to be in some neighborhood in some little town and so focused on what we are doing in a relay.  We run by people who are in their beds asleep and will wake up to a normal saturday.  How to explain what we are doing and why it is so fun?  Well, I can't.  But everyone who I've talked to who has done one of these relays finds it a real accomplishment and walk about with a feeling of pride and fairly glow about the experience.

But after you've just run your second leg in a 24 hour period, you are not glowing.  You are tired and it's easy to question your sanity and ask yourself, "what the hell am I doing here."  THat is the time to eat and have some liquids with electrolytes and cheer for the other runs in your van and out on the course.  And that is what I did.  Honestly though, I was pretty up from such an awesome run for quite a while.  EVentually our last runner of the van was out and running towards Deception Pass and we would be done soon.

Deception Pass Park is where the next major exchange is and I was disappointed to see that they seemed to have fewer items available for runners here than in years past.  Actually I felt that was true overall.  yes there were things available to buy but all I wanted sometimes was a cup of hot water so I could add some starbucks via.  Fortunately I had come prepared and was much better stocked for food than I have been.  That made the complete difference in how well I ran.  I had foods which appealed to me and I could eat easily even when I didn't always feel like it.

What did I bring?  buttermilk pancakes (made without the butter) with peanut or almond butter taste really good and are much easier for me to eat than the typical pbj made on bread.  I even had pancakes with a chocolate mint gu at one point.  I had a made a very big vat of a chicken pasta cold salad with feta, olives (love the SALT!), peppers and cucumbers with just a bit of chopped red onion.  I dislike a lot of the commercial dressings people tend to use for this type of salad, so just used balsamic vinegar and olive oil.  Tasty and filling with a nice mix of carbs, protein and fat.  I brought my usual chocolate milk.  I had bananas and water laced with nuun.  I was never too hungry and never had any gi problems when running.

After handing off to the next van, we made it to Coupeville High School for the next major exchange.  All we could think about was lying down.  The high school was packed and sleeping on the hard gym floor was not an option.  My back and hips will not take that.  We found a field behind the school and tucked ourselves into a corner.  The grass was really wet but at least the ground was soft and there was a cherry tree over us.  I think I did actually sleep a bit even though my throat got sore and ears plugged up again.  Then the fog rolled in and the cherry tree started dripping.  Argh!  yes, lightest sleeper ever.  That drip kept me awake.  Oh well, again, just lying down flat made a big difference.  And eventually we could hear some sort of alarm going off in the high school.  Yeah, that would be annoying.

Ragnar races have local teams provide volunteers for each team who will work on course.  Our teams' three volunteers were at this major exchange and it was a great boost to see them.  The manned the team number calling and recording.  In fact, they seemed like a nice bit of normal in the midst of all the race craziness.  With this leg, Van 1 was done! They were off to the finish and to wait for us to arrive.

And we were off.  Fog had come up and runners were required to wear reflective vests again.  Our first runner (who had been educated on the term "roadkill" and then did his best to get as much of this as he could) was running on the most spectacular section.  With no warning, we'd dropped down onto a beach road and found wind tortured trees looming in the fog.  It was amazing.  Runner 1 was too busy counting roadkill to notice.  Ha.

Leg 3: The main goal for this 4.8 hilly leg which climbed for 2.5 miles and then went down 2.5 miles was to stay steady and strong on the uphill without blowing up and then use the downhill wisely.  I wanted 8;30 pace overall but wasn't sure if that was possible.  And?  I nailed it perfectly.   it was warm and sunny with a breeze.  I carried water and just kept at it and soon I was in.  I did get passed by Van 1 here and it was a nice pick me up.  they said I looked good and I wasn't even wearing a tutu on this leg.  garmin tract

Now normally, I'd be estactic and jumping around here.  I'd be done.  Not this time.  A runner in our van was just returning to running after a stress fracture.  She'd run her first two legs and we'd always planned for me to run her last leg.  She just didn't have the miles, it had some steep downhill and it just wasn't going to be a good idea.  She really struggled with this but eventually saw the wisdom of it and only packed two sets of running clothing.  so instead of eating like I was done, i just had more water and a gel and pancake and tried to get out of the van and walk around whenever I could.  I had an hour in between legs to stay loose.

