Thursday, October 23, 2014

reality check

Lest I get too full of myself post race success...there's always a reality check gremlin lurking just around the corner, ready to make my acquaintance.

In this particular case, it was Wednesday's group run, which was another vertical rock climb that was more hike than run...and completely demoralizing. There was a part of my brain that argued that I maybe I should have stayed home and given my body that had just done 21k over the weekend and a still-sore foot a break...but the part of my brain that jumps into the deep end with anything new wanted to prove how serious I am about being a part of the group and this running thing didn't want to miss a week. And I had a new pair of more-cushioned shoes to test out -- nothing like a good run as an acid test, right?

(Hey, I never said I made smart decisions.)

Bottom line? As good as I felt after Saturday, I was equally humbled after Wednesday. Not only was there a ton of climbing, but the trail was incredibly technical and very rocky. My new shoes have quite a bit of cushion on them, which I suspect I need for the support...but the trade-off is lack of ground feel, and I felt like I was wobbling all over the place as I'd hit rocks and random uneven surfaces.

Not my finest moment...and in retrospect, I didn't exactly set myself up for success. Let's see: a still-sore foot that I was altering my running gait in an attempt to protect, new shoes that I'd never tried on trail, in the dark, still-recovering body from race weekend. How was this supposed to end well???

Needless to say, runs like that do nothing for my self-confidence levels, especially when I start thinking ahead on the topic of moving up in distances. Over the weekend, I was all cheerful and gung-ho about my future race plans, full of confidence, bombing down the trails without a second thought or care. Last night, the gremlins were all pointing and laughing at me, my confidence shattered, straggling along at the back of the pack, and the only thought in my mind being "I don't wanna get hurt."

Maybe this is all part of the process? Some sort of a self-governor that keeps the ambitions to a sensible dull roar? It's certainly not exclusive to running, I know that much...I can't begin to count how much roller-coaster ups and downs I've experienced in horses themselves, not to mention distance riding specifically, and the personal, non-horse-and-running life is certainly not excluded by any means.

I'm not expecting cloud nine all the time...I'm not that unrealistic...but it would be nice if the roller coasters would coordinate among themselves sometime...I gotta have something to fall back on to maintain my functional levels of sanity at most points in time.

I have to remind myself of this...everything has ups and downs,
good times and bad...but if it means something, it's worth it.
So much of what I do and who I am involves serious head games
and a certain level of mental toughness.

On the bright side? Even on my worst day, I'm still faster than a zombie, so have a decent chance of surviving the inevitable zombie apocalypse. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Cave Creek Thriller 11k/Thrasher Night Run 10k

I totally know how to Do Everything Right before a run, including: a very technical, brutal hike/"run" three days ahead with lots of tricky footwork, babying along an already-sore foot/ankle caused by who-knows-what, and a Friday evening emotional meltdown followed by a round of whiskey and ice cream. Yep, sounds like a great taper routine.

the rock pile, otherwise known as the Holbert Trail at South
Mountain -- the trail is visible in the lower left-hand corner of
the photo, and goes up from there...

runner fuel???

Questionable decisions about what constitutes an ideal taper aside, I had an awesome run weekend as I attempted my first double header races: the Cave Creek Thriller 11k in the morning, followed by the Thrasher Night Run 10k less than 12 hours later, both held at the Cave Creek Regional Park over virtually the same course, both put on by Aravaipa Running.

(I have to take a moment here and proclaim the awesomeness of Aravaipa. I am completely spoiled by the three races I've been to that have been put on by them, in addition to also participating in their weekly group training runs. The events are top-notch, well-organized, have amazing run swag, and attract a fun bunch of people, and I'm really enjoying the social aspect of the weekly group runs.)

I had every intention of doing a reconnaissance run at Cave Creek ahead of time...but time got away from me, and my knowledge of the course ended up being maybe half of it that I had hiked a couple of years ago. Better than nothing, at least.

Cave Creek Thriller 11k

True to my overly-prepared form, I had everything packed and ready Friday evening: clothes laid out, extra clothes packed, hydration pack filled, water bottles filled, snacks sorted and packed. Good thing, too, since I accidentally set my alarm to go off on weekdays versus the weekend. Oops. Fortunately my reliable, four-legged alarm clock squeaked at me and I only slept in about 15 minutes past when I was supposed to be up.

There's also virtually no traffic at 6:00 on a Saturday morning, so the hour-long drive up to Cave Creek was smooth sailing. I was still up there later than I wanted to be in that I had to park a little ways from the start/finish area...but it at least made for a nice walking warm-up. I checked in, got my number bib and awesome race t-shirt, then headed back to the truck to finish getting ready.

