Weekly recap: Recovery week 6 / Otter Creek race report

I came into this week riding high on the news that I’ll be a Hammer Nutrition sponsored athlete next year. In reality, it’s not a huge deal, but it’s a cool step forward in my goals.

Monday I had to bargain with myself a bit. I hadn’t taken a rest day in about 12 days — I had run or biked every day, even though a couple of runs were shorter. Even though I was feeling good, I don’t want to overtrain (especially since I’m just 6 weeks post-marathon as of yesterday) or burnout. I had two great weeks in a row, both at 40+ miles, along with my first speed session and good long runs. So I made myself rest — recovery is crucial but accepting that fact is a challenge. I permitted myself a 15 minute Pilates session that morning followed by 5 minutes of foam rolling, and a walk at lunch. I also had a late meeting that evening, so it was a good day to take off.

I don’t know that I can say I felt much different on Tuesday because of the rest, but that’s okay — I didn’t feel worse, or bad at all. I hit the roads at 5:30 a.m. with my trusty Spot headlamp. It was pretty windy — north of 10 mph — so I postponed my speed work. That evening I was on my mat for my usual Power Hour Yoga, which I skipped last week. It was hard but a very core-centric class which I liked. I also held wheel pose for a full minute — quite the achievement.

On Wednesday I woke up super-sore. Glutes, piriformis, I don’t know what. And between my shoulder blades. I was up early and planning to run at the gym with a friend — but I almost bailed at least twice before leaving, then thought about turning my car around — and even thought about turning around at the gym door. I only managed about 5-and-a-half hours of sleep last night which we all know is not enough. (But The Voice finale was on and the kid from Kentucky won!)

I dragged myself into the gym with the promise I could quit after 3-4 miles and run the rest this afternoon if it was that bad.

It wasn’t. I wasn’t sure if I could pull off the workout, but the 3 mile warmup went okay so I figured I would try. Chelsea had been telling me stories about her recent trip to NYC — and engagement! — and we chatted about all sorts of other stuff, too, including some ideas for the gym and my Hammer sponsorship. She was gracious enough to handle most of the talking during my intervals and encouraged me through each one.

My 1200s were slower this week than last but not enough for me to be concerned. First, I was on the treadmill, which is always a challenge for me pace-wise. It also does weird things to my stride so I never feel as smooth and comfortable as on the road. Also, it takes a while to get the darn thing up to speed for each interval. Second, it was hot in the gym. I was literally dripping within a couple of miles. Oh, and the aforementioned lack of sleep probably didn’t help. My heart rate was high the entire time, likely due to the temperature and the fatigue.

But, it went okay. Followers will recall that I had a tendency to wimp out of workouts all marathon season. I would feel intimidated and anxious, so I would just skip them. Right now my main goal is to just get my head around them. It’s not the pain that I dislike — it’s the failure. What if the workout doesn’t go well? What does that mean for my training? How do I then adjust? Easier just to skip it. Honestly, I’d rather race than do speed work, so I’m planning to race more in 2016.

Thursday and Friday were both easy treadmill days after work. It was cold and windy all week and that’s what ended up working for me. I skipped Pilates strength on Thursday because my legs were still feeling sore — I had a hilly race coming up Saturday so a class that involves 20 minutes of squats and lunges seemed like a bad idea.

Race day was Saturday at Otter Creek, about an hour from my house. This event is about 13 years old, and would be older if they hadn’t literally closed the park for a couple of years. It’s a great race put on by Headfirst Performance, a company owned by two trail-loving ultra runners. (Related: I wrote about co-owner Cynthia Heady’s attempt at the Ultra Running Grand Slam this summer.)

Race report: Otter Creek

Otter Creek offers three race distances on a loop course. So you can do one loop (about 8.5 miles), two loops (16-17 miles) or three loops (marathon). It’s designed to make sure the marathon is the right distance and then the rest of us get whatever the loops turns out to be. Sometime recently, my sister said she had some funny sign ideas that she was going to make and use at one of my upcoming races. I invited her to ride down with me — she just started running again so I figured the fun camaraderie of a trail race would get her excited for her spring races.

When my grandfather passed away in August, the first thing I did was go for a trail run. He was an outdoorsy guy who loved to bike and hike (and geocache), and on that run I knew I’d be back at Otter Creek. For quite a while I kicked around the idea of running the marathon, up until a few weeks ago. I knew I probably wouldn’t break 4 hours and that just seemed like a really long time to be running in the cold.

Either way, this race was for him. He would’ve loved it. And I had my heart set on trying to come away with the win for him — not to mention it would be awesome to end the year with a W.

 

Original outfit. Had to make adjustments!

 
We headed out around 6:30 a.m. and made good time. A friend had asked if I would register him because he was coming in from out of town and looked like he would be tight on time. We did that as soon as we got there, and then I made some clothing adjustments.

It was about 30 degrees and windy — actually about the same as last year, because I checked. And when I checked, I opted to wear the exact same outfit as I did last year. That’s kind of weird. But it worked. I actually took down a couple of options for my top. A thermal really feels to heavy for racing, but that’s what I ended up in. I put my New Balance Louisville singlet over top, which looked silly but was very identifiable. I also wore Mizuno Breath Thermo gloves under Saucony mittens, which kept my Reynaud’s at bay. I also had a Buff headband on.