Soon enough, the runner I'd handed off to was back at the exchange and I took off.  No  warm up other than just walking around and I felt pretty good considering.  Right away the course started uphill and i just kept at it.  I'd still pass people here and there and I made sure to say the usual "good job" but by this point it seemed like most were wearing their music and not much into responding.   Oh well.  I had my tutu and my water and I was good.  The worst part of this course was seeing a huge looking hill a couple miles ahead on a perfectly straight road.  I could see vans on the other side of the road and knew I'd be climbing it.  Well that was not for now, so just keep running and I did.  4th leg garmin connect

And eventually I hit that hill and it was great to see all the vans cheering everyone.  I continually passed people here and got lots of cheers.  Someone even had  spray bottle which felt great.  it was getting warm.   As I passed people another van shouted out "tutu good" and that made me really laugh and look back at that van in delight.  Yes, i love relays. 

I did get passed by one guy but he really didn't pull too much farther ahead.  EVentually we hit a second uphill section right before the start and then a great downhill.  I blasted down this and I could hear my teammates cheering for me (orange clothing and a tutu REALLY stands out) and I was done! woohoo!  Only a couple more runners and we were into the finish for a reunion with the other van.  Oh everyone was happy and up and I was so happy that everyone had enjoyed themselves. 

And even better, everyone is thinking of next year.  Yep.  it was good. 

As a team we averaged a 9:00 pace.  Fantastic and just what I'd hoped for. 

I ran 4 legs, 19.5 miles total at an 8:31 pace overall.  I am delighted!  And I did this while I was getting a cold.  Yeah, that's what the sore throat and plugged ears meant every time I lay down.  after having done this event this year as captain, I feel much better about it for next year.  No stress, right!  

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Ragnar Northwest Passage Relay - The Runner's Version 2011 Orange Ogres Van TuTu
Actually though, unless I was actually out running, I never felt that I could take of my Captain's hat (see photo for what that hat looked like).  And even when running, I'd be thinking of things which needed to happen next.  since my brain tends to work this way generally, it was not a big deal, but i was surprised at the added effort.

We all got up to Bellingham for Van 2 start in good time.  I was extremely fearful that the prediction spreadsheet used to predict when to expect each runner would be very slow compared to how everyone would actually run.  Would we miss them?!  Turns out I did a great job at predicting overall pace for the team.  I predicted we'd finish between 1:16 pm and 1:32 pm depending on whether one runner in Van 1 was able to complete her legs.  She ended up just sensibly running two legs and we came in at 1:19.  Dang that was satisfying!

For me, I wanted to run strongly but I was going to have an added challenge of running 4 legs instead of 3.  And instead of putting legs back to back, I was going to run what was supposed to be my last leg, then wait for the next runner to go and then run my 4th and final leg.  I wasn't sure how my body would respond and it turns out I needn't have worried.

I was runner number 2 in the second van.  Our first runner was a young guy who was a relatively new runner but fast.  He was great!  he kept it easy but still belted out a blistering pace and made it look like cake.  it was wonderful to finally be running on such a pretty day.  Since I'd never been in Van TuTu before in this event and it was neat to see some different areas.  

Leg 1: Only 2.8 miles but straight uphill and then downhill to the next exchange.  However, I never got any warm up and forgot to use my inhaler before the run.  I felt awful on the uphill portion of the run and both could not acquire satellites nor remembered to turn on my watch at the beginning of the run.  Oy.  Yeah, i was distracted by captainly duties for sure!

