Comrades Meet Up: Austin Edition

Comrades Meet Up: Austin Edition

Comrades Meet Up

One of the greatest unanticipated benefits of running Comrades 2016 was the friends I met through the process.  As such, I offered to host a Comrades Meet Up for interested runners the day before the Austin Marathon.

The cast of characters was small but mighty.

Susan, Pete, John & Karen

Susan represented the voice of experience.  She is a 10-time Comrades starter and 8-time finisher.  Susan is returning for Comrades 2017 to tackle the uprun and put herself on the doorstep of the Green Number Club.  Exciting!

Pete has started Comrades twice, nabbing his first finish in 2016’s down run.

(Susan and Pete both missed a cut-off in the 2015 up run, no thanks to bus drivers who ran the wrong pace!)

John is a Comrades novice.  He’s a relatively newbie to the long distance running community, finishing his first marathon just last year.  He’s completed an Ironman and holds a sub 3:20 marathon PR, which bodes well for John’s chances of completing Comrades in June.

I was there, too, sharing my limited but vibrant experience from training for and running Comrades 2016.

Our topics ranged from logistics to training to what to wear on race day.  Undertaking an event like Comrades requires a significant amount of forethought.

We shared our opinions of travel logistics to South Africa.  While I loved going a week early last year, that’s just not possible this year. We all agreed that with a race start of 5.30am, no one does much sleeping the night before the race.  Even when the start is in Durban (where most runners stay), there is noise on the streets in the wee hours of the morning to rouse runners out of bed.  All of this to say, we shouldn’t spend too much energy worrying about jetlag!

For training, it is clear that John and I have a real advantage with Austin winter weather.  We are well-prepared for a Comrades day that gets hot and or humid.  Susan and Pete agreed that doing long runs on hills, in addition to hill repeats, was an essential component of a successful training plan.  Thankfully, we also have plenty of hills here in Austin!

As for what to wear on race day, John had already read my blog about the various pieces of Comrades kit I felt were useful.  Susan pointed out that because the race starts in Durban this year, it shouldn’t be as chilly at the start.  This could make it easier to plan what to wear throughout the race.

I also talked about the Race Day Support Marquee service that I found so useful last year. We shared our tips for using the water sachets handed out on the course– Pete’s “always take three” rule seems sensible– and to definitely test eating boiled potatoes on a training run.  (It is nine months since Comrades 2016, and I am still potato obsessed.)

We discussed the friendliness of South Africans.  Susan shared that her introduction to Comrades was via a South African she met while running the Two Oceans Marathon 12 years ago. Since then, she has visited his family multiple times and is taken under their wings as she returns for Comrades annually.  This friendliness lines the Comrades route on race day, and runners are buoyed by the support of spectators and runners alike.

I explained to John that, as a native Texan (and Austinite), this friendliness would be wonderfully familiar to him.  I sure found it comforting last year.

None of us were really excited about running the Austin Marathon the next day, but we decided that the hot and humid conditions would give us a good training run to practice fueling and hydration for Comrades.  It would also be essential to employ running and walking tactics, also critical for a speedster like John to get some practice doing before Comrades race day.  (As it turns out, we were all VERY slow.  It was a miserable day for a marathon.)

Runners know that other runners love to talk running.  This Comrades Meet Up was no exception. I look forward to seeing my fellow Comrades again in Durban this June!

Race Report: Austin Marathon 2017

Race Report: Austin Marathon 2017

The 2017 Austin Marathon was the worst race of my life.

The 2017 Austin Marathon was the worst run of my life.

But I did what I needed to do, and I’m glad to have it behind me.

Let me explain: I had three goals for the Austin Marathon.

Goal 1: Run a sub-4:00 marathon.

Goal 2: Hold my position of 3rd place 40-49 Women in the Austin Distance Challenge.

Goal 3: Meet the Comrades qualifying standard (sub-5:00) marathon.

I knew if I met Goals 1 and 2, Goal 3 was met as well.

But in running, as in life, sometimes things just don’t go your way.

I admit that I had a bad attitude going into the race, as the forecast had been the same for two weeks: high 60s-low 70s, with a very high chance of rain.  (Read: ridiculous humidity)

Austin Marathon Race Report

I was hoping for the best– that would mean high 60s and rain.  I knew I was going to be sopping wet one way or the other, and rain is far more comfortable than high humidity.

Alas, it was 68 degrees Fahrenheit and 92% humidity when I left for the race.  Think I’m exaggerating?  Sadly, no.