On my feet were my most recent addition to my shoe lineup, my New Balance Hierros. They’re a trailed-up version of the Boracay I’ve been using. I haven’t used them much, but I did do 12 miles in them a couple of weeks ago, so I knew they’d be fine.

I had told my friend Chelsea earlier in the week that I would have to be much more of a tactician for this race, and lining up at the start was the first step.

 

Race Director Cynthia Heady, far right. Me, center front row in pink.

 I lined up in the front row alongside two “internet friends,” Mac and Kelly. It was cool to meet them both in person. Mac trains with some other people I know and we were Strava pals — he was signed up for the full. Kelly lives pretty far away and drove several hours to the race. He’s a heck of an ultrarunner with several wins under his belt and was there for the 16 miler.

Having done this race quite a few times, I know the first mile is wider trail and easy footing. It means a bunch of people go out fast and then peter out about the time you hit the single track and can’t get around.

If you’ve noticed there’s not much discussion about a warm up, that would be because I didn’t do one. By the time I got Kelly registered and my clothing straightened out, bathroom, etc., it was time to go. I wasn’t planning to run that fast, so I figured I would ease into it.

There were quite a few speedsters on the men’s side, and they went out hard. I found a rhythm and found a good place to tuck in, passing a few people early on but not too many. I went through the first mile in about 7:40, which is flying for me on trails. Good thing I had been doing some practice!

 

Race-ready.

 I could hear a girl behind me, which put me on alert, but her breathing seemed strained for the easy part of the course. We worked together to pass a few people, including Mac after he twisted his ankle. I was right behind him when it happened and we were in a more technical, tight and rocky part of the course so I eased off and gave him a minute to recover. But the girl behind me said she wanted to pass and, well, I wasn’t going to let her do it without me.

She remarked that we might just pass her back up later, but that she wanted to take advantage of feeling good. In addition to her breathing, this isn’t the kind of comment you make if you’re willing to go all-out to win. Again, I had to be a little strategic and analyzing her was part of that. (If you’re reading, Sally, sorry for how weird this sounds.)

So once we had room to pass, I went first. I wished Mac good luck and picked up the pace. We were around mile 3, down close to the river, with trickier footing and some steep dropoffs. I did not want to end up in the Ohio on a 30-degree day, that’s for sure. I caught up to another group of guys but the other girl was still behind me. She wasn’t pushing the pace, but when the guys ahead of me slowed, she would catch up.

At mile 5 we hit the aid station, where I made the strategic decision to skip it. I didn’t need the water, and I was hoping Sally would get water and slow down a little. She actually fell right before the aid station but was okay — I looked back, heard her say she was okay, and someone was helping her up.

It sounds terrible, but I knew this was my chance to put her away. The next half mile or so was on a wide gravel road, so I picked up the pace and passed several guys, hoping to put a few of them between us so she’d have more obstacles once we got back on the single track.

I also knew we were heading into the uphill section and that I would probably have to hurt a bit to ensure I pulled away. A hill is a good place to make a move if you can sustain it.

I was tucked into a pack of three at mile 7, the uphill mile. It’s about 650 feet of gain in that mile but it doesn’t take the whole mile to do it. Most years I’ve walked part of it, because it’s so steep you run with these little mincing steps. I was bummed to be tucked in behind a guy who ran the hill probably slower than I would’ve, but it probably made my recovery easier once I reached the top. That mile is hard enough that it was 70 seconds slower that my next-slowest mile.

But, once you get to the top, it’s mostly downhill back to the start. There’s another little hill pretty late but not nearly as significant.

However, I couldn’t see. The entire race I had issues with my contacts and the wind stinging my eyes and making them water. At some point I think I tried to wipe my eyes and shoved my contact to the side. I kept trying to get it back where it needed to be but didn’t have any luck. The last couple of miles my right eye was really fuzzy and I would occassionally shut it and get a crisper look with my left really quick. I cannot explain how I didn’t fall.

We entered a switchback trail section with a mile to go and I couldn’t see Sally anywhere, so I figured I had it locked down. But, I still like to finish fast so I pushed all the way through the end.

As I approached the last turn that takes you back to the parking lot, my NBLou teammate Matt was there, yelling loudly. I love this guy. He’s a great runner but an even better teammate. Just a great person. He was shooting video/photo of me as I came through, too.

  I finished in 68:02, first female and 8th overall. (Sally, who I don’t know and feel weird about calling by her first name in this report, finished 90 seconds later and in 11th overall.)

My sister was indeed there with funny signs (“You’re running better than the government” and “You’re running faster than 90s dial-up internet”), which was great. I felt like I had a fan club.

I was delighted to win my last race of the year in my grandpa’s honor.

That’s basically the end of this weekly recap, too, because we had four events on Sunday from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. and I couldn’t squeeze in a workout. But that’s okay, an off day was probably good for me since I’m off work the next two weeks and planning to train pretty hard.

Also, I’m planning on racing the Hangover Classic on Jan. 1 and possibly a 5k Jan. 9 (mostly because I want to meet Traci Falbo, legend and inspiration, and Hammer Nutrition teammate!).

  

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