Sunday, October 26, 2014

When a Run Goes Horribly Wrong

Okay, I’m being a little dramatic.  My run today was bad, but I’m still alive, I’m not bleeding profusely, and my bones/muscles/organs all still seem to be functioning.

It’s been a tough few weeks for me on the training circuit.  Prior to Hershey, I skipped two planned runs, bringing my total of skipped runs for this marathon training cycle to three.  Although I met my time goal at Hershey, it took a lot out of me physically.  Normally I would be resting completely in the week after a half marathon, but since the marathon is coming up soon, I bounced right back into training.

Well, sorta.  This week I skipped yet another run.  I just wasn’t feeling it.  I tweaked my right shin during my run on Thursday, and I was afraid of legitimately injuring it before my Sunday 20 miler.
So, that 20 miler…

Yeah, it wasn’t pretty.

I had a very restless night’s sleep beforehand (I still don’t understand why—I had fresh flannel sheets on the bed [fresh sheets, especially flannel, are the best!!!] and it was actually quiet).  As I was eating breakfast, I had a nasty encounter with a banana (basically the last bite was super chalky and full of those nasty fibrous strings), and I ended up dry heaving for a few minutes.  It felt absolutely awful.

Still, I needed to make my run, but at this point I was late.  I dashed off to the store much quicker than I normally would (I’m usually early to my morning group runs), but thankfully the group hadn’t left yet.  We didn’t get started until 30 minutes past time, which had me a little anxious (I really didn’t want to be running past noon today, cuz, you know, I need to fit in my nap, because I am an eighty-year-old woman).

We were taking on a new route on the group run, and even though I was familiar with the course, I didn’t want to get separated from my peers since we would be going through some slightly sketch parts of town.  This was where I made my big mistake.

In the entire time I’ve been training with my run group, I’ve been able to keep up with the 9:30 pacers approximately 10% of the time (the other pods are way too fast or significantly slower than me).  Normally I’ll keep up with my mini group for as long as I can, whether that’s a few steps or a few miles.  As soon as I start to feel like I’m pushing my limits too much, I back off and do my own thing.

This has worked great in the past, for my 18 miler and other long distances.  Today, however, the group was going at a decent clip (it wasn’t anything too different from my normal training pace, but it was super windy today and I am still exhausted from Hershey), and I hit my limit almost instantly.
Instead of breaking away when I tired, I stuck with the group for 7 miles.  Once we got back to familiar ground, I slowed to a more manageable pace.  By that point, the damage was done.  For the rest of the run, I was gasping for breath, like my heart was in my throat (I believe that is a Jillian Michaels quote from one of her DVDs, but I highly doubt she would encourage that same feeling on a 20 miler).

By mile 13, I was completely miserable.  I had to stop for frequent walk breaks, my pulse was racing out of control, and the left side of my chest was sore.  Not gonna lie, I totally panicked, thinking that I might be experiencing a cardiac event (in reality, I was probably suffering from a combination of overexertion and acid reflux).  Rather than turning to the west side of the river trail with my group, I backtracked along the main side.  The Head of the Schuylkill Regatta was occurring, and there were medics and policemen everywhere.  I thought if I was going to have a heart attack or any other medical emergency, that would be the place to do it, rather than on the more deserted west side of the trail.

Next year I would like to actually watch the regatta, rather than just scope out the nearest medical assistance.

I initially pushed through the misery, thinking I could make it to 20 miles, albeit slowly, but at mile 18, my body had other ideas: overcome by a sudden wave of dizziness and nausea, I was forced to stop.  Thankfully, I held back vomit (although I came pretty close to emptying my guts all over the sidewalk), and I didn’t pass out, but I was supremely shaky for the next few minutes.  I knew I couldn’t make it even two more miles.  So, instead of triumphantly running to the end of my first ever 20 miler, I walked home.

I knew I was in bad shape, because I didn’t even feel guilty (and still don’t) about quitting.  I just wanted to crawl into bed as soon as possible.

Hours later, I feel mostly recovered, although a walk to the grocery store was somewhat tiring (then again, I ran 18 miles, so there’s that).  Over the next few days I will be closely monitoring my pulse, and I will be putting all of my focus on getting good sleep (I am, however, going to try to run easy a few days, as long as I feel like my body can handle it).

