A few days ago I ran 8 miles in the rain. What’s next? Climbing mountains? Yup.
Today I met up with a group of people to run Terrapin Mountain in Bedford County, Va. It’s funny that I grew up in Bedford and have spent much of my life in the area, but I’m completely unfamiliar with the names of the mountains beyond Sharp Top and Flat Top. I’ve spent a lot of time on the Blue Ridge Parkway, so these areas are familiar to me — I just never took the time to learn more about them. Anyway, the idea today was to pretty much tackle the half marathon course for upcoming races on the mountain.
Until today, I really haven’t tackled trails too much. I’ve done a few runs and races on trails … but not a mountain. Not something with a 3,200-foot elevation change. What a huge difference that really is. My friend Travis has been talking up this mountain and other trail races for a while and how different it was — he always explained it as a run/power walk/hike. I thought, walking? Hiking? That’s not running. But after today, I’m a big believer in this method of working out — running to a hill, power walking it, running when you can. That’s really the best way to explain it.
But there is so much more, especially today. A couple of miles into it, I was surprised that we had to cross a creek with no rocks to really step on — yes, my feet were getting wet weather I wanted them to or not. Then as we gradually climbed the mountain, things got a little icy and then suddenly we were going through an ice machine. The ice that was at the top of this mountain was like fast food ice. We had to climb up it, then across it and then down it. I seriously had to remember some of my skiing moves to avoid busting my butt.
That didn’t stop me — or others — from busting my butt though. I did it twice. The first fall was on the ice and I scraped my leg up a bit; my second fall was later on some crazy wet leaves that left my right elbow and shoulder aching. Then there was also leftover snow from last month’s /storm that we had to go through that left cuts on the front of my legs.
On the way down the mountain there were some smaller creeks, which allowed me to refill my water bottle. Then toward the end of the trail there was a final creek to pass through — similar to the first one, only bigger. Like water up to your knees bigger.
Aside from the workout, there were two or three spots that just had some breath-taking views. They were the kind of views that just make you appreciate life — it’s tough to find the right words.
All told this was a 12-mile adventure. Besides some soreness with my legs, I feel great. It’ll be a while before I decide whether I want to do this again or not. Right now I’m just happy that I did it.
I’ve had two runs this week completely out of normal for me. I thought an 8-miler in the rain was crazy enough; today was just wild. These types of runs are ones that change my thinking; they change my routine; they change my focus. This is the boost I’ve been looking for since … well, I’m not sure when. It’s been too long.
When is a race not really a race, yet dozens of people participate? How can I finish several hours before others, yet still be a middle-of-the-pack finisher? Or how can someone finish 10 minutes in front of me, yet I beat them by two minutes? When is there an event in which I can use a fast mile time from earlier in the week because of very relaxed rules? And why would I be doing my long run on a Friday? Welcome to the world of virtual running folks.
Today is the third or forth virtual race put on by Non-Running Nancy, but it’s the first I’ve been able to participate in. The rules are simple — run 8 miles sometime this week. Those miles can be fast or slow or combined. For me, for the purpose of having a decent finishing time, it’s a mixture of all three.
For me, today’s 8 on the 8th started a few days ago when I ran a 7:25 mile. I HAVE to include that mile as part of my 8 for this race. It’s just too fast not to. The rest of my miles came as part of a 10.1-mile run today. For me, this was like three runs in one — part of it was a race. I kept thinking of how many people are actually out running 8 miles today because it’s 08-08-08. Part of it was just a long run of 10 or more miles. It was my second double-digit run in as many weeks. And lastly, part of it was getting some speed work in as part of a long run. Speed + distance = a better racing experience in a few weeks.