No worries though.  After about 10 minutes, I started to feel a bit more warmed up but then realized it felt really warm and humid and i was running into a ferocious headwind at times.  Don't think just run and just catch those ahead.  I think finally i was hitting my stride and feeling better and...I was done!  The best part of this?  We'd made tutus for all van members and I wore mine for this run (with my orange shirt - we are the orange ogres after all) and got a lot of honking and support from other teams.  Yep, it's the details which make this event even more fun.

Everyone ran so well their first legs.  It was a beautiful evening in Western Washington and I was happy to hand off the running mantle to the next van.  Off we tromped to the major exchange.  I chowed down (pasta, chicken with feta, olives, cucumbers, peppers in a bit of olive oil and balsamic vinegar - perfect!) and brought out my sleeping bag and rested.  We knew we had a couple hours and i desperately tried to sleep.  My throat got so sore and my ears plugged up once I was lying down and a dear vanmate started snoring on the ground next to me. The sore throat and the plugged ears was weird.  the snoring?  typical.  I am the lightest sleeper ever.  It was really nice to stretch out and relax.  after a bit I started getting texts from Lesley and got people up and we tromped back to the van to get ready to start again.

Overall, the course was very well marked for directions and safety for both runners and vans.  Leaving Pioneer Park at La Connor though had some problems.  We could not figure out where to go based on the directions.  Turns out the directions were only how the runner was leaving the exchange and not how the van would leave the exchange.  We had to come back to the exchange and ask a volunteer for help.  He was able to pull up a gps program on his phone and walk us through where we needed to go.  Thanks un-named volunteer directing traffic for helping us find our way at after mid-night when we were not at our sharpest!   

By midnight, temps had dropped to comfortable running weather.  I debated longer sleeves like I saw many other runners departing the next exchange but ultimately decided to go with short sleeves and gloves.  I'd hoped to run this next leg pretty hard and if I did, I'd get pretty warm.  It was a good choice.  My second leg was 7.7 miles from headed towards Anacortes.  It had some bumps in it but ended on a long flat over an amazing trail which used to be a railway trestle out OVER the water in Fidalgo Bay.  I'd heard about this trail but never seen it.  I'd not done any warm-up except just trying to walk about.  But right away I felt good partly because I'd used my inhaler.  I started off fast and settled and then just worked my way up the hill.  i saw no one at all associated with the race which worried me a bit.  Was I going the right way?  Were we as a team very far behind (this is a captain's worry!).  No matter, I just kept at it and eventually got along a long straight road where I could see flashing blinkies ahead of me.

Perfect!  I gradually reeled in a few and was happy to see cop cars patrolling the area as well.  THAT really did make me feel better. I got passed by one gal who then seemed to stop and get water and I never saw her pass me back again.  We went by the refineries up towards anacortes but I didn't pay much attention.  I just ran.  And finally, I made the turn onto the Tommy Thompson Trail and was just amazed.  I didn't need a light here even though it was dark.  It was flat and fenced and there was only one way to go.  I could see a blinkie a fair bit ahead and made it my mission to catch this person.  After about halfway across the trail, the fencing which had been on either side disappeared and there was just rocks and open water.  That was very disorienting and I felt like I was going to pitch right into the black water on either side. 

With just a half mile to go, I finally caught up with the blinkie which had been ahead of me.  He had been running well and stopped to walk.  I yelled as I came close, "allright?" and got a "no."  I yelled back "just half a mile" and he started running again.  I really had not been paying attention to what pace I was running and finally peeked towards the end.  Hot damn!  8:16 by garmin.  That was faster than I had expected.  Maybe I'd pay for this later but it was worth it.  garmin connect link


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Ragnar Northwest Passage Relay - The Captain's Version

I love the large running relays.  You take 12 people, 2 vans and 200 miles or so and run a few times through generally beautiful scenery overnight.  No sleeping, weird eating and desperate attempts to stay hydrated and arrive at the end delighted with your team and the shared experience.  There is nothing quite like it.  It's about the running but it's also about the challenge of getting 12 runners and 2 vans and what seems like endless amount of gear all pointed in the right direction on race day.

