Wednesday, June 1, 2011

11, 12, 15 Challenge?

Do you ever have those nightmares where crazy things happen?  Like you're back in school and you're at the end of the semester but never went to class so you're totally unprepared for your exam?  Or you go to give a speech and can't remember a single word?  Or you run a race and you get lost?

Oh wait, that last one wasn't a dream/nightmare.
So this weekend was Memorial Day and the Alexandria Running Festival.  Not exactly a huge event, but it's less than 30 minutes from my apartment and I wanted to take a weekend without traveling.  The race was on Sunday, and our apartment complex was hosting a party for Memorial Day/pool opening for the season on Saturday, so we went to Alexandria to get my packet and then came back to the pool party.  I skipped the beer since I was racing the next day, but still enjoyed some burgers and s'mores.

4:30 AM rolled around on Sunday and it was wakeup time.  Parking was very easy, but you never can count on that so we had built in plenty of time.  The start of the race was pretty uneventful, but I did get this awesome picture. 
The race was scheduled to start at 7:15, but then around 7:10 they announced it would be 7:30.  A little annoying since it was supposed to get very hot and every minute helps, but oh well.  Everyone ran to go do some last minute things.  Then they decided they were ready, and started around 7:25 AM so people were suddenly not ready.  I honestly didn't hear any announcement other than "ready, set, go" and felt everyone start pushing.
They probably said "ready set go" two seconds after this was taken and confused us all.  Just kidding.
 The race was fine, though not too much to see on the course.  But in order to understand this story, you need to see the course map.  Essentially, you run about three miles out, then do three loops of about 2 or 2.5 miles, and then do about 3 more miles back.
About 3 miles out, do a 2 to 2.5 mile loop THREE times, then about 3 miles back.  That was the plan.
The director had said at the start it would be clearly marked, so I wasn't too worried.  It's a little boring to run the same loop three times, but oh well.  So we were off, and I definitely went out too fast - I really need to learn to keep my pace in check for those first few miles.  I think I wore myself out a bit too much, so I slowed down and started to recover.  They didn't have any GU/gels available on the course, but I had put one in my shorts pocket and had to consume it (I'm not sure if you eat or drink a gel) way earlier than anticipated because I just wasn't feeling my best and wanted to beat "the wall".  I alternated Gatorade and water at the water stops and pushed through.  It definitely wasn't going to be my best race, but I wasn't worried about anything terrible either.
 But here's the problem with three loops:
1)  It is boring.  Really boring.  And the way the course was, you passed some places six times.  Ick.  Though it was a park, there wasn't a lot to see.  And since the loop was about three miles from the start, not many of the spectators were on the course because they wanted to be there at the start and the finish.  Unless you were witty, like my group of spectators, but I'll go back to that later.
 2) The water stations were chaotic.  In general, water stations are tough - some people like to walk when they get their water (have you ever tried drinking out of a small plastic cup while running?  It's an art form) and others keep running.  Now to make that even more interesting: the water stops were in very narrow areas of the course, and often had people running two or three VERY different paces depending on what loop they were on.  I got in a few collisions that caused me to be soaked in gatorade, and a few times I couldn't get anything because there wasn't a way to get in/no volunteer ready to hand it out.
 3) In the narrow parts of the course, just trying to run an 8 or 8:20 minute mile next to someone who is running about 10-12 minute mile and occasionally getting passed by someone going at 6 or 7 minutes mile pace makes for a very confusing group and involves lots of traffic jams.  Also, in a race, you normally kind of settle into a pace similar to the people around you, but here I often found myself moving to a much slower pace because there were a lot more people running in an earlier loop than me.
 4) Now comes the best part.  When you are running a loop, the turnoff for the people exiting the loop needs to be REALLY clear.  In this race, it was not.  Now, I will take partial blame here.  The race said not to wear headphones but I did anyway.  In case you aren't a runner, almost all races say not to wear them or "strongly discourage" you from wearing them, but most people still do.  Two hours is pretty boring without music and it's a good distraction.  Usually, it doesn't matter at all.  However, on this course, apparently there was just one volunteer saying to go one way if it was your last loop and a different way if it was your first or second loop.  As far as I could see when I actually left the loop section, there were no signs or anything - just that one guy saying it.  And I'm guessing at the point where I was supposed to leave the loop section, nobody else was running my pace and so I just followed everyone else going to the left.  So, I got sucked into a fourth loop.