I’m hopeful that this was just a temporary setback, but I confirmed through today’s run that nothing is more important than my health.  If I have to stop, I have to stop.  Too bad, so sad, but sometimes things don’t work out the way we want them to.  I still have the option of running 20 miles next week if I feel up to it, but otherwise, I will just take my training as it goes.

And I sure as heck will not be worrying about keeping up with the faster runners.  Sometimes it’s good to be slow :-)

~Tomato Face

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Hershey Half Marathon 2014 Recap, Part 2

Find Part 1 of my recap here.

Despite a topsy-turvy start and some tumultuous weather, I was excited to begin racing.  Hershey’s course has mostly stayed the same over the years: runners wind through the Entertainment Complex parking lot and along Hersheypark Drive for the first three miles (although this is the flattest section of the route, there are still several small hills to be found) before turning into the park itself (by far my favorite part of the race).

Hersheypark is home to several small, steep hills, but the adrenaline rush in that early part of the race is more than enough to help push past those particular inclines.  Having worked at the park one summer, I love seeing it when it is (mostly) empty.

Around mile four, the course detours into the residential neighborhood that rims ZooAmerica (and yes, you can smell the animals).  Mile four also marks the first “oh crap” hill of the course—grade wise it’s not too bad, but it’s on a fairly ho-hum section of road.

Throughout the park and the surrounding neighborhood, we were buffered from the wind.  Heading into mile five, however, we were headed into wide open country, where the wind howled wildly.  Still, I was more focused on cruising over the hills than battling the weather.  My drive led me to ignore my planned walk intervals.  I had intended to replicate my marathon training intervals (run 9:00 minutes/walk 1:00), but I was on such a runner’s high that I didn’t stop for the first five miles.  Soon, however, I was tiring.

Miles 5-13.1 are comprised of various hills, beautiful pastoral scenes, hills, downtown Hershey, and more hills.  Thanks to Mother Nature, miles 5-13.1 were also windier than the first part of the course.  Yay for us!

I have to hand it to Hershey though for having some of the best organized water stops of any race I have run.  Spaced out every two to three miles, I found them more than adequate in the cooler temperature (I was, however, carrying my own disposable water bottle through mile 11).  This year us middle-of-the-packers got pure, undiluted Gatorade filled to the rim of our cups.  I couldn’t take down all the liquid at once without stopping, so I only drank half of each cup.

When we reached the Milton Hershey campus (always the most defeating part of the course, in my opinion, due to the plethora of hills and generic rural terrain), the students were full of energy: truly the best spectators ever.  Wrapped in blankets to buffer the cold, they hooted and hollered with so much gusto, I couldn’t help but smile.

Heading into mile 11, we were back in downtown Hershey.  I ran past my old high school (oh heyyyyyy, HHS), the smokestacks along Chocolate Avenue (RIP original chocolate factory), the Hershey Theatre and my fave, Houlihan’s.

Yep, it was pretty much the same post-race scene this year as last, right down to the menu.

The much touted chocolate aid station was right before a turn leading around the perimeter of the park.  I grabbed a mini Hershey bar for later (I knew I couldn’t eat it while running without regretting it), but I must have dropped it while trying to put it in my pocket, because it was nowhere to be found when I finished.  Bummer!

Per usual, the last mile of the course was killer, but I was determined to make my sub-2:00:00 goal time.  Throughout the race I had worn a pace band, and I had checked it quickly at each mile marker.  I was on track during the entire run, but I knew I would be tired in the final stretch.  I took a quick walk break up the hill by Chocolate World AND in the parking lot before the tram circle (that parking lot was a major wind tunnel) before picking up the pace for my last half mile.  In a stroke of genius, I had set up my iPod playlist so that “Don’t Stop Me Now,” my personal anthem of the 2013 Hershey Half, started to play right around the 1:58:30 mark.  As soon as I heard those opening notes, I began my sprint on the outside of Hersheypark Stadium.  I knew I was SO CLOSE to meeting my goal.  I would either just make it or just go over the 2 hour mark.

Thankfully, it was the former:  I finished in 1:59:24, twelve minutes faster than last year’s time.  Given the wind and my pre-race stress, I am a little shocked that I made it.  And ecstatic!!!
At the race finish, I was awarded my medal by Everest, this year’s Miracle Child.  I love that a portion of the proceeds from Hershey races go to such worthy causes!  You can visit the Chocolate Town Challengessite to learn more.  I think I might have scared that precious dear—I was practically sobbing from the joy of netting my goal time!

