Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Another great Park to Park 13.1 (and PR's are SO over-rated)

I'm still smiling from my race on Saturday.

Coming off of a busy summer, I have been very selective which events I'm putting on my calendar. I'm feeling great due to my easy (running) schedule, and do not wish to go crazy with lots of mileage and revert back to an injured state. It's been almost two months since my ultra, so this race was at the perfect time to ease back into the fall racing season.

This was Park to Park's 15th year in existence. I have done the half marathon (all five years that I have attended), but there's also a 5K and this year they brought back the 10K. These races all take place in George Wyth State Park in Watrerloo, Iowa. Most of the course is on trails through the park, some of which are cement, but most are asphalt. For the most part, the trails are pretty flat and shaded from the sun.....a runner's dream! We also were blessed with perfect race day weather...mid 40's at the start, and high-60's at the finish line.

I went into this race in hopes of PR'ing, not just a PR for this particular race course but a PR to outshine all of my previous 24 attempts at going the distance. A little grandiose with my goals, huh! I have been feeling pretty good lately (minimal aches and pains with the piriformis/hammies/glutes), and my speed has finally been showing signs of rising from the drones of a rather lengthy plateau. If a PR was to happen, this would be the course with the best odds of making it happen.

As with most of my races, my dear runner friend, Barb, was along on the journey with me (and also running the half marathon). Also, making her first appearance at Park to Park, another great friend, Linda, joined us (she decided on the 10K).

With Barb and Linda before the race

In addition to Linda and Barb, there were a few other gals I was hoping to find (gals I knew through my running page on Facebook)....and was pleasantly surprised when Jessica (from Runnergal22) came up and introduced herself! Jessica also had run the IMT Des Moines Marathon last fall, though I didn't know her very well at the time. We chatted for a few minutes, and I later learned she's also going to be at the Quad Cities Marathon in a couple weeks!(#photoOp (because we spaced off on getting a pic)

 A new strategy I have been working on is chewing gum as I run...and I kind of stumbled upon it as I was experimenting with different kinds of fuel. The gels no longer work for me, they wreak major havoc on my tummy during (and especially after) a race, so I have been using PlowOn gum instead as my energy source. Normally, I detest gum-chewing, but this stuff  has been working great for me in my running shoes. By chewing as I run, it forces me to take more controlled breathes of air, which helps me manage my pace a little better. And, the gum provides a great energy boost without all the nasty GI side-effects that the gels leave me with.

Ready to line up for the race

The race began, and we were off! The first mile of any race is usually a "grin and bear it" experience. The muscles aren't quite ready, the air is cold, and my mind is racing (no pun intended) with thoughts of how I'll finish. Not this time. The usual aches, pains, and stiffness were pretty much non-existent. I checked my watch at the 1-mile mark and saw that I ran it in 8:14. Yikes. That's way too fast for me, especially for the first mile. Granted, the first mile has a nice, gradual downhill grade....but even with gravity assisting me, I needed to try to go a little slower.

The route

Now, I'm not a super fast runner. An 8:14 pace is pretty fast for me, and I usually do not run at that kind of a clip. I'm more of an 8:45-9:30-ish kind of runner (depending on race day conditions, distance, etc.). I am tall (5'9) and have long legs, so I am constantly struggling with making my strides shorter (which would, theoretically, help with some of my usual issues). Also, I usually run based on how I feel. I have a watch, but I use it mainly to gauge my pace at mile marks because it doesn't give me information on my "current" pace as I'm running. That being said, I was feeling good on Saturday morning and my body just wanted to go.

I was able to ease up my pace in the next few miles, though. Each mile showed that I was staying under a 9-minute pace but no longer running quite as fast as that first mile. All was good and I felt great.

The Park to Park course starts in a park, then around the fifth mile, we head out towards an open area. We briefly run along a highway, climb a short (though fairly steep) hill in a residential area, and run a couple of miles on a curving cement trail back towards more trails in the park. These 3 miles are my least favorite part of the race because we're out in the open...and we can see the long cement trail ahead of us. As mentioned, I have run this course four other times, so I knew what to expect on the route.

Until the fifth mile.