I knew it would be a slog.  Why I set off with a faster-than-I-should-be-going first 10K, I have no idea.  Wishful thinking perhaps?  I walked for one minute between the 3 and 4 mile mark, telling myself that would help me regulate my pace.  But when I hit the 10K in less than 57 minutes, I knew I needed to slow down and start taking regular walk breaks if I was going to survive.

From 10K to halfway, the course runs through a neighborhood of rolling hills.  I run on these hills all the time, but they’re some of the same ones that gave me fits in the Run for the Water back in November.  I opted to do a fast walk up the hills and run as comfortably as possible– which wasn’t very possible– in between.  As it turns out, I didn’t have the energy to run more than 4-5 minutes at a time.  I just felt flat…heavy…sleepy.

I was grateful to see some friends in this stretch of the course.  I could see them as I ran down a gentle hill, and it was uplifting to see them waving and hear their cheers. They sent me photographic proof that I was already drenched with sweat– and only around Mile 11!

After the half marathoners split off, the course and runners became eerily quiet.  It was clear everyone was struggling, and no one was in the mood for the friendly banter that normally marks race day.  Even for as slow as I was going (relative to my normal capabilities), I was working pretty hard.  It just wasn’t fun.

My husband and kids were waiting for me just before the 14 mile mark.  The fact that I actually stopped to talk to them and kiss each of the kids was the first sign I wasn’t having a good day.  I told my husband that if I didn’t need to finish in order to get my Comrades qualifier, I’d drop out.  I really felt that bad.  I didn’t care anymore about the Distance Challenge, sure that my terrible day meant I would no longer place in the overall standings.

I think the copious amounts of liquids I was drinking (water from the aid stations, Tailwind from the two disposable bottles I carried for a portion of the race) were sloshing around in my stomach giving me a tummy ache.  I knew I needed to keep drinking, though, because I was sweating like crazy.  There were also people all around me cramping up…the likes of which you don’t normally see until closer to 20-22 miles of a marathon.

On I ran, despite my desire to just bag it.  I knew I’d see a few more friends as I continued the northern (and uphill) pull of the route.  It is always motivating to know that there are cheers just ahead.  One of my cheerleaders is my 6-year-old daughter’s oldest friend– they’ve been friends since birth– and she’d picked some lovely flowers for me.  That’s a race day first!  It was sweet to see her and her brother and mom, and I was glad for their support.

I trudged on, still running and walking, knowing I didn’t have to go any faster than a 13:30/mile pace to break 5:00.  Because I could do that math, I had zero motivation to go any faster than I absolutely had to.  I was holding steady around 11:15-11:30/mile, but it still wasn’t feeling easy.

My husband and kids appeared around 18 miles…I had just walked up a long uphill for my longest walk stretch of the race and my slowest mile at 12:10.  I still wasn’t in the mood for more PB&J, but I also still wasn’t in need of any cramp pills.  I had some electrolyte tablets I took every 30 minutes or so, and they seemed to be working well.  On I ran…

One of the local running clubs, Gilbert’s Gazelle’s, was passing out sponges around Mile 19.  These were the greatest thing ever.  I was so sweaty and so salty.  I had worn a form-fitting tank top because of the heat, but that meant I had nothing to wipe my face the whole race.  That wet sponge felt so refreshing and put a tiny pep in my step.

Just as I was finishing luxuriating in the sponge bath, I saw my husband and kids again.  It was just before Mile 20.  I was moving a little better, intent on making good use of the downhill route profile to the finish. Shame there was a headwind at this point!  I waved to the kids and thanked them for their support.

In a normal marathon, Mile 20 is “halfway” even though there is just 10K to go.  In this race, however, I felt like I’d hit halfway at the 10K mark, and the next 20 miles were just an exercise in putting one foot in front of the other.  From 20 miles to the end, I knew I was fine on time for my qualifier.  I tried to focus on the good things— mostly that I wasn’t cramping— and just worked to get it done.

When I crossed the finish line in 4:42, I confirmed what I’ve long believed: it’s not any easier to run a slow marathon than it is to run a fast one.  The only upside is that I had almost no soreness afterwards, thanks to my slow pace and focus on hydration.

Shifting into low gear and grinding it out was the right choice for the conditions on the day.  And though it’s a forgettable finishing time, it meets Goal 3.

Late in the evening after the race, I checked the Austin Distance Challenge standings.  Surprisingly, I held my position in third place.  From the finishing times of my fellow competitors, we all had a long, slow day out there.  So, hooray for Goal 2 being met!

