Monday, February 3, 2014

Texas 5 Series-College Station: On Strength, Nostalgia, and "Winning Ugly"

"Winning ugly is still winning". -Brad Gilbert

Yesterday was awesome-and difficult, we'll call it 'awesomely difficult' just to add some hyperbole to your Monday morning. For the second time in about 3 months, I towed the line in College Station, TX; the home of my alma mater Texas A&M and what I consider one of the cornerstones of "the house that built me" (okay, that makes little to no sense reading it in print but I'll keep the expression up there) in the inaugural Texas 10 Series-College Station. The race also has a 5-mile division and I was glad for this race I chose the latter option for several reasons.

For starters, the race course was very familiar. In fact, it was one of my favorite running routes when I was an undergraduate in the mid 2000s, still mostly clueless about running and it would be at least two years before I would actually get the guts to participate in a race. Yes, I used to be a hobby jogger! The majority of the loop circles the greater parts of the university, with one stretch that I detested even then, otherwise it was flat, fast, and pleasant to traverse through. Unfortunately, the 'blah stretch' was mile 4 of this particular race, not to mention a cold front blew through on the drive up from The Woodlands and wind gusts ranged from 16-18 mph in addition to a 20-degree wind chill. Sounds ideal, right?! Despite the temps and wind (plus a little rain to top it off) the show must go on. That's how mental toughness is built,  Texas Aggie-Style, y'all!! 

For those wanting a condensed version of this report, I'll provide the cliff notes before going any further:

Outcome & Basics:
Location: College Station, TX/Texas A&M University
RD: The prolific Willie Fowlkes of Win-Win Events
Temp./Conditions: 38, Wind chill in 20s, gusts of 16-18 mph
Course: Flat, slightly downhill first half of loop, rolling second with exposed stretch. Mix of concrete and asphalt.
Finish Place: 1st Overall Female
Finish Time: around 35:00
Nutrition: Prerace meal of Bagel and Almond Butter 2 hours prior, 30 minutes prior 1 scoop of Energylab's Ignyte with a PowerBar Blend packet. Water consumption-at least 24 oz.
Shoes: New Balance RC 1400v2 (LOVE!)

Process & Race Goals:
1. Positive race experience~physically and mentally.
2. Gain some hard data to train by.
3. Run a smart race.
4. Re-gain race experience and re-learn an aspect of race mentality.
5. Top 3 Finish.

I felt that although my training has been conservative to date, I have been very consistent and smart about it and I think it did pay off yesterday. One of the biggest things I noticed, as well as my training peers is that not only do I feel different, but I look and run different; I was paid a very nice compliment when my stride and mechanics were labeled 'powerful and smooth' (hello new mantra!!). Although my time left much to still be desired, the feedback that I looked strong performing gives me optimism for races to come.

As for the event itself, upon arrival it was raining lightly and the finish chute flags were dancing something fierce in the cold, humid wind. I reminded myself to focus on what I can control and give today my best. Luckily I had recently read an article on the physiological challenges of cold-weather running, so it made the midpoint of the race much easier to deal with on the other side. I was surprised that I was not more nervous, as I knew I would be running faster for longer than I have in, well over a year now. I guess deep down, I was partially just happy to be there. And I kept thinking about how good I looked in my racing outfit I chose: black on black-a New Balance singlet, split shorts, PowerBar skull arm warmers with gloves, and black compression socks in my NB racers (oh, stupid, vain girl!! LOL).
Did I pin my bib on right?! Back to the pre-race routine.

The jitters picked up (or maybe it was just shivering!) at the national anthem. One of the first cool moments for me was the playing of the Aggie War Hymm before the start-it was on!

The first mile had a slight downhill and I really had to focus to keep the pace around 6:40ish, what I planned on maintaining (i.e. smart racing for where I was at) and did a much better job managing the first 2 miles than I did in December's trail race. Upon hitting mile 3 through one of the most attractive stretches of the town, that's where the headwind registered and I had to re-adjust my strategy. This was no ordinary headwind, this one seemed to cause an unfair temporary paralysis of my over-exposed quads and my now quad and hip-driven stride's effort became inflexible and effort became hard to regulate. I have never experienced this in a race before, they didn't burn, I straight-up couldn't feel them! Friendly note to self: NO split shorts in temps below 40 degrees! 

...I can't feel my legs!....
I still had the GPS on, but upon pangs of discouragement, I decided to shut it down and race by feel. There were about 2 or 3 women ahead of me, and I reminded myself to focus on my own race-something I feel I did a decent job at on this day. Focus was what I needed as I hit the hard left turn onto S. Texas Avenue-a stretch I remember well- and the usually manageable terrain on a sunny and still day was more taxing than anticipated and we all got the full brunt of the frigid headwind. My self-talk could use some improvement during these tough stretches; for instance, I told myself I was out of shape a couple times, that I wasn't the runner I used to be, but I was able to counter it with "so what?!, just get to the corner and it will get easier...".