Gear Used: (morning edition, top to bottom)
Funky Cowgirl Bands Sugar Skull headband
Oakley Minute 2.0 sunglasses
Columbia Total Zero Tank Top
Victoria's Secret Standout sports bra
Kerrits IceFil sleeves
New Balance running shorts
Smartwool anklet socks
Newton BocoAT trail runners
Dirty Girl Gaiters in "Day of the Dirt" (matches the headband!)
Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta hydration pack

I somehow manage to turn this into just as much of a stuff used ordeal as riding. :)

Once I was all ready, I had about 15 minutes before the start of the 11k, so I took advantage of the permanent restroom facilities, then made my way over to the start line. There was a quick "follow these ribbons and these signs on these trails" briefing, then the countdown was on, and we were off!

There were 81 people in the 11k, so it was a slow-moving cluster at the start. I headed out in approximately the last third of the pack as basically stayed there. Going out too fast is something I am very cognizant about and deliberately make myself hold back and start slow.

let's do this thing!

a lot of the trail was quite runnable...some
uphills that were best walked, usually followed
by downhills that more than made up for it
The course also had an aid station at just over the halfway mark -- my first real trail running aid station! I ran in, drank a cup of water and cup of gatorade, ate a couple of boiled potatoes dipped in salt, and grabbed a couple of ginger cookies to nibble on my way out.

Immediately after the aid station was the Worst Climb Ever to the top of the saddle on the Go John Trail. Aside from a couple of short flat sections, it was a climb best hiked.

we're supposed to end up in that saddle on the left side of the
photo, after climbing and switchback basically across the span
of the pic

immediately out of the aid station
 Fortunately, I'm a good hiker. I'm actually a stronger hiker than I am runner, so I just set to hiking/slogging/grumbling my way up that climb.

just the beginning of the climb

oh-so-attractive middle-of-the-climb faces
a patented Ash "what was I thinking???" moment
It was so worth taking my time in the beginning, though, because I ended up passing people on the climb up. And at the top, the climb was rewarded by a fabulous stretch of smooth downhill that you could fly.

all downhill (mostly) from here...
I'm usually not a super brave downhill runner -- if I'm gonna wipe out, it's most likely going to be on a downhill -- but apparently I have a somewhat reckless side that came out to play over the weekend, and it showed up in the form of going tearing down anything that was even vaguely runnable, and hurtled the rough stuff that wasn't.

This part was the most fun ever, and the fact it was all exposed with no shade just provided good inspiration for keeping my feet moving and getting back to the finish (and shade) that much faster.

on the home stretch, less than a mile to go
photo courtesy of Aravaipa Running
I finished with a time of 1:27:53, 54th overall out of 81, 20th place female.

finish swag! beverage jar w the race logo

roadkill runners r us

Thanks to the weekly group runs I've been doing, I actually know people now, so I had friends to hang out with afterwards, and cheer on people coming in on the 24k and 50k. Since Cave Creek is an hour away, I planned to just stay up there all day versus drive home and drive back again.

My post-run reward to myself was a pizza lunch from Freak Brothers Pizza (also run by the Coury brothers that are behind Aravaipa Running):

fresh, homemade, wood-fired pizza!
Once traffic from the morning races cleared off, I was able to move to a closer parking spot as well, and I took the opportunity to lay down and rest. (Yay for SUVs with lots of space and fold-down my suburban.) An actual nap didn't happen...a bit too warm, even with windows open for cross-vent and breezes...but I was at least able to lay down, get off my feet for a while, and read a book before the evening fun began...

Thrasher Night Run 10k

The only spot of concern was my still-sore foot and ankle. I still don't know what I did to make it sore (wondering if I stepped wrong/hit a rock at the Dreamy Draw group run a week and half had some rocky/technical parts, and then the South Mountain rock scramble certainly didn't help), but there were some rocky parts of the trails that were giving me some "ouch" feedback if I stepped on a rock too hard.

I did some preventative "taping for sore spots" with KT tape and hoped for the best on the evening race...

Remember the change of clothes I mentioned packing? I didn't actually bother to change. I was kind of sweaty and dirty from the morning run, but nothing was rubbing, everything was comfortable, and I just didn't think it would be worth it. I did change my socks, as clean socks make everything better, and I had been feeling like my toes were bumping the seam of the sock against the front of the shoe, and I re-braided my (messy) hair and changed headbands.

Gear Used: (evening edition, top to bottom)

UV Half Buff (less bulk than the original Buff, because I only use it as a headband)
same tank/bra/shorts
Wrightsock anklet socks
same shoes/gaiters
same hydration pack

earlier races getting ready

another desert sunset
The best part about the night run was that one of my endurance buddies was also going to be there! I ended up running into K in the parking lot about 20 minutes before the race started, so we had a chance to chat. We met up a couple times out on the course, but for me at least, running is a deliberately solo activity for the most part (with the exception of my Wednesday group runs, and even those, I run by myself within the group), so I may chat with someone for a couple minutes, then drift off on my own again. But it's awesome to have someone to hang around with before and after the race!

K & A -- endurance and running buddies!
bummer that we live on opposite ends of the Valley
The night group was smaller -- 56 in the 10k -- but for whatever reason, it ended up being more tightly clustered for a longer period, and it took me until three-quarters of the way through the race to get a space bubble where I wasn't actively chasing someone or being chased down. That meant the pace felt faster -- but that could also be because I already had done 11k earlier and was more tired. (Ya think???)