I've done 4 of these relays over the years (twice at Ragnar NW and twice at Reach the Beach in New Hampshire).  After two years with the Reach the Beach team, I bowed out.  K and I had managed to combine my love of relays with some great vacations on the east coast but it was time to vacation elsewhere this year. 

So what to do?  I need to do another relay and Ragnar Northwest Passage Relay is a great event at a good time of the year. I could put myself onto a team by putting my name on the runners' board of those who were looking for teams.  However, I really like having some people I already know on the team.  Cue Coach Lesley. I needed help recruiting 11 other runners.  Quickly we had a roster of 7 team members and signed up with me as captain to handle registration details and van rental.

With Lesley's contacts, we were able to come up with three volunteers who would provide some sort of course support at the event.  This was a big deal.  If we did not provide volunteers, we would have to pay a lot or be disqualified.  After a while we came up with 2 more team members.  I did get onto the ragnar runner board and found a runner who seemed to be a good fit and she recruited another former teammate from a previous relay team.  One more found and we had 11.  Ah, this is doable and I didn't think much of the relay.

Then it was a five weeks out.  Hmm.  Better start doing something about this relay.  A member was able to recruit her niece and we were golden.  12 runners.  Team start times were going to be set soon so I sent a request for runners to update their 10k times, asked for phone contact and safety item talley and checked in with some of our unknown runners about what they could handle mileage-wise for the relay.  With Lesley's help, we set runner order and had a start time.

We had some new relayers to our team plus safety rules had changed for this relay.  I sent out an email detailing runner order, how relays work, basic safety requirements and thinking about packing food and gear for a relay.  I got some nice responses back and a lot of good questions.  We had a very responsive group.  I knew this was going to be good.

We were the Orange Ogres so we started pulling in fun gear for the relay.  These are things I've always wished I'd had on previous relays but had never done anything about it.  As captain, well,  I felt obligated to pull out some tricks and fun for this relay.  I didn't have to fly across country with glow bracelets, orange tutus and window paint and I found fun items online in time to have them shipped.  I figured out a cute, cute adorable Orange Ogre and we had t-shirts and magnets made.  It's fun stuff and it's the little details which add to the experience. 

I'd been fretting that the van rental (done back in May for this late July race) was just a hoax.  So I called to confirm and felt better.  With two weeks to go and knowing we were going to be out of town the weekend before Ragnar, I sent some more final emails to both the running team and our volunteer team.

Getting 6 people into a van and up to Blaine, Washington for the start of the race required some figuring.  And then I got to do it again for Van 2.  I sent out final race day logistics, a final packing list and the race time predictions for each runner.  I tried not to nag about don't forget your reflective vest!  I sent a reminder to our volunteers and figured logistics for them too. 

And then I got the first heart stopping moment as captain.  One of our volunteers had forgotten about the event and was going to be unable to attend.  ACK!  There was much frantic figuring and pleas to find another volunteer.  Fortunately we were able to have someone else jump in and I could breathe again. At least we had 12 runners ready to go...cue foreshadowing.

Five days before the race, a team member seemed to have possible strep throat.  Uh oh!  If it was strep and they could get antibiotics, they would be able to run IF necessary.  This was an experienced relayer and knew how hard it would be to find a replacement.  She offered to stay on the team but as it got closer and closer and i started thinking about her situation; I knew it would be better to get a replacement.  I'd be so worried about her out there running when I knew she'd had a busy and exciting previous weekend, had two young kids (one who had been sick too) and still would have to travel again to get to the event and still be recovering and on antibiotics. 

And as luck would have it, someone who'd we asked to join the team before had a previous conflict clear and could do it.  This was tuesday, three days before the relay could begin.  I breathed easier again.  Wow, I'd figured out how we could run with just 11 members but that would put a strain on one runner who was already going in planning on running just two legs (instead of three).  if we were down a runner, she'd have to complete all legs.  I sighed a huge sigh of relief and tried not to turn an ankle anytime I walked around. 

