Nothing New on Race Day

Nothing new on race day. That’s what the coaches at Rogue kept telling us. It basically means if there’s anything you want to experiment on – running nutrition, shoes, accessories, running paces etc. – you should have done it all at training.

Can’t say I wasn’t nervous about the race. I’d been to PT on Thursday and she said I could run it, but to take care. And then we went off to San Antonio for the next 2 days where I promptly forgot all about doing the PT exercises. We bought new shoes, Bharath and I the previous weekend. I tested them out on a 5 mile run on Tuesday night which didn’t feel great. I cramped a bit and the run was no fun. So yes, all of these things including the fact that I was making a 100% jump on the distance from the previous weekend.

There are tons of things people recommend that you do to prep for your big race day. Get a few miles in the days before the run (I didn’t except for the Tuesday night run), visualize the course and plan each mile. That is way too much planning for me. So my plan of attack was to go out there and run it like a usual weekend run.

That’s not to say I did not prep:

1. I did visualize parts of the course that I knew. While I didn’t have a game plan for each mile, I mentally decided when to have nutrition.

2. Ate a high energy breakfast of 1 slice of toast with butter and jam (yeah, I need the butter!). Drank lots of water and got all morning duties out of the way (cannot underestimate the importance of this when you’re out running for more than 2 hours). Also couldn’t have had a better dinner of pasta with soy and lentils.

3. I pre-emptively took a painkiller – maybe recommended or not, but was worth it.

4. Did my PT exercises to open up the muscles a bit.

We reached the starting line and it was milling with people. I tried looking out for my running partner but couldn’t find her. I pretty much knew then I’d be running alone. I started slow, slow, slow. As we began running, it started to drizzle and I took a deep breath. This was it. It was almost the race I had been training for. I felt extremely emotional in those first few minutes. As I ran, I ticked off the people who had donated for my run, those who regularly followed the blog, who had been encouraging me from the very first day. And most of all, I dedicated the run to my Coach Lorrie.

I had my first gel pack before the race began. And I think it had a LOT to do with my easy warm-up. None of the annoying cramps or breathing issues surfaced. I was surprised  but suspicious. If it felt good now, I knew it would suck later. But I kept running.

I changed my running style consciously. I realized earlier my footfalls were extended out, beyond the knees. Probably what gave me knee pain. So I consciously did smaller steps, reasonably faster turnover and made sure my feet never fell beyond the knees. It made such an incredible difference in comfort level even though I’d to get used to it.

And I got my runner’s high. The sole reason I kept going back to the run and I had it. I made the 5 mile mark at gun time (time that the gun goes off which is what is displayed on mile markers) at 1.08. This was incredible for me. This meant I’d been running at an even pace of a little over 12 minutes a mile. I knew I’d slow down further on.

People came out to cheer their families who were running or if they lived in the neighborhood. Running down Spicewood Springs which is a nice downhill felt awesome. I also made sure I didn’t race it, as instructed by Coach.

Around mile 5 I took my second gel pack. An enthusiastic Indian gentleman was cheering for everyone and cheered me on saying ‘Come on Asha’. Brought back memories of graduate school when people addressed me as Asha, when I was the chapter coordinator.

I began feeling really tired at the half mark. From half point onwards, I knew the course as we’d run it the previous weekend. And that’s when Rogue advice on a mile-plan kicked in. I decided at mile 9 or 10 I’d take the 3rd gel pack. So until then, I needed to make the second one work. I slowed down a lot. Kept running but varied the pace. All those Rogue workouts with varying pace came back to me. I don’t know if I ran HMGP or 10K pace, but I knew, by effort the first 5 miles were faster. Burnett Road went on forever. As we turned on North Loop, an elderly Indian gentleman began talking to me and running with me. He ran a good but slow pace so I decided to run with him for a bit. We exchanged running stories and I learned he’d been running 30 years, he was 60 years old, had torn his ACL but was running both 3M and the Austin Half. We talked about running in India (he’d had a better experience) and that he’d run the Decker Challenge one of Austin’s brutal races.

I ran with Ginger Gautam (cute name :)) until mile 11. Then he said he was going to walk for a bit, but I wanted to speed up the last 2 miles. Around then or a bit before I began to badly want a painkiller. The knees were aching quite a bit so I kept stopping and massaging them as my PT had suggested I do.

I walked to the last water stop and then it was less than a mile. I began running furiously on small but faster turnover steps. At San Jacinto I could see the finish line and hear the announcer. I saw Murali who challenged me to pick of 5 people to the finish line. So I began sprinting. Memories of school races rushed back into my head. Finish well and finish strong. I sprinted into the finish line having picked off 6! I crossed the line at 2.56.44. For most folks that’s no record, but it belied my expectations. When I ran 10 miles with Rogue, it took me around 3 hours each time. I had no expectations of finishing the HM in less than 3 hours! And I did it because I hardly walked this time. This was the most amount of running and distance I’d ever done!

I have to add how proud I am of Bharath, who with minimal training did it in 2.39 or so. Perhaps with training he can beat that easily.

So thanks to everyone for all the encouragement and support. This has been the most fun but the most challenging thing I’ve done – beats the PhD experience even (mostly cos its voluntary). I had a fantastic first race and I only hope the next one in 3 weeks is as good! I hope there’s nothing new on race day on Feb 20, including how good the run felt!!

Winter Running: Wear Gloves!