It was somewhere near the 5-mile mark that I noticed a sharp pain near my right ankle. It almost felt like I had twisted or rolled my ankle, because it was so sudden. I looked down and saw a wasp. Seriously? Where did he (or she?) come from? And why was he (or she) so angry with me? I reached down and tried to flick him (or her) took a couple attempts, but I was able to get the little angry bugger to release. OUCH!

yep, there's some swelling outside of my ankle bone, near the Achilles tendon

SIDEBAR--I have a long list of allergies. Several years ago, I was allergy tested and of the 32 allergens I was pricked with, 28 of them flared up on my skin. I quickly tried to remember if bee stings were on the list,  but honestly had no recollection. Most of the allergens were "environmental" (trees, grass, pollen, dust, etc.), but I couldn't remember if bees/wasps were part of the testing. I wasn't concerned about the pain, but I really didn't want to have to worry about a reaction to the sting. Ugh.

I forged on. My ankle continued to sting and burn. I couldn't tell if it was swelling or not since it was the underside of the bone where I had been stung.

three days later...most of the swelling is gone, but the stinger mark remains

Anyways, onward!  I made it back to the park trail, and my pace was still keeping steady. I had eaten a Honey Stinger waffle right before the start of the race, and didn't feel like I needed anything else (other than the gum), so I waited until around the eighth mile to fish a second waffle out of my belt. I had slit the package open prior to stashing it (so I wouldn't have to fumble with my sweaty hands), and had broken the waffle into smaller pieces. I will need to work on perfecting my waffle strategy, was wasn't necessarily difficult to eat as I ran, but it was very dry, so it required a lot more chewing than I would have preferred. I ate about half of the waffle and called it quits. I was able to hold the gum with my (sweaty) finger against the Honey Stinger wrapper, so that was easy to pop back into my mouth after I was certain the last of the waffle remnants were gone.

I kept checking my watch at the mile markers, and was staying right around a 9-minute pace. If all continued to go well, I was on track to finally get my Park to Park sub-2, which would also be a course PR!

I did notice a bit of fatigue (in my legs) around the ninth mile, but nothing major. I never had any fleeting thoughts of walking (other than through the water stations), and my energy level was still going strong. There is a short out & back turn-around right before the mile-10 mark. For some reason, that little segment is always a bit of a challenge for me...probably because there's a hill right before it (a short hill, but it's also a steep hill), and then a gradual incline after the turn-around that takes us over a bridge. The fatigue is pretty short-lived, though, because I know there's only a 5K in distance remaining.

I don't quite know when it happened, but somewhere, somehow, my pace had gradually showed down. When I glanced at my watch at the 10-mile mark, it showed I had been running for 1:35 (and some change). I did the math quickly in my head....I could maybe still swing a sub-2 hour finish, but it would be a close call with no time to spare. I was in a bit of disbelief for a few minutes...trying to figure out where those extra five minutes had come from. Then, I had that sick feeling that I might not make my PR. A few seconds later, I reminded myself that a PR really wasn't that big of a deal. And a few seconds after that, I remembered how much I actually did want that PR.
So, what's a gal to do?

Keep. Moving. Forward.

I have mentioned several times how I don't see myself as a competitive runner. I don't have that "dig deep and press on" drive that most runners seem to draw on in moments of crisis or desperation. I can grit it out, and I can persevere, but I have yet to find that "all-out, in-it-to-win-it" mojo on reserve within me (Gee, I'm sounding a bit melodramatic).  It would be disappointing to be this close and not get that PR, and I would be even more disappointed if I didn't try for it.

I took a quick, deep breath and shook out my hands (a little trick I do if I'm feeling stressed on a race course). It really was now or never, so I pressed on. I do remember feeling some frustration in those final miles, frustration that it had come down to the wire and I wouldn't know if I'd make the PR until I crossed the finish line.

My watch kept showing me I was keeping it steady, right around a 9-minute pace. The 11-mile marker came and went, and so did the 12-mile marker. Still a 9-minute pace...but, alas, it wouldn't be enough to get me that PR. I was really hoping for 1:55, but that certainly was not in the cards. I couldn't read the actual seconds on my watch very clearly, so it could have read 1:53:01 or 1:53:59 and I wouldn't have known the difference. I ran that final mile as best I could. I actually did feel that "final mile kick," and it felt great to just keep going through the motions without much extra effort.

I made it up the incline (that we'd run down, in that first mile), and around the final curve and saw the finish line. I also saw Barb and Linda cheering and waving at me. I heard the guy announce my name...and just like that it was over.

I glanced at my watch...2:01:44. Damn. No 13.1 PR. No course PR. And no sub-2.