Including my mile from the other day, my official race time for “8 on the 8th” was 1:05:39, an 8:12 pace. Had I known I was so close to an 8:08 pace, I might have pushed it a little harder in some parts. This time included a mile with my dog in 7:55 — probably his fastest mile to date. I then had a two-mile tempo run of 16:18 along some rolling hills in my neighborhood. After a cool down, I logged an 8:10 mile with a few loops around a couple of soccer fields in a nearby park. After another cool down, I struggled to an 8:33 mile while dodging tree limbs in the same park. After taking the next 1.5 miles pretty easy, I did a half-mile interval in 3:51. I ended my long run with a couple of quarter-mile intervals in 2:01 and 1:49. To get the fastest time possible in 8 on the 8th, I added together two of my half-mile cool downs for the “final” mile, which was just under 10 minutes.
As confusing as that all sounds, here’s a simplified look at my speed workout today as part of my long run: 1st mile in 7:55; miles 1-3 in 16:18; miles 3.5-4.5 in 8:10; miles 5-6 in 8:33; miles 7.5-8 in 3:51; miles 8.5-8.75 in 2:01; and miles 9.5-9:75 in 1:49. Adding it all up, that’s 6 miles of speed work today. I’m mostly pleased with my times, especially my last quarter-mile interval.
I want to thank Nancy for organizing such a great event. And I want to congratulate all the finishers of this awesome race. There are so many of us who have never met that are taking part in this race, and it’s a good feeling to be a part of it as the Olympics get under way this weekend. We may not win bronze, silver or gold, but we’ll have the pride to carry around that we finished 8 on the 8th!
The closer I get to the marathon, the more I realize how happy I will be to say I finished. It’s more than many people can say in their lives. This being my first marathon, I keep telling myself to not get carried away with time – just go out and finish it.
Today was the 30k I’ve been writing about coming up. Little did I know, this was an all-out cross country style race. The course description on the Richmond Road Runners’ Web site was as follows: “These races will be run on the roads and trails of Pocahontas State Park in Chesterfield. … This event is an ideal training run for the Richmond Marathon. The course is challenging but rewarding.” Sounds to me like this would be 50/50 or 60/40 trail and roads. Uh, no. I would say MAYBE three miles of this race was on roads, which included a hill much worse than the one in Riverside Park in the Virginia Ten Miler. And we had to run that hill three times (well, actually, six if you count three times down, three times up).
So, let me cut to the chase. My time was an abysmal 3:27:57. It was hot. It’s October and Richmond’s highs today were forecast to hit the low 90s — and it looks like this will continue for two more days. (According to Weather Underground, Richmond was 2 degrees short of a record high today.) I saw people out there clearly in much better shape than me reduced to looking like they’ve never ran before. The course was three of the exact same laps through Pocahontas State Park, the largest state park in Virginia. On top of being a very inexperienced trail runner, I completely dislike repetition. Out-and-back courses are fine. More than two loops? Boring. This reminded me of running a 5k on a track back in June — no matter what you do, it feels like you’re going nowhere.
On to the race … since I knew it was going to be hot, I threw out any ideas of trying to go faster than usual or setting a goal time. I initially used this race to be a practice of what I’d do in the marathon. I wanted the first lap to be slow — everyone who has ran a marathon has told me to go out slow. It seemed everyone else had the exact same idea. Plus I had NO IDEA what this course was going to be like, so I wanted to take it all in the first loop. Then I practiced what most everybody else has said — walk through the water stops. I did this at every water stop. I did the first lap in just over an hour. For the second lap, I decided to pick up the pace a little bit, but about halfway through is when the heat started letting loose. Second lap was about the same as the first. Third lap … I was reduced to walking. Initially, I just said the hell with it and walked for about two minutes. My knees were hurting, my back was aching and, like I’ve already said, it was freakin’ hot. Then I got into a pretty good routine of running for four minutes, walking for one. After a little bit of that, the downhills became unbearable, so I actually ran the uphills fairly hard, then walked the downhills. Opposite of what some people do, but the downhills were too much for my body to deal with. When I walked, I was pretty much speed walking, probably actually burning more calories than I would have had I sluggishly ran. Walking also prevented me from possibly injuring myself — something that I don’t need right now.