As for Goal 1, once I saw the forecast, I knew that wasn’t really achievable. While it’s disappointing to be in good shape and get a day with disagreeable conditions, that’s just the way road racing goes.

I can’t say I’ll be back to run the Austin Marathon again in 2018, but I am glad to have completed the Austin Distance Challenge.

On to Comrades!

Run Proud! Run for Wildlands!

Greetings, dear Readers.

It’s the end of December 2016 already!  While I know this year has been difficult for a lot of people in a lot of ways, I choose to focus on the many wins of the year.  One of the most significant experiences of this year is also one of the most significant experiences of my life– running the 90KM Comrades Marathon in South Africa.

I loved having the Running On Balance community read along on my journey to Comrades, and I appreciated your support more than you will know.  You got me through a really challenging day!

I am returning to South Africa in 2017 to run Comrades again, this time in the “up” direction.  (That means roughly 6000 feet of incline and 4000 feet of decline over the 55ish miles.)

I was so moved by the whole Comrades experience that I am choosing to run Comrades 2017 for a South African charity.  Thanks to my dad’s fantastic experience fundraising for Wildlands Conservation Trust in 2016, I have chosen to run for Wildlands this year.

Why Wildlands?

Wildlands Conservation Trust is dedicated to creating a sustainable future for all.

Our programmes are complimentary and all contribute towards our core focus of building robust ecosystems that underwrite human wellbeing and sustainable development. They are focused areas of intervention aimed at sustainable natural resource use and the development of a green economy.

Okay, that sounds cool.  But what do they actually DO?

One of the things I appreciate about Wildlands is that it is a holistic conservation organization.  They’re not just saving the black rhinos and elephants for the animals’ sake.  They understand the importance of the animals to the identity of the people. Their work to tag rhinos and dehorn them to decrease poaching has been a tremendous success.

Furthermore, the Wildlands focus on land and resource conservation links directly to improving the environment and people’s lives.  Programs like the Green Desks campaign– using recycled materials to make new school desks— is a real-world way of improving the lives of African children through conservation programs.  If I can raise R21000 (about $1500), together we will outfit an entire school classroom with new desks.

You’re right.  I want to help.  How can I donate?

Click on the link.  Donate.  Done. (Yes, it’s a secure link.)

Thank you very much!

Are you seriously asking me for money right now while I’ve just spent oodles of bank on gifts?

Well, yes.  I know your credit card number is on the tip of your fingers.  And with the strength of the US Dollar comparative to the South African Rand, you can feel like a big spender!  After all, 100 rand is just a little over $7.  1000 rand is $70. Give what you can!

Or maybe you have someone in your life who would appreciate the mission of Wildlands Conservation Trust, and your donation could be a gift in their honor.

Or maybe you just think I’m completely crazy, and that’s worth the price of a cup of coffee.  🙂

What’s in it for me?

Most importantly, you know that you are supporting an organization dedicated to animal, land, and resource conservation in one of the most beautiful countries on the planet.  As a global citizen, you’re participating in supporting a group with less financial resources even when you may not see the benefit yourself.

Also, I’ll be making a bracelet with the names of all of my donors on it to wear during Comrades 2017.  And, no doubt, as I am struggling to haul myself up all those hills, I will be reminded of your generous spirit and how thankful I am to have you on my side.

I’m not really in a place where I can donate.  Please don’t hate me.

I get that.  We’re good.  Thank you for your consideration.

I would be happy to have all of your good thoughts on June 4th.  I’ll need them!

Like last year, I’ll be including Comrades Updates here on the blog to keep you informed of how my training is going.  But if you don’t really care about running, I totally understand.  I’ll keep those posts to Wednesdays, with the regular Running On Balance posts about Fitting in Fitness and Well Balanced Women coming on Mondays and Thursdays.

As we close 2016, I leave you with the runner’s prayer:

May the road rise to meet you and the wind be always at your back!

Be well,

Karen

P.S.  Here’s the donation link again.

Decker Challenge Race Report

Decker Challenge Race Report

I first heard of Decker Challenge (13.1) in 1997 when I was training for the Austin Marathon.  It was then, as it is now, part of the Distance Challenge organized by Austin Runners Club. It’s taken me 19 years to get up the guts to run Decker.  And I’m glad I finally did!

The hills of the Decker Challenge are legendary in Austin running circles. I remember hearing my running buddies of the late 90s talking about the relentlessness of the course. I’d never bothered to look at a course profile.  Once you run Comrades, hills on a sheet of paper or computer screen don’t mean much.

