Off these feet (Part 5): Take-home prize

The eight weeks in Truckee were magic. The improbable occurred: I became a better runner by being less of a runner.

In four years of long distance running, I just assumed that to run better, one had to run. I ignored the occasional nuggets of wisdom from my trainer and triathlete friends that one should also spend time doing other things like strength and cross-training. The longer my distance goal, the more I ignored that advice. When I trained for marathons, literally all I did was run, because I simply had no time to do anything else. It was an unfortunate catch-22.

This summer proved without a doubt that you can’t be a solid runner without also being generally fit. After all, the body does not operate in isolation. There were also psychological benefits to scattering my focus a bit. It prevented me from getting bored and burning out.

My take-home prize from the summer up in the mountains was running superpowers. I could bang out an 8:30 pace anywhere, anytime without trying — a full minute per mile faster than 8 weeks prior. For anyone who is skeptical about the benefits of proper training, I tell you once again: training is a beautiful thing.

I was fully primed for Hood to Coast. I nailed my pace targets for all three of my legs, did not let my team down, did not bonk. I had never felt so comfortable in a race. I kept thinking, “Wow, this is how it feels to be perfectly trained!” but in truth I was probably overtrained. My track coach friend would have told me that if I felt that good in a race, then I wasn’t pushing a real race pace. I thought of that too on my first two legs, but having never done a relay before, I erred on the side of caution. I decided not to go guns ablazin’ at the beginning so I could avoid crashing and burning in the end. But in the end, I wasn’t fully tapped. I had held back too much. It was just too hard to believe that I could run in the 8’s repeatedly without coming close to sucking wind.

My superpowers lingered for a good month beyond Hood to Coast, but something strange happened. I lost my desire to run. Instead of capitalizing on my fitness and signing up for a slew of races to set new PRs, I ran one race (got a shiny new 10K PR) and otherwise felt very little motivation to run. I felt no hunger to achieve any goal. Ho hum.

What happened? Hood to Coast. I had reached the pinnacle of my running adventures. I had finally run the illustrious H2C and executed it to the best of my ability. And I guess the aftermath of all that is feeling the need to close the book on my running story. I guess when you finally get to the top of the mountain after a long journey, the last thing you want is to go back down and make the same trek back up. You put a notch on your belt and move on. You embark on a different trek, strive to reach a different summit.

In the past I’ve experienced how failure drives us to succeed. Now I’m learning that success is a short-lived thrill. Getting the prize is nice, but what makes me feel most alive is fighting for it.

Taking a minute to enjoy my improbable 50:50 12K PR...and then moving on

Taking a minute to enjoy my improbable 50:50 10K PR…and then moving on

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Hilarity and a wakeup call

Yesterday was the 101st running of the Bay to Breakers, San Francisco’s madcap running Mardi Gras. I signed up to do it long ago but didn’t start thinking about a costume until last minute. In trying to come up with something runnable and funny, but not laughable, I became transfixed on a cartoon character from a special edition t-shirt that celebrates the 40th anniversary of Title IX, which is this year. I tried to imagine what the racer girl on the t-shirt would look like if she were to jump out of that car and run. Et voila!

B2B101, overall, was fun. Cleaner, mellower, and better organized than previous iterations. Corral A had a handful of tortilla throwers, a few costumed runners, and some naked folks, but no rowdy behavior. Granted, this is the corral where you’re most likely to find the serious folks. But I got the overall feeling that the race sponsor was under a lot of pressure to tidy up this crazy footrace.

The kinder, gentler B2B had its pluses and minuses. I appreciated not having to dodge pools of vomit, bottlenecks of walkers, or groups of costumed frat boys pushing kegs uphill. And I really appreciated not seeing the haters (the Jesus fanatics holding big signs condemning sinners to purgatory) at the entrance to Golden Gate Park. But there were fewer bands than I recall, and the whole experience just felt…well, more ordinary.

Some of the old endearing traditions stayed intact. The nudies. The amazing crowd support on Hayes Street (all the people up and cheering before 8 am on a Sunday morning — God love ’em). The salmon running upstream (i.e., east, toward the start line). And the incredibly inventive costumes, fewer and farther between as they may be.

And I must say that running with a cape on was fun. You do feel faster. It also makes for great race photos. I highly recommend it, with one caveat: When running due west in the morning, the sun pretty much bakes your back, and meanwhile shiny synthetic fabric only makes things feel hotter. To maximize ventilation, you gotta run fast.

Super 9

That, unfortunately, did not come easily for me yesterday. I felt super fly as Super 9 Girl, but my performance was a lackluster. I finished the 12K in 1:05:45. I got smoked by my husband who had been an occasional runner then began triathlon training pretty much at the same time I began my off season. He finished 40 seconds ahead and probably could have left me in the dust long before the final mile, judging from the few times I saw him jog in place ahead of me. I also got bumped (literally) and passed by someone dressed as a giant green android. The costume was bulky and hard as a barrel and could not have been easy to run in. So yeah, lackluster. The off season has clearly taken its toll.

Interestingly, this answers the question of where the line lies between tapering and loss of fitness. For the past 4 weeks I had been running about 2-3 times a week. I mixed things up by tackling some big hills and dirt trails and attending weekly TRX and spin classes, but overall I worked out less, ran less. The result? I struggled to average an 8:50 pace for 7.5 miles when 4 weeks ago I comfortably averaged an 8:46 pace over 10 miles. Lesson learned: a drastic mileage cut over 7-10 days can translate into beneficial taper, but low mileage for a longer period causes cardiovascular regression. For me, anyway.

So thank you, Bay to Breakers, for rounding out the off season on an amusing note. And for providing the perfect wakeup call for my summer training. I’ve got 3 races on deck for the summer, concluding with my debut at Hood to Coast. I’ll be thinking of my new nemesis – the android – as I hit the track or push myself through tempo runs the next 3 months.