Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Canyonlands Half Marathon: race report

The best races of my life have happened when I have carried something with me.  A thought, a mantra, an idea, those are plastered all over these pages, the words that have followed me along.  And sometimes these words come from quite the unlikely mouth (spoiler, in case you don't want to read the whole post).
I've been struggling with how to talk about this race.

On the one hand, I've had a rocky winter.  I've been continuing to deal with a knee situation that has plagued me on and off since last summer, and while the field of vision towards complete healing seems to be getting narrower, it has made for a somewhat inconsistent few months of training.  Some sessions shut down here and there, pain popping up at the wrong times, some tears and railing against the universe.  And it's the truth to say that while on the surface I've bopped along just fine, I've struggled with maintaining a positive attitude in the privacy of eight billion emails to my coach, physical therapist, and the rest of the support system that I am lucky to have.

On the other hand, training has become a completely different animal to me.  The changes I've made this year - changes in diet, habit, relationships - those changes have seemed small in their moments, but now it's the middle of March and I've changed.  And I'm not sure I even noticed it, or thought about it, or wondered how it would come out of the body, until I ran this race.
I included this race to Sonja late last year on the list as "my husband is running it plus a bunch of athletes that I'm coaching with a group in Boulder so I'll be there anyway if you'd like me to sign up," and she did.  I was also planning on running the Myrtle Beach half last month, and I liked the idea of running two half marathons four weeks apart before digging into the triathlon season.  The planes left without me and I didn't make it to SC, and that left me more curious than anything else about what in the hell was going on with my run.  I felt in late January like it wasn't coming around very quickly, but then I hopped a plane to California and did a volume dump plus ran a bunch of miles way too fast and blamed Anabel, and even though my body tried hard to come down with a bug when I got back and then my knee threw a last-minute rod, I had some good sessions in the weeks between.  So.  Curious.
We - the poet, the puppies, and one of my super cool athletes - drove out to Utah Friday morning.  Everything about the day before a race went smoothly, bibs and hotel and snacks and meals.  We met up with the big group of F4 runners for the shake-out run later in the evening, and then I got to spend some quality time trying to break my collarbone (as bloggers do) while the sun went down.
At some point in the days before the race, through the fog of frustration at my body, at least a trickle of rational thought got through.  Someone said something to me about the body being a beautiful machine.  I'm sure he didn't mean my body, just the human body, or maybe the body of someone who isn't so grumpy and didn't drink so much wine in December, but it chimed, settled down into my brain where I needed it.  And at the last moment before we left the hotel room Saturday morning, I tucked it under my watch band, to carry, so that if I couldn't find that moment in my mind, I would still have it with me.
Logistics of this race are great, we were able to park a block away from the shuttle that would take us into the canyon.  We got to the start with over an hour to kill and I went down to the river alone and set my mind free for a while.  It's what I've discovered I need before racing, quiet moments to go blank, empty (and not realize that I have something stuck in my teeth before I start taking selfies).
Eventually it was time to warm up, the legs just felt okay, not super snappy, but I jogged it out and made one last visit to the potty and hugged and high-fived everyone before heading into the crowd.  I wanted to run alone, I didn't want to see anyone during the race, I wanted to listen to my feet and my breathing and see how it would all unfold.

My race plan was pretty simple, I had a "do not go out faster than this" first mile and a few other thoughts but no real numbers to hang onto.  I stood around shivering and chatting with some people decked out in head-to-toe ironman gear (sigh) and then we were moving.  The first mile has a pretty big downhill, and I felt like I spent that entire mile laying on the brakes and watching people fly by.  I split the first mile in exactly the time I wasn't supposed to run faster than (good girl) and then for a while, didn't really pay attention to anything.  I couldn't tell you what I thought about in these miles.  I got hungry early and started working on my chews, my handheld of OSMO that I planned to carry for six miles was bothering me after six steps, but I was able to keep convincing myself to carry and drink from it for just one more mile.  Somewhere after mile three I noticed that a lot of people around me were breathing pretty heavily, and I was not, so I wondered if maybe it was time to bust a move, but it felt early.  
The wind picked up after mile five, I think, and I latched onto a couple of guys who announced to everyone that they were on cruise control at 8:30 pace.  They pulled me up a big hill, steady eddy, and then I lost them when they ducked into a water stop.  At some point I passed the two hour pacer, and he was getting chewed out by a runner for how far ahead he was, and every time the wind blew hard I tried to tuck in but couldn't find someone who was tall enough or traveling at my pace, so I would zip around.  And here and there I flipped my wrist over and peeked under my watch, paused, gathered, and ran on.  