Our race medal and tee were pretty rad!

Before leaving, I grabbed my mylar blanket (a godsend in the wind) and goodie bag, and I was outta there!

I had other things to do… like gorge on carbs and party in the park.

I didn't take pictures during the actual race, but I did have the opportunity to goof off afterward.

Course: A
*If you like flat and fast, this is not the course for you. I happen to enjoy hills, for all of my griping about them.
Packet Pick-up: F/B
Post-Race Experience: B
Event Organization: D/A
Overall Grade: B

My grades for Hershey stay the same this year for the course and post-race experience.  Packet pick-up was a pickle: while getting my actual bib was easy peasy, the hurdles leading up to it were pretty darn irritating.  If it wasn’t broke, Hershey, you shouldn’t have fixed it (and the same goes for race morning): please, dear goodness, go back to your old system for 2015’s race.

Aid stations, volunteers (including an adorable towheaded child at mile 11.5 offering up tissues to passing runners) and goodie bag pick-up were impeccably organized, but the issues with the porta potties and gated participant area were impossible to overlook.

Consequently, my overall grade for Hershey goes down to a B.  If the race organizers can work out the kinks from this year, I will gladly bump it back into A territory for 2015!

~Tomato Face

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Hershey Half Marathon 2014 Recap, Part 1

People say that the third time’s the charm…and I might agree with them, with some reservations.  On Sunday, I ran my third consecutive Hershey Half Marathon.  It was sweet indeed, as far as my performance went.  In terms of race organization, it was a tad sour.

In past years, I’ve delighted in Hershey’s easy breezy packet pickups, even if the so-called “expo” element of the half leaves something to be desired.  This year, however, was different.  For some strange reason, the Chocolate World parking lot (my normal packet pickup parking area) was closed, and so we were forced to join the Hersheypark traffic going through the Entertainment Complex.  Chaos ensued.

Cars were bumper to bumper, and the hyper Hershey security team did nothing to calm nerves.  Exiting traffic from the Giant Center was being directed in front of the incoming traffic for the Entertainment Complex, which caused major tie-ups.  Screaming, honking and apocalyptic outbursts ensued from Central PA’s irritated suburban drivers (I would like to dump all these people on my city block during a simultaneous commuting hour/ambulance incoming and see just how they deal).  It was truly horrific.  

At packet pickup itself, the tension was still high among participants, but the actual deed of grabbing my bib and t-shirt was straightforward (you know, after my family spent 30 minutes maneuvering past irate drivers and searching for an elusive parking space).  Thanks to the morning madness, we decided not to brave entry at the park on Saturday (two tickets to Halloween in Hershey are included as part of the race fee).

The bedlam continued into race morning.  I woke up at my usual Hershey time (5:15) and was on site by 6:45 am.  Around 7:10 am, I got into line for the porta potties, thinking from my past experiences with Hershey races that that would leave more than enough time to be at the start by 7:30.  Bizarrely, Hershey thought it would be a wise idea to move all of the porta potties into a newly-gated participant area (previously they had a long line of stalls in the parking lot to alleviate congestion near the stadium restrooms).  Furthermore, there was only one entrance for the participant area, and it was on the far side of the stadium, making entry horribly inconvenient for anybody who didn’t park in the Entertainment Complex (and we heard from those people who did park in the designated areas that traffic was nightmarish again on race morning, forcing many runners to ditch their families at the curb in order to get to the start in time).

The forecast had called for yucky weather (46 degrees, overcast and windy), and just for fun, it started to lightly rain as us runners all assembled.  Thankfully, the rain was just a tease.

I was in line up until 7:28 am, and I had to fight my way through the crowd to reach my mom and ditch my warmup clothes before the starting gun.  I didn’t have time to start my Gamin in advanced like a normally do, and as it searched for a signal, I was afraid I was going to get stuck at the very back of the pack.  Mercifully my watch locked in on a satellite right as I was directing myself over the starting mat.

I was hoping the race itself wouldn’t be as frenzied as the pre-race episodes!

Stay tuned for Part 2 of my race recap, including my finish time and overall race grades, tomorrow evening.

~Tomato Face