Friday, October 14, 2011

A solid performance

Seven years ago in Minneapolis I raced my first marathon and won.I returned there two weeks ago badly in need of a good performance. This year’s USA 10 Mile Championships was on the last 10 miles of the marathon course, so I was excited to get back on it. But I was also desperate for another positive racing experience, especially since my last race was horrible. The heat and humidity in New Haven had forced me to drop out during the race. Before that I had an OK performance at the Falmouth 10K and before that I had been forced to withdraw during the Boston Marathon. Even before that I had been forced withdraw from the New York marathon before it even started because of an injury.

My coach and I knew that I really needed to have a solid race before we started the long journey to January's Olympic Trials in Houston. Getting to New Haven had been a nightmare of delays, being stranded in airports and red-eye flights. I was determined not to repeat that. I left for Minnesota two days early to give myself a travel cushion. Except for some small delays, I had a smooth trip.

I arrived just before sunset on the Friday before the Sunday race, just in time to squeeze in a short run. As I ran along the bike path next to the river, I remembered how nice the fall can be in the Midwest. The trees were all changing colors and the air had a crispness to it that is hard to describe. Fall weather always makes me think of my college cross country days in North Carolina — the bright sun, cool weather and the smell of grass and dew.

I rarely have a day to myself with nothing to do, but that was the case Saturday. I went on a short run and did some fast strides, then settled into my room to relax. Race weekends are usually festive and fun. The meets usually have a hospitality suite for us to get some light meals, snacks, and hangout. It never feels like a race until I eat my weight in peanut M&Ms. Darn them and their big bags.

My workouts have been going well, but I was a little worried about how I would feel with a 7 a.m. start because of the two-hour time difference between Minnesota and California. I usually get up three hours before a race, so this meant 4 a.m., which really felt like 2 a.m. Since I couldn't fall asleep until midnight, I decided to not to do my usual light run when I woke up. I heard someone else’s alarm go off next door followed by a loud groan. I thought, "I’m with you there."
The good thing about racing is that race morning, adrenaline and routine take over. Before I knew it, we were on the starting line listening to the national anthem.

The women had a seven minute head-start over the men in order to make it a competition among the sexes to see who could get to the finish line first and get a cash bonus. As we wound around the streets of Minneapolis, nothing looked familiar to me. Eventually our pack of 20 dwindled down to five by the 5-mile mark. By mile seven it was three of us. The eventual winner, Janet Cherbonan a new American citizen, put on a surge. I was running neck and neck with Julie Culley the current 5k Champion until she pulled away with a mile to go. I finished a strong third with a time of 54 minutes and 40 seconds, roughly a 5:29 mile pace a on hilly course. The men won, again.

This last week I took a much needed physical and mental break. It was great timing since the in-laws were in town. We managed to hit the steam train in Felton, the beach several times and even picked grapes at a vineyard. Planned downtime from running is rejuvenating. It took about five days before I got the itch to run again. With about three months until the Olympic Trails, I have a lot of work to do, but I am looking forward to getting as fit as possible.

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