The words that I've used to describe this race are conservative and controlled.  I started keeping an eye on pace after I pitched my bottle and chews, and made a few okay no more splits over 8:40 kind of decisions as I moved through the miles.  The wind dropped for a moment just as my watch lapped a mile, I think maybe eight, and a few minutes later I glanced down to see I was in the low 7s, and it still felt too early for that, so I eased back some more.  We spat out of the canyon, under and around onto the highway, and when we passed the mile 11 sign, I finally decided to dig in.  A hard mile, and then the end-of-race negotiations started to happen in my brain.  Only five laps of the track left.  We turned off the highway and the tailwind turned into a crosswind, and my quad let me know a few hours later that I had been leaning into it.  The finish line appeared too soon, a little pop of speed and I was across, and it didn't even occur to me to wonder what my final time was going to be until the moment where I caught a glimpse of the gun time clock and wondered what in the hell just went down (shoe pic a la Heather).  
It's so hard to talk about a race that goes well, there is nothing to say.  This one wasn't perfect, I made some mistakes that I'll jot down for next time, but they were tiny and manageable, or maybe my work of managing is improving, I don't know.  I do know that there was no fear, standing on the line, I can't recall a single negative thought I had throughout the day, I was in control, I was a scientist running a machine (a beautiful machine), and somehow that landed me at the line far more quickly than it has in any of the six hundred other half marathons I've raced.  I'm not sure what to do with that, and I'm not sure I need to do anything with that other than check the box, write the blog, and move along.  
The poet asked me a few hours ago, do you know why you race?  Yes.  Why?  And I'm repeating myself here, so click on away, but standing on the line, for me, is a question.  So many things in life are predictable, I have answers before I can even ask.  A schedule, a calendar, work, groceries, laundry, it's often a straight line.  But when I race, I don't know the answer.  I don't even know the questions that are going to appear once I've walked into the fire.  I do know that I don't get many opportunities to ask these questions, to stand in the howling wind, the eye of the storm and see what happens if when I do not back down.  And there have been many times in my life where I've stood at the line saying I don't want to and that's fear, absolute.  Before Cozumel, I had these questions, some of them I found answers to and some were lost with a broken arm.  So I return to the line to ask again, as I will again and again and again, and what I know about this race is that it felt like a step.  A firm and certain step further down wherever my path is going, into a future that I can't see.  But it also only felt like one step, and if there are any answers at all that revealed themselves to me out of this little race, it's that there are quite possibly a million more steps.  More steps, just like this one, and all I need to do to take them is to reach out and hold on.  With both hands.  

8 comments:

  1. Congrats on a great race! You ran really smart & I must say that machine of yours is looking amazing! Hubba hubba!

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  2. Congrats on a new PR! Someone once said the races that go so well are almost harder than the tough ones, because we are more convinced that usual that we should have tried harder and gone faster. So being at peace (if not utterly satisfied) with your good day out there is an accomplishment in itself. Way to go, beautiful.

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  3. Great job! It does feel wonderful to push yourself and get those questions answered. That last paragraph is very well put. Using the known to prepare for the unknown is why it's fun to take the risks we do.

    All you really missed in Myrtle Beach was more of those winds. it was a crazy, cold day out there. Better to stay in CO.

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  4. Great photos! What a great race and finish!!

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  5. Great photos and lovely race day execution! What a good, solid start to your season this year. I am excited for you to keep kicking butt!

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  6. Such an unbelievable place to race! And an awesome time to top it off :) I loved your ending on "why you race." I am asked that question quite a bit, and my answer now is "to feel alive." Like you said, there is unpredictability of racing and the concept of announcing a goal, setting forth to achieve it and the feeling of accomplishment that comes with racing. No two races are ever the same, and I never stop learning about myself with each and every race.

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  7. Active lifestyle has to bring you pleasure! To make my body able to take any workout rather like pleasure than tough routine, I am taking proper nutrition enforced by dietary supplements. According to nutrition scientists BCAA is one of the key nutritional compounds to help your muscles recover properly. My body eagerly responds and I feel more prepared for tough workouts. See also more advices on proper training and nutrition at http://bit.ly/Qh9G8S

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