I sent out the final email and was so dang excited!  I took the day off from work and did some final cooking (pancakes, chicken pasta salad), shopping (ice) and picked up some equipment we were borrowing from a team member who lived in Kirkland.  Les and I got together to sort piles of things into two discrete containers and then off to pick up the van.  Finally, my last great fear of not having vans was laid to rest.  Of course picking up the vans took forever and a day though and was quite aggravating.  Paying for an extra day and an easier pick up place might just be worth the added expense.

after all that though, I was maybe too excited.  I could not at all sleep the night before the relay.  K was in the first van and since I'd be awake anyway, i went to meet Van 1 and help them get packed and on the road.  Basically that involved getting my bossy voice out and cramming things in.  I went home and tried to nap.  After 45 minutes I gave up adn got up.  Oh well, who needed sleep?

Finally, it was time to go meet my van and we were off.  Ragnar, here we come!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Redmond Derby Days Dash

The thing about racing is that a good race can help you achieve that next better race.  The Seattle Rock n Roll Half two weeks ago showed me that I have not been able to achieve race pace in longer race efforts in years.  Why?  Breathing issues, biomechanical issues, ferritin issues all conspired to make me think mentally I couldn't push hard in races.  and dealing with all those issues, I could not.  Finally through much figuring and effort and help from, I've started to feel so much stronger and my training reflects that.  It all came together for the half marathon and I hit a time I've not seen in years.  AND I recovered quickly from that effort and felt great.

Now I'd signed up for the half marathon a year before and raced it but the main goal this year was to race the Ragnar Northwest Passage Relay.  I love relays and this year I'm captain of Orange Ogres.  Details.  Details.  Details.  Relays are all about the details and having had great experiences with relays, I know what is needed to pull together 12 people and 2 vans.  I hope.  it'll be proved in less than two weeks. 

But there is the running too.  It's two weeks until relay time and I know I need a short harder effort and K does too.  I looked around and found Redmond Derby Days Dash.  a small 5k with a nice course, well organized and low key.  Best of all, 100% of race fees when to the sponsoring Pancreatic Cancer Foundation.  Now my legs were tired after 12 awesome (!) trail miles but it didn't matter.  Relay running is all about running on tired legs when you think you can't run one step more.

We got over to Redmond Town Center in good time even with the Highway 520 closure.  The race starts just over by the Sammamish River Trail.  It's a very pretty setting and the river is beautiful.  We watched a heron catch a fish just about as big as it was when on our warm-up miles.  VERY impressive!

I lined up towards the the front 50 people or so as I'd seen what results were like for last year.  It's a narrow path we were going to start on and I saw people (families really) who should NOT be lined up at the start line.  Fortunately race organizers sent volunteers with paper signs and pace guidelines out just before the race and that sent people back.

If you are asking me what those signs mean, that means you should be farther back in the pack of runners and walkers.  I stayed where I was and chatted with an older Japanese gentleman and younger fast dude.  Younger fast dude wanted to pace under 7 flat and I said i'd be going out slower than that.  Older Japanese guy wondered where the turn around was and I said 1.5 miles that way.  Like I said, it was a nice low-key event. 

and with the blast of an air horn, we were off.  That sub-7 pace for the first quarter mile I just expect now.  And then I settled and I felt great.  7:13 pace for the first mile and it felt good.  I'd passed older Japanese guy and younger fast dude and truthfully expected to be passed back later in the race.  Soon I saw the race leaders coming back.  I meant to check to see how many other women were coming back but before I knew it, I was at the turn around. 

and then I was keeping my eye out for K!  Ok, this is the time to focus.  At 1.75 miles there were two women ahead of me.  7:22 second mile.  Great.  Focus on pulling up to and passing those women.  Tank top gal had the same idea and we passed young gal at about the same time.  I pulled up even to tank top gal but she pulled ahead.  Fine.  Pull me in! 

