Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Race Recap: Cambridge 5K Freedom Run 2016

Running a 5K PR one week post-marathon is taunting the gods of injury. I should know...doing just that in this same race is exactly how I injured myself one year ago. The advisable thing to do one week after running a marathon is to rest and recover, maybe log some easy runs.

The problem is, I seem to be incapable of holding myself back once I toe the starting line of a race. The Freedom Run is the second 5K race in the four-part Cambridge 5K race series, which just so happens to be my favorite race series in all the land. Skipping this race was out of the question! So, one week after a hard fought but short-of-the-mark effort at the Vermont City Marathon, I returned to the familiar roads of Cambridge to run like a bat out of hell. I don't recall making a conscious effort to do so, but the foolish and prideful parts down in the depths of me ran this race for redemption. 13 seconds faster than I've ever officially run a 5K before.

This patriotic themed race is hosted by the East Cambridge Business Association and sponsored by Cambridgeside. The race course starts and finishes outside the Cambridgeside Galleria in East Cambridge. It's a flat and very fast loop course with just 5 easy turns that takes runners through East Cambridge to Inman Square and back. As are all races in the C5K race series, it was impeccably organized and ridiculously fun. This year, there were 1818 runners.

Having cooked my insides in the sun of Vermont one week earlier, I was pleased to wake up on the morning of the race in Cambridge to cool, gray skies and a touch of misty June gloom. I was also thrilled to run on the very Cambridge streets I run on almost every day. Chris joined me for this race and we jogged the one mile from our apartment to the start line together. I got my 21+ wristband, checked my backpack, said a few hellos, and huddled into the corral.

I looked a little nervous, no?

No matter how many races I run and how nonchalant I pretend to be about the whole thing, I still feel exactly the way I look in this picture every time I line up in the starting corral. Every time.

Ready, set, go! A sharp horn at 9:30 on the dot, and my legs started to do their thing independently of my brain. Go legs! Right turn on Binney Street. First mile timer in view at the end of Binney read 5:14. At the left turn on Cardinal Medeiros, I quickly confirmed with my watch that this clock was started one minute after the actual gun time. I don't believe I've ever run a 5:14 mile in my life, or will. Ever.

Quick right onto Hampshire Street. Waved to my apartment. Settled in, feeling pretty groovy. Heard someone yelling my name! Sharp right on Cambridge Street. There was Ciara, cheering wildly! I grinned and yelled back. Mile 2 clock, also one minute off from gun time, read 11:54. Knew I was slowing a bit, but that's how this course works for me. Downhill to start, flattish second mile.

And the third mile? There's this gradual, gentle climb from Petsi Pies to Courtside Tavern on Cambridge Street that, during any normal run, is hardly noticeable as a hill. At mile 2.5 of a 3.1 mile race, it feels endless! The familiarity of running in my own 'hood came in handy here. Having prepared for slowdown and hard effort in this mile, I passed a handful of runners laboring up the hill. Reached the crest of the hill, looking down. Close enough to hit the gas, but not yet close enough to run flat out.

Final right turn onto First Street. With glimpse of the finish line, I gritted my teeth and let it fly in the last hundred yards, passing three men and one woman.

The end result of my foolishness?

20:21 net finish, a Personal Record by 13 seconds.
77th place overall of 1818 runners.
7th woman overall.

I cheered as Becca, Dave and Chris made strong finishes, then sauntered over to the post race party. Feeling smug about my accomplishment and inspired by the camaraderie of the Slumbrew Happy Soles, I rewarded myself by drinking one too many pre-noon beers.

What a good looking group of Happy Soles!

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Race Recap: Vermont City Marathon 2016, Part 2

This is Part 2 of my (overly dramatic) recap of the 2016 Vermont City Marathon in Burlington, VT. Read Part 1 here.

Third Leg: Miles 10-15, Continued...
At the half marathon interchange, I was on pace for a 3:30 finish time but aware that the temperature was steadily climbing up into the 80s and running was beginning to feel less natural and comfortable. I put on my headphones for the first time, hoping that some music would soothe my nerves.

An oblivious female runner appeared next to me, flailing her arms. Her odd and unpredictable behavior over miles 13-14 annoyed and entertained me in equal parts. First, she repetitively shook her head side to side. Then she ran very close to my body, in spite of us being on a wide path. Without warning, she ripped off her shirt and cast it aside on the trail. She whipped out a Gu, tore it open with her teeth, sucked it down, and threw the empty wrapper straight up into the air. I did my best to surge forward and create a little breathing room. It was a little hard to eat my second endurance gel, but I did it anyway.

Mile 15 has Battery Hill, the most challenging climb in the race. I really enjoy this part of the race. The Taiko drummers and cheering crowd urged me forward and I focused on quick, light steps to get myself to the traffic light at the top of the climb. Near the top of the hill, I heard screams of "GO BEAN!!" and looked left to see Carly surrounded by a gaggle of young women decked out in Coachella festival garb. Leave it to Carly to make friends with everyone on the course and and recruit them to yell for us.

She caught Becca's eye, too.

By the time I crested the hill, my decision had been made. This was not going to be my day to be a hero. I took a deep breath and acknowledged that I'd finish this on my own two feet and not in a stretcher, even if it meant swallowing pride.

Fourth Leg: Miles 16-21
I took my first short walking break at an aid station somewhere near Mile 16. I accepted a handful of ice, shoving half of it down the front of my sports bra and the other half down the back of my shorts. I watched two runners being helped off the course, looking dazed and disoriented. 

