Monday, March 24, 2014

50k in March? Too optimistic?

So I had heard of the JC Stone 50k for a few years.  A friend of mine, and my personal running guru, James Lombardi, had tried to entice me to run it for the past few years.  He told me it was a nice course, and since it was a loop, you could visit your family/friends on each loop to check in.

Winter training has been sluggish for me since I started running.  I usually to a big race in the fall, recover from that for a few weeks, then get amped up for cold weather training.  I get all amped up and do ok in November and December, but tend to bonk out during the holidays.

This year was not much different.  I started December strong with a hill repeat challenge, and did that, with my legs feeling good - but towards the end of the month, my mileage dropped, and the season of baked goods started... January, I stepped it back up, getting outside as much as I could, even in the cold, then a friend of mine, Kim, wanted me to help her with running, so I got a new running partner once a week, and the Jims started doing speedwork on Tuesdays, which helped even more.

I never felt great about not getting any really "long" runs in, but I was doing 30ish miles a week, and feeling pretty good, as well as doing some hiking and strengthening my legs.  I signed up for a bunch of races.

Then Jim Lombardi once again mentioned how he might do the JC Stone 50k, and then my friend Alisha said she had signed up for it.  I found the website, and BAM - signed up for a March 22nd 50k.  It'll be a good long run, I thought.  It'll be good training, I thought.


I live in northwestern Pennsylvania, about 2 hours north of the park where the race would take place, North Park.  I decided to crash at Alisha's house, only an hour away, and we'd drive together.

We got up early, and having had some stomach issues or a stomach bug earlier in the week, I opted just for peanut butter toast and coffee and water.  I can't really explain how I felt that morning... not really sick, not weak, just not normal or grounded like I usually feel on a race morning.  I wasn't nervous, just not feeling quite well.  I grabbed a banana for the road, and we headed off.

I drove down to the park, we parked right at the first turn that we would loop around the parking lot, so the car would make an easily accessible aid station, and picked up our bib numbers and shirts (which are awesome).  It was drizzling on the drive, but the clouds were clearing, the sun was coming out, and it was brisk, but not freezing out. We greeted a few of our running friends from the area, it was good to see familiar faces, as always.  We stayed in the warm boathouse until 15 minutes before race time, made one last stop at the facilities, then headed to the start line.

Sunrise at the race start.

We started with a one mile loop, then headed out on the first of six five mile loops.  I was feeling sluggish, but I always feel that way starting out.  I hoped to warm up after a mile or two.  Alisha and I planned to stick together and average a pace between 10-11 minute miles.  We did pretty awesome.  We chatted and went along steady, but I was feeling concerned after the first 5 miles, when I didn't really feel warmed up.  I wasn't hurting, it was just hard to catch my breath up some of the hills, but I pushed on, grabbing gels and pretzels and gatorade at aid stations.  I decided with the cool temps, the wind, and the closeness of the aid stations (every 2.5 miles), that I could ditch my handheld and just drink at the Aid Stations, which might have been part of my trouble later in the race, but who can say.

Heading out on the first 5 mile loop.

By about 10 miles in, I was feeling better and a bit into my groove.  The paved loop wasn't very exciting, but Alisha and I talked, people-watched, and commented about all the doggies along the course. There were a ton of people out around the park that day, walking and running dogs, running in preparation for the Pittsburgh Marathon, biking, playing tennis.  It was hard to be bored, and we looked forward to brief stops at the Aid Stations.

By lap 5, I was feeling not so great, but I knew if I kept running, and didn't stop to walk, it would be really good for my upcoming marathon in May.  I got in 26 miles in around 4:49, which I think I have time to improve on slightly, especially if I'm feeling better.

Near the end of the 5th loop, I told Alisha I was going to have to do a bit of walking soon, and I urged her to go.  She gave me a hug, wished me luck, and was off.  I was relieved not to hold her back and was able to walk some.  I felt like I walked a ton on that last lap, but looking at my splits, my walking lap was only around 10 minutes slower than my running lap, so I kept pushing, and mostly walked the uphills to catch my breath.  I came down the last hill and around the parking lot, and could hear some of my running circle friends cheering for me.  My shoe came untied in that last 100 yards, but I was not stopping to tie it. I came across the line, really glad to be finished.  I finished in 5:53:18.

Glad to be at the finish!

As difficult time as I had with this race, physically (Mentally, I never felt bad), I'm really glad I pushed through.  This was my first road race over a half marathon, the rest have been on trails, and I don't think I took into account the difference of what the roads feel like on one's body.  I wish I hadn't been sick a few days before, but again, it's a learning experience.

I think one of the best things about this day, besides getting to spend some nice time with my friend Alisha, was being in North Park.  My parents and grandparents are from Pittsburgh, and I remember many a summer coming to North Park with my Pap and seeing the deer, or having some kind of family picnic at the pavilions, or even more recently, having been to a cousin's wedding and remember my little guy playing on a playground when he was barely walking.  It was a good day.

Yesterday, the day after, I was sore, and still feeling really off.  I had dropped 5 pounds through the day, so I don't know that I will relinquish my hand-held next time.  I needed to drink more during, which may have helped me during those last 2 laps, and I didn't drink enough after I finished.  After taking it easy yesterday, drinking a lot and eating moderately, I'm feeling much better the second day, and even my soreness is mostly limited to up and down the stairs.

I'm ready to run again, and really, to get back to the trails, my true running love.