Finish line pics....UGH! I seriously felt a LOT better than this depicts

Was I disappointed? Sure. But only for a couple minutes.

Yes, the PR eluded me again.  As much as I am craving another 13.1 PR, I have to acknowledge all of my PR's were achieved at a time when I wasn't rallying back from injury or recovery. I have had some frustrating runs in 2015 (most of them, actually). Recently, though, I have finally felt myself running better and stronger. The Park to Park Half Marathon, easily, was my best run in a very long time. I felt strong and fast (for me) the entire race. The usual aches and pains were very minimal (except for that wasp sting), and I never had any fleeting moments of wanting to walk or catch my breath. This was the first race (since I can't remember when) that I have actually felt just as good (if not better) at the finish line than I did at the start. And that's something to celebrate.

As soon as I got my finisher medal, I found Barb and Linda and told them I needed to head to the first-aid tent to have someone check my ankle.  Although I didn't feel like I had any reaction to the sting, my ankle hurt like crazy for the rest of the race. The gal looked the sting site over and didn't see any remaining stinger, and sprayed my ankle (probably an antiseptic spray?). She also told me there had been several other runners who had gotten stung (Barb was one of them), all of them at mile five as well.

So, my stats? I finished 349th overall (out of the 770 half marathoners), 160th out of 496 females. I also came in 11th place out of the 41 gals in my age group...and placed 43rd out of 169 gals in the Masters Division (yes, I am that old). Not too shabby.

Obligatory finish line pic with the medal
Despite the missed PR, I still thoroughly loved everything about this race. As I said, this was my fifth consecutive year running this half marathon (here's the recaps from 2013 and 2014), and I will probably keep returning to this event as long I'm able. The organizers do a great, professional job in putting on a first-class event. The pre-race communication is thorough. The race course is absolutely beautiful! The water stations are fully manned with volunteers. The post-race party is out of this world. The race shirts are colorful with great graphics. And the finishers medals are to die for!

My fifth Park to Park medal...isn't it pretty?
Another neat aspect of this year's event is that I won a 2015 event hat from a pre-race contest!

I'm typically not a hat-wearer, but this hat rocks!!!
Another side note--

Upon finishing the race, we spent a short while eating a quick snack (and guzzling chocolate milk) before heading back to the hotel for a faster-than-fast shower and clean-up. I live in Iowa, and the husband and myself are both University of Iowa Hawkeye grads.....and it was game day. Our big inner state rivals are the Iowa State Cyclones, and we had a football game to get to with two of our kids and my sister.

Eighty minutes in the car, a quick foam roll session at home, and I was back in another car headed to the game. Lots of standing, sunshine, time with family and a Hawkeye victory! All was great!

Yes, this Hawkeye family does have a Cyclone daughter....

Does the headband peaking out from under my visor look familiar? That's because there wasn't time to wash the hair ....

Have you ever ran what felt like a great race, only to have a finish time wasn't quite as fast as it felt?

Ever head off to a sporting event (almost) immediately after finishing a race?

Anyone other Hawkeye fans out there?


  1. I can't believe you got stung by a bee while you were running! I was stung in the eyelid once, but I think he flew into me and hung on. Those buggers are mean. That is one of the really bad things about this time of year.

    Anyways, great job in spite of the sting and your fueling issues. I had to take a gel the other morning on my 8 miler the other morning and it reminded me of how much I hate gels. Gaaaack! Honey Stinger waffles are too dry and sweet for me. I have to take liquid fuel.

    1. thanks, Wendy ;-) This race was in a park, near the UNI know, where that lucky sweatshirt originated!

  2. Nice work! I love your attitude about the race and not getting the PR and still being proud of yourself for running so steady and feeling great. That's all that matters!

    I cannot believe you and so many got stung! That is nutso! Wonder what is going on at mile 5!

    I am from Waterloo, and haven't run this race yet! I hope to, one year! :)

    1. Ha was kind of funny seeing the comments on the event FB page from the other "sting victims"....all those angry buggers at mile 5 apparently did not want runners on their turf. Yes, you should consider this race....totally a great event!

  3. Wow, there must have been a hive somewhere around mile 5 huh? Yikes, glad you didn't have a reaction. It's so frustrating to not hit a PR when you really want it. As we fun faster and faster they are fewer and far between. Congrats on a good race regardless!

    1. thanks!! Yes, the PR's are fewer and hard to come by these days, but it still feels great to have an amazing race ;-)