We made our left turn into a neighborhood called Lakewood Estates. The residents were outdoing themselves as usual, with a number of pop-up aid stations offering ice pops, "maple syrup shots", water, and a good hosing down. I ran through every single sprinkler and sipped water as often as I could manage. 

Mile 18 had a sign designating it the Musical Mile, featuring the band "Sciatica", who were encouraging runners with some version of hair metal. I heard a rumor that the band members' wives were all running the marathon. If true, that is awesome. 

I emerged back onto the main road and lumbered on toward the bike path. After mile 19, I decided to take a short walk break at each mile marker to keep my heart rate down. By now, it was a little difficult to put water into my body, so I was making a point to pour it all over my body. A man with a cooler was handing out soft, ice cold sponges. I gladly accepted one and squeezed it on my neck and temples. Relief!

Leg Five: Miles 22-26.2
Finally, I entered the Burlington Bike Path for the final 4.2 mile stretch of the race. It was isolated from crowds, but shady and mostly flat or downhill. I couldn't ignore the runners lying on the side of the trail being tended to by medics. I recognized one as a runner from the pace group at the beginning of the race. I knew I was moving slowly, but was so ready to be done with this race. A man urged me on with kind words: "Looking strong, Bean!"...To which I replied "Feeling like shit, but thanks for your support!"

I tried to ignore the one person shouting "You're almost there!" and "The finish is just ahead!" at mile 23. In a marathon, mile 23 does not feel like "almost there." It feels like I have 3.2 damn miles to go. 

I spotted Carly again, this time flanked by a race volunteer wielding a cowbell just before mile 26. 

I kept willing my feet forward. Finally, Waterfront Park came into view and throngs of supporters lined the finish chute. My view of the finish line was obscured by the crowd, but I knew it must be coming sometime soon and powered on. Feet hit the grass. I crossed the line and smiled. 

My official finish time was 3:39:12. 9 minutes, 12 seconds slower than I'd planned and 4 minutes, 12 seconds slower than the Boston Qualifying standard. I was the 268th runner to cross the line and 21st in my age group. 

Black Flag Alert
The finish line was the one part of this race that felt disorganized. It was crowded and I couldn't figure out how to exit the finisher chute. Once I managed to find my way out, I couldn't find a way to cross barricades to get to where I knew my sister was waiting. 

My phone rang. "Did you just hear the announcement?" Carly asked, urgently. She then repeated the announcement that had just been made over the loudspeaker:

Somehow, Carly and I managed to locate one another. I fought tears as I asked if she knew anything about Becca. The runner tracking system had alerted me by phone that Becca had passed Mile 22, but she hadn't finished yet. I found a race official and ask her how I would reunite with a stranded runner. My stomach rolled as I envisioned Becca pulled from the course mere steps from the finish line. Becca deserved to cross the finish line of this marathon so much. Not just because she had trained hard, but because Becca had just had a terrible, horrible week, nearly skipping the marathon all together to be with family. She'd decided to go through with the race at her family's urging. 

As we sat in the grass at the reunion zone trying to comprehend how we would find Becca and what on earth we would say to her when we did, Carly's phone buzzed and alerted her that Becca had crossed the finish line in a net time of 4:07:54. 

Fighting against the stream of the crowd, I shoved a few people aside and barreled back in the direction of the finish, where I smashed Becca into a sweaty hug. 

It turns out this was the day Becca Went Rogue. She had run upon the Mile 24 aid station when a race official announced that the race was suspended. "We thought they were going to stop you from finishing!"

"They tried to, but I didn't listen."

Now, as a lifelong rule-follower, I would typically encourage the heeding of public safety warnings. But, in this particular case, I was so relieved that Becca feigned ignorance, kept running, and got her medal. 

Check out the awesome sign Carly made for us. 

In the confusing minutes that followed in the crowded, buzzing finish area, I learned that "Red Flag" alert level signs had been changed to "Black Flag: Extreme Risk", which meant the event was discontinued. This decision was made when readings of the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature, a calculation that considered ambient air temperature, humidity, wind, and solar radiation, exceeded 82 at 12:58pm. The air temperature had reached 88 degrees. This was the first time in the race's 28 years that it had been halted.

At the time the cancellation announcement was made, only 478 marathoners had crossed the finish line. Ultimately, anyone who finished the marathon in under 4:30 received an official time, bringing the total to 932 runners. A little more than a third of the race field. 

As for the rest of folks? On our walk out of the park, we were met by dejected runners who'd been pulled from the course and were now hobbling off of sad school buses to reunite with their families. Among the runners not allowed to finish was my friend Dave, who had run all the way to mile 21 and was feeling strong when the call was made. In spite of this enormous disappointment after months of hard work, he managed to somehow remain incredibly positive. 

The fallout on social media has been predictably intense.  People have all kinds of strong opinions about the official decision to cancel the race.

After the Race
We returned home to shower. I found out that Laurel had finished the race in 3:36:59 and that my new friend Kailey had gone on to earn her BQ with a time of 3:31:33. 

We toasted not being dead with beer.

And salty, salty pickles.

The next morning, I took advantage of free medal engraving services offered downtown.

Although it was not the race I dreamed of, it is done. A part of the draw for me about racing is the unpredictability of it all. No matter how perfect your preparation, you never quite know what will come your way on race day. There are days when you exceed your own wildest expectations, and days when the sun beats down and you don't get exactly what you want. This disappointment left me wondering about continuing to test my limits, and it makes me want to do it all over again.

Sometimes, you just do things.

129 days to the Chicago Marathon. But who's counting?
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