 Oh yes, I turned a half marathon into a 15+ mile course.  What does one do once they realize this?  I hadn't studied the course map (remember, that's Adam's job) so I didn't know where to look for the split, plus you're pretty out of it by mile 10 anyway.  So I just ran right on by.  Somewhere in the 10 mile section, my small concern that I had missed it turned into a serious "uh oh" moment.  I gotta say, it was disheartening.  Though not my worst race, it wasn't my best, and an extra 2.2 or so miles when you haven't paced for it is tough mentally, and of course physically.  So I spent the last loop trying to ask every volunteer where the turnoff was (most just yelled "good job! keep running!" and didn't hear my question).  To keep myself reasonable at this point, I decided I would run to 13.1 and from there I'd just walk or jog the rest of the course until I got to the finish.  Not exactly ideal, but seemed the best solution to me.
This is actually from after the race, but I had to get a picture of him with his sign!
Here's the only problem though: I had a great set of people there cheering for me.  Kristen, Curtis, and Adam stayed with me at the start of the race, then hopped in their car over to the park, saw me for the first two loops (saw me four times because of the course design), and then skipped seeing me in the third loop so that they could meet me at the finish.  I was looking fine and right around my usual pace when they left, so they had no reason to worry.  Unfortunately, they had no clue I decided to stay for a fourth loop because I was having so much fun, and I was concerned that they would worry I had gotten hurt when I didn't show up around my expected finish time.  Luckily, there was a wonderful police officer who was monitoring the road closure section of the course, and once I'd finished the 13.1 miles and was walking, I saw her and asked if I could use her phone to call them.  Adam answered his phone when I called and I explained the situation and told him not to worry.  He claims he just wanted clarification to make sure I was ok, but I'm pretty sure I could hear him laughing as he said "wait, you mean you did an extra loop?!"

Now here's the good part of the race:
My three spectators were awesome!  They were making lots of noises, cheering, and really just helped me out.  Adam made this awesome sign, which gave me a big boost and made me smile.  And then, once they knew I was going to be delayed getting to the finish, Kristen started heading my way on the course and walked/jogged in with me to the end.  Normally you get to sit and drink lots of water and eat bananas after the 13.1, so it was nice to have her help me as I fought through those last few miles.
This is what I would have liked to be doing at mile 13, but it was still great a few miles later!
OK, you can laugh now.  I was at first upset about doing another loop, but before I made it to the finish, I was able to see just how funny the situation was.  I really have no sense of direction and Adam and I have joked many times that I should always run with my iphone so he can track me, or that I should put a sign on my shirt that says "If found please return to..." in case I get lost on the trails.  When I go on my long training runs, I often want to explore more, but get worried that I won't be able to find my way back.  Never though did I expect to get lost during a race!  Though I still don't think this really had anything to do with my sense of direction (I expected the race to mark the course and therefore didn't study the map), it's still a really funny story.  And it's not like it was my first or my last race, or I was hoping the time would qualify me for anything, so the official time doesn't matter.  I can just laugh at my official 2:18 finish time.  According to my watch, I was in the 1:49 area when I finished the 13.1, which is pretty much within my normal finish time.  If anyone else ran this race, I'd love to hear if this caused you any confusion/what you remember seeing to mark the turnoff, because I'm wondering if this was just me being totally oblivious and tired or if anyone else had doubts about where the course split.
I compared it to the field day medal from when I was a kid....
All smiles!  We're making a difference for NPF and that's what matters.
So I'm taking votes - should I rename this the 11, 12, 15 Challenge and go for a few extra miles every time?  Just kidding!
This puppy was at the race.  If you know me, you know I want a puppy, and this one was SO cute!
The rest of the weekend was a lot of fun.  We went up to Maryland for a big outdoor wine festival on Sunday, and then went to Curtis' parents for a cookout/crab eating party on Monday.  It was really hot, and it was just great to see friends and take it easy. 
So many people at what I thought was a small wine festival.  Great time!
Since it's Memorial Day, I also want to take a minute to say thanks to all of the people who help protect our freedom and keep us safe.  Coming from a Navy town, I have seen what it means to be deployed and spend six months away from your family to help protect our country.  You guys are all heroes, and I hope this weekend everyone took some time to really think about the meaning of this holiday.
Next weekend is pretty exciting, so get ready!  I have changed my race schedule a bit and now will run the Zooma Annapolis half marathon next Sunday.  Pretty much right after I finish, I'll head home to Arlington, get cleaned up, and then head over to the first afternoon of the National Volunteer Leadership Conference for NPF, where I'll spend a day and a half learning how to be a better volunteer and preparing for day three, where we head to Congress.  So excited!

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