I never looked at pace here and I'm sorry I did not as I did slow.  I was pacing directly with tank top gal thinking we were staying steady but in reality we slowed.  I was doubting my legs a bit as I could feel those trail miles and my breathing was a bit off.  Stay with it!  I pretended I was back at a track workout and just following NA the new runner who is cracking me up lately. 

Finally we hit the final little bridge, a quick down and a quick up and I know the finish is just around the corner.  I never quite caught up to tank top gal but was shocked to see the clock counting UNDER 23 minutes.  And in I went with a chip time of 22:50.  AMAZING! 

Turns out I'd beat Japanese guy and young fast dude.  Japanese guy said I was "best pacer."  I think I could've done it a bit better (K came out with even splits and a PR!) but compared to his way too fast start, I did pretty well.  Best of all, I took a chance.  I've consistently hit 23:30 or so for 5ks all last year and I knew I was faster.  I went out hard even on tired legs and still managed to come in faster than expected.  This course was a good course for that and it helped that it was marked exactly as a 5k instead of a lot longer as some courses can be. 

Tank top gal came immediately over to me and we both thanked each other for the great effort.  It definitely helped to chase. A nice cool down mile, a quick stretch session being stretched by the trainers they had and K and I were off to celebrate mutual PRs at Victor's Coffee Shop in Redmond.

8th female and 2nd in 10 year age groups.  I will take it!  

Ragnar, here we come! 

Sunday, July 10, 2011

I live in an amazing place.

PuddleThumper with Downtown Seattle in background.

And the great thing about it is that there are still many more amazing places which are local to me to discover.  We've been in Seattle since 1996 and I can say I've been on Bainbridge Island (just a 30 minute ferry ride away from Downtown Seattle blocks from where I work) maybe a handful of times.

Last year I had an enjoyable trail run with a client and friend of my coach and she told me all about the trails that she runs on daily while on Bainbridge Island in the summer.  Finally a year and some later, we were able to work out a time to make this trail run happen.

I took the day off from work and Coach Lesley (CL) and I hopped an early ferry to Bainbridge Island.  TC picked us up at the other side and took us to Gazzam Lake trail head.  Easy peasy.  I had no idea what to expect but was prepared for 10-12 miles over a mix of hiking trails, single track and road. I carried my running pack with salt tabs, my energy bars and my camera, of course.  The smile on my face was permanently in place as well. 

And we were off.  Now CL has said that TC is very hard to get back over to Seattle for group runs or rides or events and having run her trails, I can see why.  It is trail bliss over there.  Gazzam Lake trails were nice wide hiking trails.  We made our way onto Peters Trail (please turn off your cell phones said the sign) and popped out onto a road around Lynwood.  TC knew the bathrooms were open here and so we took a break while TC chatted with someone she knows.

We made it down to Fort Ward State park trails and then back north towards Blakely Harbor Park.  And I so understand why TC is such a great runner.  she has been running on these trails for half of her life and each trail had a story about who owned it or some funny story which had happened.  We ran on knee high grassy access roads and the stinging nettles had their way with us and I just marveled that TC never had to think about where to turn or where to go.  She just knew. 

The best part came with teh single track trail with huge trees back towards a point where TC lives.  She was busy pointing out the huge trees while CL and I complained that we were too busy staring fixedly at the trail ahead of us to even look.  It was great running!  We came out to an open field with great views of the Puget Sound and continued onto a stunning viewpoint towards Seattle.  Then on to the horse barn and meeting TC's horses.  12 miles.  Done.  A quick lunch on the deck with dogs and dog-like cat and we were headed back to to the ferry for a ride home.

It was a mini running vacation and I am still thinking about it days later.  yes, there will be another one!  Thanks CL and TC for making this happen.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Trail Bouncy

After a fabulous trail run yesterday morning, I bounced into the kitchen where K was slaving away over lemon french macaroons.  "Still Trail Bouncy?" he asked.

Why yes!
Summer is finally here.  It is better late than never. Soaring Eagle has such nice trails.  yes the stinging nettles are stinging, the trail was full of spider webs and there are some angry wasps out there again. Yet how could you not love this: