Sunday, September 22, 2013

Perspective - a 5K Race Report

 I came into this race hoping to get my first sub-20 in 17 years. Last year I got close with a 20:06. Twice! And last month I managed a 20:16. With lots of speed work, I was hoping this one would be the one.

The race was called Alive and Running, and was a fundraiser for Suicide Prevention. There were probably 1,000 people there and most of them were walkers/fundraisers. There were many quilts on display with names of people who had died from suicide. And a lot of participants wore the name of someone they knew who had died of suicide. Yet it was somehow also very upbeat, and a celebration of life.

I joined in for a little pre-race exercise:
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And here I was doing more heel drops to stretch out my calves and achilles. My sore heels were definitely better after three days off. I am optimistic. Also, I just like this photo for artistic value.
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Warming up I didn't feel too great. But that's normal. I hoped race day magic would wipe that out once the gun went off.

I got out fine, ahead of the mob. But a photographer decided to squat 10 yards from the start, in the middle of the road, and just stay there after the start. I nearly ran into him, and I would be amazed if nobody else hit him. First check of G was about 6:05, so I eased off a little. Better than last time though!
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The course was straight out and back, but there were some small gradual hills that were enough to suck the life out of you. I was at 6:15 after 1/2 mile, and thought I was maintaining that, but a long uphill had me at 6:36 after mile 1. Already slower than I wanted, and now I needed to pick it up. But my body was not having it.

I thought a little downhill felt fast and I would make it up, but it was short-lived and then we had more up and a hard u-turn. Mid way through mile 2 I was at 6:45 pace, and I knew my sub-20 dreams were over. Because I felt like cr@p - more like quitting than accelerating. But I tried to hold on. I finally caught a guy running with two miniature poodles (!!!) because I just couldn't let him beat me. After that it was a pretty thin field and I was just maintaining. Finished mile 2 in 6:45.

It was hard to keep pushing, when I knew I couldn't get sub-20. Pain sucks, after all, so why was I doing this again? But I wanted to at least get sub-21. And simple pride made me keep going and staying near my maximum pain threshold. But the lactic acid was building. And I had to run straight into the rising sun for the whole last mile.

Mile 3 was tough. One guy passed me, but then I stayed near him, and just managed to catch him at the end, so that kept me going. Mile 3 was 6:50. I saw the finish clock closing in on 21 and spent whatever I had left at the end to get a 5:59 pace for the last .14. Official time 20:59.

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I was bummed. Not even close to what I hoped for. But DW seemed very excited to see me come in so soon. (Not too many great runners showed up). I finished 38th overall and got a 3rd in my AG, so there's that.

Then as I regained my breath, and walked through the tents I saw all the suicide victims on the quilts. And it gave me some perspective (and my blog title). And I thought of a girl I passed in mile 1 (see above photo) who had a name on the back of her shirt for someone she cared about. And I heard a story about a girl walking whose brother just killed himself last month. Yeah, it wasn't the day I had hoped for. But I am Alive and Running! And enjoying a beautiful sunny day! I have my health, my mental health, a great wife and family, a steady job and financial security. Life is good! So I was really not too upset about the race.

We hung out with some friends. This is me with my club rival Jim, who won his 55-59 AG, and Leslie Cohen who won her 55-59 AG and got 2nd overall female with 22:xx. She is a mini-celeb here who has her own race and running club named after her.
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And then I collected my medal. Even though the girls handing them out thought it was red for 1st, white for 2nd and blue for 3rd. I protested once, and then took my blue ribbon medal!
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There's a smile. Life is good. Enjoy it.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Because It's There - Mt. Baldy Climb RR

This year has been less about marathons and more about trying new adventures. Do your first ultra trail run? Sure, why not. Run across the Grand Canyon? Sign me up! So when I got invited by Atom Buddy to run a crazy uphill race to the top of the highest peak in Southern California? Yeah! Let's do it!

It helped that AB offered to make it a little mountain getaway weekend at his ski chalet. DW and I went up a day ahead and escaped the heat of LA, and enjoyed an afternoon at a little lake in the hills. We carbed up at a local Italian restaurant that offered HUGE portions of delicious pasta, and then hit the sack early for our 5AM wake up call.

On the hour+ drive to the start, we got a good look from the freeway at the mountain we would be conquering.  ...Yikes...

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AB showed me where we were headed...
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and I had a WTF attitude about the whole thing.
I knew there would be much hiking and no time goals. One way or the other I would finish. Unless of course the thin air, heat, or steep hills got to me. Or I fell to my death.

But of course, it WAS a race, so I was going to try to make it as fast as I could. I hoped my many runs with the mountain goats would serve me well. And figured it was a good omen that a goat was on the logo at the starting line.
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And I hoped AB and I would be able to run together for much of the race. We started out together.

The first 1/4 mile was a steep downhill on the road. Cruising and braking and getting into position. Then we turned off on to the fire road that would take us up for the next 4 miles or so.

Meanwhile DW and JB were taking photos, and they rode the ski lift up to the midway point of the race.

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From there it was a pretty good view, although not as good as the one we got from the top.
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Meanwhile AB and I were still close, but had reached mile 2 and the first time I had to walk. It was steep, virtually the whole way. I was alternating running with walking, based on how hard I was breathing and the steepness of the road. The road was very rocky too, although I saw one guy in Vibrams, and then another completely barefoot! (Later I saw him turn back after 5 miles - just too rocky he said)

AB has some mad mountain goat lungs and I gradually watched him pull away from me, with a sense of resignation. I could only go as fast as my lungs would let me. I would go back and forth with a lot of the same folks throughout the race, as we took turns walking and running. It was a nice sense of camaraderie, and it still felt like racing since I was trying to hold my own with my slogmates.

Kind of got into a rhythm and kept plugging. Enjoyed the shade when we had it. Jogged when the slope got a little lighter. Hiked with purpose when I had to.

Eventually I could hear some cheering and knew we were close to the top of the ski lift. That gave me a little boost of adrenaline and I cruised through a short cheer zone.

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It was nice to see DW and JB, but then I had to keep plugging. And it just got steeper. And the road became more of a trail, with more rocks. If I looked up I could see where we still had to go.

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Yeah, the top there.

Yes, thanks for pointing it out, dear.

We were mostly out in the sun, now, sweating buckets and frankly getting quite smelly. But there was plenty of water at the aid stations. It was mostly hiking now, and my lower back was getting sore. Occasionally I had to stop and stretch the back. Parts of the trail got very narrow, and had huge drops right next to the trail. I saw two people turn back because their fear of heights wouldn't let them continue. It was breathtakingly beautiful, and a little scary! Especially this bit.

But the views on this clear day were incredible!
With 1 mile to go, we had a little stretch of downhill, and it was amazing how quickly I felt good once I could breathe. We all ran like we just got out of prison, although there were several trips and stumbles among all the rocks.
But soon enough we got to the base of the last climb, and braced ourselves for one final push.


See all the little ants going up that hill? Difficult? Yes, but crazy fun, I tell you! The thin air at 10,000' didn't ever bother me. I just hiked on up, and heard a lot of cheering at the top where it seemed like a big party was going on. 200 or so fellow lunatics celebrating the conquest. I ran the last 20 yards or so and had a big smile on my face. AB was waiting for me after beating me by 5 minutes, and we enjoyed the party for a while. Eating, drinking, enjoying the view. It felt great to stop - to breathe normally - and to feel that sense of accomplishment. Much like Hilary must have felt on Everest...

Here's the ugly data. 4,026' climb. Avg mile pace of 16:58.
Now we just had to run the three miles back down to the ski lift. But that was so much more fun than coming up! Cruised along and enjoyed the view. Soon enough we were back to civilization, to celebrate our accomplishments.

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We had victory beers and enjoyed the view on a perfect day.
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DW met a new friend during the long wait.
and then it was time to head home.