I have no idea how people in Chicago, New York or Boston train during winter months. I recall reading a UM track coach’s workout on the Internet when I was trying to research the various workouts we did at Rogue. Of course, he recommended that track athletes run outside even in winter. That’s when you monitor the temps closely and as soon as they rise a bit (and it’s all relative),they are out running. When we were still at Purdue I remember a very old man who lived on our street. It didn’t matter if it was rain, shine or snow he would be out running with his headphones, practically bent with age but he kept running. Somewhere in my mind I stored his image and when I started running myself I made a silent salute to him. May I run at his age too.

Back to running in the cold. This morning when we woke up, Texas was under it’s cold spell. The temps outside were around freezing. Jairam texted saying he couldn’t make it to the run. Bharath had finally decided to come running so i nudged him awake. He of course asked to snooze for five more. While I was doing some serious debate in my head:

Mind: my knees are paining…should skip today.
Me: no, next weekend is the first race, I have to go run today. Besides PT said run if you think you can handle it.
Mind: damn PT. But it’s so cold now, run later during the day
Me: rattled off a bunch of chores to do all day…no time to run later.
Mind: but Jairam isn’t coming either
Me: he ran 12 miles this month, he could handle the race next weekend. Besides Bharath’s coming so I’m not running alone.
Mind: ok, how about tomorrow
Me: for gods sake! Slept early on Friday to run today not tomorrow! Tonight will be a late night…

And so it went. Finally, decided enough of rationalizing, this is the only time this weekend to get in the miles. 5 weeks of break wouldn’t help me run next weekend. So I abruptly got out and got ready. Bharath also got out and I marvelled – I’d been asking him to join the long run for months. Now that he had signed up to run the race, he had no choice but to come along. I was glad for the company finally!

It was bloody cold. It was &&))$;-;/!?#%^##<%%%% cold. We met Rogue at Northcross Mall in north Austin to do the second half of the 3M course. We began running down Burnet and I could still feel the chill in my legs. The worst were my hands. Wear gloves, I recall the advice. Soon my hands were numb. We stopped at Walgreens, made them open the store and bought gloves. Unfortunately, the $1.99 gloves were pink so Bharath got utility gloves instead. A Rogue member started running with me, so she helped us find the gloves in the store. We set off once again. I immediately felt infinitely better. Began running a nice, easy pace. Bharath kept a good pace ahead of us. There were a few inclines along the way but nothing that felt insurmountable or un- runnable. My running partner kept running, which was great because every time I felt the urge to walk I had to keep up with her. She gave me good company and down Duval, we started having fun, making jokes even. It felt great to be back running on the streets of Austin. The good, old, broken-into asphalt. Thanks to the cold, my usual aches and pains didn't surface and even when they did, the cold took precedence. Bharath took a detour at 38th and Duval to run home to bring the car as the route was not an out and back one. Plus his utility gloves didn't do him much good as they weren't meant for warmth. I felt a bit sorry that he didn't enjoy his first long run with Rogue or that it was so cold and he wasn't warm enough. But it will be better next weekend because we will be better prepared.

Met coach at the finish and told her it went ok. Bharath picked us up and we celebrated our back-to-running run with fantastic breakfast tacos at Tacodeli. Ah, running and tacos in Austin. Lovely!

Back on Track

After a month-long hiatus with no serious running while I was in India, it felt good to be back on familiar ground at Rogue last Tuesday night, amidst familiar faces and meeting my favorite coach, Lorrie. Lorrie is amazing! The workout was an in-and-out 800 meter run on the tracks where we ran around the track 8 times, every 2 loops count as 800 meters. Each 800 meter to be done at slow and fast pace Р10K and HMGP. Running to the track and back, and around it was about a good 5.5 mile run.

I wasn’t having much running successes lately. The last decent run was in the gym in Mumbai of about 8km or roughly 5 miles. Since running in Chennai I’d also begun to have knee pains – and I know that’s the most common running injury so it made me nervous and unwilling to run much in India. Add to that allergies and a cold which made breathing tough. We tried running on the beach while in Goa a couple of times but that’s a whole different skill set. So I wasn’t very optimistic about the run on Tuesday.

Then during the instructions, Coach Lorrie talked about positive thinking and said that a lot of your running performance has to do with your mind, and thinking that you can do it. So I thought, never mind the last few weeks – let me try running as if I’m just starting to run again. So that’s what I did. I ran a slow, slow pace to the track and it felt easy and good. At the track, Coach pulled me aside. She asked me to run easy and not try to do the slow-fast alternation since I was coming back from a long break. The air was cool and crisp, the moon was out and it was a beautiful night to run. Definitely made me appreciate Austin a lot!

I did just fine on the track. I ran easy and anyway, I don’t do this fast-slow business very well. I run only one pace. Slow. And that’s fine with me. I might take varying the pace a bit more seriously once I can get back into shape.

This weekend is 7 miles and the last half of the 3M course. Of course, we’re not ready to run the 3M race, however easy the course may be. But since we’re signed up for it, we’re going to probably run-walk it. Or postpone the registration to do a shorter run perhaps. We’ll see. Watch the blog for developments :).

Back in PT today. Of course, since I wasn’t running much I was irregular with PT as well. I told them about the knee pain. It is still connected to weak hips and I’ve to continue on the hip exercises. I did some and my glutes were on fire. The weak hips are making the knees turn in during running and because of repetitive force, its making the knees hurt. I’ve got to get the hips to get stronger.

This is life. Stuff happens. And something that you’d been doing diligently gets sidetracked and you lose steam. Its so easy to give up at this point. So easy to say, at least I did something and I’ll just stay happy with it. But I can’t. I saw a world in which I was so happy running. I tasted the runner’s high and I can’t stop trying to get at it again. Maybe its going to take a lot more bad runs, hip exercises and glutes on fire to get there but we should keep trying.