Turns out I was right-and I was not the only one challenged by mile 4, as those around me appeared to struggle and lose their form. I remembered to pump my arms and bear my gaze towards the parking lot finish and let buddy Jon Walk's voice guide me-"there's that stride again; power restored!".... "I'm racing, baby!" is what I kept telling myself and to to finish strong even if I was uncomfortable. Then I started passing some guys in the chute. "Oh yeah, I can still do this...if only I could feel my legs!" One more turn and I was in the short home stretch, I saw the clock and had a pang of disappointment at what it said, but gave it one last disappointment turning into satisfaction when I heard Jon announce "First Female....A Texas A&M graduate..she's back!".....

After hearing that, my mood turned around and I blurted out "I Won?!" to the volunteer handing me my medal.  The women ahead of me were obviously further along in their training and running the 10 mile. I usually need a few minutes to catch my breath and come back down to Earth, but I recovered really fast this time. Could be the freezer effect, taxing but preserving my legs! I walked a little bit, shocked at my relatively small, yet mentally refreshing accomplishment. I smiled quite a bit afterwards and I took a 3 mile cooldown run through the main part of campus, making it a point to circle one of my favorite "rooms of the house" the Psychology Building-the place I give a lot of credit for providing the support and opportunity to start the career I currently enjoy.  It was at A&M where I gained exposure to what Sport Psychology was about.
Where I learned tricks of the trade and work ethic.

Despite the challenges of the day (it was so cold and windy the awards ceremony consisted of looking up your place, asking for your engraved cup, and high-tailing it back to the car), I was glad I did this event. It was only fitting to win my first race in about 2 years in this place. I was able to run respectably after only running about 3 short speed workouts. All of them combined probably were likely less than 10 miles of  hard running all together.

Some other takeaways are as follows:

  • In order to race well and use proper strategy, you have to run races. I can only improve so much by training, and you better by putting yourself out there and getting a little vulnerable.
  • Being a little vulnerable is a tool-you can learn from it and know what you can change within your current fitness and ability levels. 
  • After the race I went through a pretty thorough analysis of how I really felt, what I realistically was capable of that particular day and came to the conclusion that it is unfair for myself to equate current fitness level with overall ability. See paragraph above. I did the best with what I had in me yesterday. 
  • Cardio-wise, I could go forever. I rebounded quickly and really wasn't fatigued during cooldown. Neuromuscular-wise? That needs some tuning. 
  • My body can handle running faster again!! More evidence for my stress-rest-soft surface training. blend. I will continue to build speed gradually, for better long-term results.
  • Running well requires patience, and I think I can continue to improve if I'm smart about it. There are no short cuts. I can't will or think my way through something if the body and mind aren't congruent.
  • Wear tights in cold races. Although my impulse purchase of a pair of black compression socks was definitely a winner, the unexposed areas suffered. I like to race in split shorts because it has that 'authentic feel', but there's a line there! 
  • My mental game could use some improvement as well, but I think a lot of it will come with training gains and learning to tolerate faster running. That being said...
  • I am proud of overcoming a pretty significant low spot yesterday and gained some confidence with a 'W'. Like Gilbert says, an ugly win is still a win. 
  • I continue to be impressed with how New Balance shoes work for me. The brand new 1400s did not disappoint and felt fast and responsive. Footwear was one thing that didn't bother me one bit yesterday. 
To summarize, I really do feel like I ran my own race yesterday and avoided the pre-race comparison and fears about outcome. Today I am a little sore and tired (sleep after a race is historically difficult for me) and am resting, but after taking an easy week to absorb everything and then it's time to take my little project to the next step. Today I am satiated but still hungry! Bring it on! 

Stay the course. 

4 comments: said...

Nice race and nice report.

Well done on both.

Have always wondered how far my voice carried with the right amplification. :-)

Thanks for the feedback and kind words.

Raina R. said...

I am thrilled for you to be racing and to finish at the top again!! What a great feeling to win.
Yes -- I can't agree more about the vulnerability of racing and the need for it in order to advance. This was a perfect opportunity taken.
Tights are good in 30f races! Whew, that must have been tough O_o . Congrats to you!!!

SupermomE12 said...

Congrats on the win and a strong race!!! Awesome stuff. :)

Kate said...

Love it A! So happy for you!! I think you make a good point about racing. Training will only take you so far, and then it's time to put on the big girl panties and see what you can really do. Nice recap ;) Gig 'Em!