Today was a test of endurance, and I realized that if I wanted to be good at a race like this, I have to move to the trails. Today was either a gradual up/down hill or a steep up/down hill — there was nothing flat. There was running on regular gravel, sandy soil, grass, fallen pine needles, narrow passages, over the same exact bridge six times, and, like I said, a very little bit of pavement. Back in June with the Xterra James River Scramble, I realized I don’t like trail races. Some people love running on trails and doing cross country races, but it’s not for me. Will I do this race again? Actually, for reasons other than the trail, I probably won’t. I’d rather not get into too much, but I don’t appreciate one person yelling at a few hundred people about not wearing headphones (can’t that be put on a Web site, an entry form and signs – not a five minute speech), and then another person treating us like a bunch of chatty fifth-graders (“I’m a teacher so I’ll wait until you’re all done talking.”). I’ll leave it at that.
So back to the race description. This was certainly challenging … it’s by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done (No. 1, this race; No. 2, the scramble; No. 3, my first cross country race with the Apple Valley 5K in Bedford). Twenty degrees cooler certainly would have made a huge difference. Rewarding? While my body is still screaming at me for today’s abuse, like someone else said on the course today: this is going to make the marathon seem easy. I don’t care about my time – I’m happy with finishing such a grueling course. Like a marathon, not many people can say they finished a 30k. So, not only being rewarding from a physical standpoint, this event also was rewarding from a mental standpoint.
Since mid-March, I’ve been keeping in my head that July 1 is THE day to put all my focus on November’s Richmond Marathon. Well, that day is here and now it’s time to get serious. This weekend didn’t quite go as planned, as I had hoped to run 6-7 miles on Saturday. I changed up my routine and did that today, which is a good start to this second half of the year. I had a very comfortable 6.5 miles today on the Blackwater Creek Trails. It had been a while since I went there, but it was a refreshing change to my usual neighborhood.
So, what now? The first quarter of the year was about my half marathon; the second quarter was about recovery and maintaining decent mileage. Now, the challenge begins. It’s time for my long runs to get longer; my tempo runs (which will be my group runs through September) will get more intense; and the easy days will probably remain about the same. In the coming weeks, after a vacation this weekend, I plan to write about my workouts in a little more detail, with putting some goals down and then writing about what actually happened.
Part of the July 1 changes include absolutely no french fries, no soft drinks and yes, no ice cream. More on all that later.
This week I have a group run on Tuesday and a mile race on Wednesday (I’m shooting for less than 7 minutes) that will be the biggest things. I’ll be in Ohio for a nice flat run this weekend.
The Xterra James River Scramble 10K is the most challenging race I’ve ever done. In three years of doing races, I’ve never finished a race and said, “That was the hardest race I’ve ever done,” until this past Saturday. I’ve race some challenging races, but nothing so far had fallen into that “hardest ever” category.
Two days later it’s still hard to put into words what it was like to run up steps, run through weeds, run over rocks, climb up a small ladder, jump over water and still finish in less than an hour. Race wise, this will go down as my slowest pace ever (57:07, click here for results by gender), but I think the same can be said for everyone there. It wasn’t meant to be a race against time – it’s more a test to see what your body can actually handle in 6.2 miles.
The race was broken up into four heats. I was in the first heat with a predicted time of just under 50 minutes. To be in the first heat, predicted times had to be less than 50 minutes. Well, only 116 runners out of nearly 1,100 actually finished in 50 minutes or less. To realize two days later that I still finished in the top third of the field is very satisfying. I am still sticking to my statement after the race though that this was a bad race, but a hell of a workout. It’s tough to “race” when you have to actually stop and wait to climb up steps and jump over rocks. I’d say that total stop time was 2 or 3 minutes.
On paper, this will be the worst race I hope I’ll ever do, but physically I learned a lot about myself and realized that there are many more challenges out there for me. It was a perfect springboard to have better 5K times and to get me even more motivated for the Richmond Marathon.