I have to say, I love running in the desert at night. There's a unique feel that doesn't necessarily translate to the daytime, and is difficult to put into words. Maybe it's because my first trail run was at night, and I've been doing the group runs at night, but I don't find it scary (especially with a good light). My favorite part was the last quarter of the race, where I was all alone in a perfect space bubble, and it was so quiet, like I was the only one out there. For someone who runs to sort out her head space and for "me time," that's about as perfect as it gets.

The course for the 10k was similar to the 11k, but the first part was reversed, with a small section cut out. I think it was actually easier this way -- the uphill was longer, up shallow and off-and-on runnable, and the downhill was fast. Like, I look back on it now and wonder, "Did I really go flying down that section as recklessly as I did?" (Yeah, I did. Like I said, apparently my reckless side came out to play over the weekend. Maybe not a great thing for my physical health [if I wipe out], but for someone who has always approached physical activities with a neurotic level of caution and fear, this is a huge thing.)

The aid station was in the same location, and this time, I drank some gatorade, swiped a couple of potatoes in salt on the go, and started hoofing it up the Go John climb again, nibbling on potato chunks as I went. I used the same strategy as before -- just keep hiking -- and I ended up passing half a dozen people by the time I hit the top. From the aid station onward, the trail was the same as the morning, and I used it to my advantage. I hit that downhill and went absolutely flying down -- not wanting to get caught by the people I just passed was a strong motivator.

And it worked. From the top of the climb all the way back down to the finish, I didn't get passed by anyone. I also discovered that I've gotten to the point where, unless it's an uphill, it's just as easy to keep running the flats or downhills when I'm tired as it is to walk them, and I cover more ground. I never thought I would use the words "run" and "easy" together in the same sentence, but I've gotten to the point that running has definitely become easier. I've learned to find my rhythm, get past the initial discomfort, and settle into it. And after years of believing I would never be a runner, that feels really good.
you can never have too many finisher glasses --
my eventual house guests will someday all be
drinking out of run glasses

a little worse for the wear after a collective
21k...but all the better for it

Out of 56 in the 10k, I came in 27th overall, 13th female, with a time of 1:25:48. My pace was slower for the 10k, which was expected -- night pace is usually a bit slower (owing to the lack of being able to see anything), on top of already having run. But overall, I did so much better than I had hoped!

K and I both finished -- she was just a couple
minutes behind me

The finishing aid station buffet was wonderful as always -- I chowed down on gummy worms (they're a weakness), bean burrito wraps, cheese quesadillas, watermelon, and pumpkin pie -- then wrapped things up with people I knew and headed home. The runner's high kept me going on the hour drive home and long enough to shower before I crashed into bed.

run swag: water bottle and fold-on-itself backpack are the
sign-up goodies from the Thrasher 10k, with the mason jar
finisher's glass, and the Most Awesome Logo Ever t-shirt was
from the Thriller 11k, with a finisher's drinking glass
I could definitely feel the collective 21k by the end -- my left foot was pretty sore on the outside top part, and a bit on the ankle, and my right leg especially was brewing up some pesky shin splints again, probably due to over-compensation for the left foot. My whole body was a bit muscle-sore a day or two later -- sore upper arms from the fact I use my arms to propel me forward when hiking, sore abs/core form actually using my core, and of course, sore feet. The leg muscles themselves weren't too bad, it was more shins and feet.

A couple of days later, as I write this, I'm pretty sure the foot is bruised -- there's just a small localized area of discomfort that I can usually walk out of, and feels better with support. I've been wearing my compression calf sleeves, which help the shin splints, and doing some aggressive applications of ice and arnica to the foot. My working theory is that my Newton shoes are a little too minimalist for me, especially in really rocky, technical terrain, and that I probably need something with more cushion and support, especially when I get tired and my form is sloppy, or I'm having too much fun flying down a hill to worry about how hard or soft my foot is landing.

To that end, I went a picked up a pair of Hoka One Ones today and am eager to try them out. They're still a more neutral drop from heel to toe, similar to the Newtons, just with a lot more cushioning. I've got a trail half-marathon next month, so we'll see how they work there. 

My plan was to do the back-to-back 11k/10k for a collective 21k, or 13.7 miles -- just over the 13.1 distance of a half-marathon. Just like doing back-to-back shorter rides before moving up a distance, I figured this would be a good indicator of whether I could put the two distances together and succeed at the half marathon. I feel encouraged, so long as the new shoes work and the feet don't hurt, and I keep at my training. The race is at the San Tans, so I can do the course in my sleep and know exactly where to make time and where to keep it to a dull roar.

Sadly, it's not an Aravaipa race...but the next Aravaipa race conflicts with the McDowell ride -- oh, well...can't do it all, I suppose, but I guess having to choose between an endurance ride and a trail race is a good problem to have.