Decker Challenge Race Report

I got to the race site on the foggy, cool morning. Like the hilly course, the Decker Challenge is also known locally for its reliably poor weather on race day.  I wanted to hang out in my car and enjoy my heated seats just a little bit longer, but it was time to warm up in the damp elements.

My plan was to run well within myself.  I wasn’t going to race; I knew the course wouldn’t deliver a fast time.  I just wanted to finish feeling like I’d had a solid-effort training run.  As I was warming up, I realized the weather was surprisingly favorable.  I lined up at the start feeling good.

The first mile flew by, and I was well under my anticipated pace at 8:45.  There were some gentle rollers in miles 2 and 3, and I pulled back a bit, hitting both splits in 9:12.  That was more what I was anticipating, so I felt positive.

Mile 4 came up on me quickly, and I had to whip my baggie with my PB&J quarters out of my running bra in a most inelegant way. I shoved a bit of sandwich in my mouth, grabbed a cup of water from the aid station, and walked for 20 seconds to make sure everything went down the right pipe.  I also hit my watch for the split to find I had sped up again.

There was a bit of rain in the next few miles, but I was running steadily around 8:45s.  I felt good.  I welcomed the hills.  I thanked the volunteers.  It was all going really well.

I remember turning on to the highway service road at about 7.5 miles, and there’s a nice downhill followed by a long grinder of an uphill.  About half way up the hill was the 8 mile mark.  And a pretty strong crosswind.  But I was still feeling strong, so I kept on running.

At the top of the hill, the course makes a right turn and there’s an aid station there.  I saw a friend I have known since high school handing out water.  She gave me a good cheer, and that boosted my spirits.  I ate another quarter of my PB&J, downed some water, and chugged along.

The next two miles were the most difficult.  The course has several long hills, with the most challenging one right at the 10 mile mark.  I decided that I would walk for 100 steps up the steepest part of the hill.  (This is a strategy I used at Comrades, and it served me well.)  I was only about 70 steps into my walk when I noticed a race photographer on the side of the road.  Not wanting to be caught walking, I started my run again early.

At the top of “quadzilla” we made another right turn, and then I felt a headwind.  I wasn’t looking forward to running the next nearly three miles into the wind.  Fortunately, the course has several turns in the last stretch, so the wind turned out to be not such a big deal.  My legs were still feeling strong, and I was holding pace well.

I got my bearings between mile 11 and 12, so I knew that there were only the tiniest rollers left on the course.  I decided to hold steady to mile 12, then run in hard.  I made the last mile in 8:18 and the final 0.1 in 40 seconds.  It’s always nice to finish a race strong.

In my head, I was planning on running around 2 hours…maybe a little more because of the difficult course.  My finish time was 1:56:04, feeling GREAT!

Thanks to the excellent volunteers who staffed the aid stations.  As is usually true in running, the weather that is great for runners is lousy for volunteers.  I appreciate you standing out in the cold, wet weather to support us.

So that’s the Decker Challenge Race Report.  Three distance challenge races down, two to go!

Race Report: Run For the Water

Race Report: Run For the Water

race-report-run-for-the-water

You know how some days you just never get going?

I had one of those days.

The 10th anniversary of the Run for the Water (10 miler) was the second race in the five-race Austin Distance Challenge series.

Race Report:  Run For The Water

It was relatively cool (low 70s) but pretty humid, and I was feeling good at the start.  I did a lot of training on the race course in the weeks leading up to the Run for the Water.  I was ready to tackle the hills.

My plan was to run the first half of the course (5 miles, with most of the uphills) around an 8:45-9 minute pace.  I wanted to run the second half of the course (still hilly, but easier than the first half) at around an 8:15-8:30 pace.  My goal was to finish  close to 1:25 and to feel good doing it.

I spent the first half mile weaving through a bunch of 5K walkers.   I tried not to burn my energy being annoyed.  My pace was steady through Mile 1, close to on pace at 9:05.  In the next few miles, the hills ramped up (and down, too, though mostly up!).  I managed to run 9:08, 8:47, 9:03, 8:47 to get me to the halfway mark.  Pretty much on target.

I was happy to have most of the hills done.  My husband and kids cheered course-side right before the 5 mile mark. That lifted me up!  I was simultaneously thrilled and deflated to see US Olympic Silver Medalist (1500M, London 2012) Leo Manzano jogging alongside the race course cheering on the runners.   He was moving faster than I was with zero effort.  Sigh.

But my head was still in the game. I told myself to take advantage of the nice declines over the next 1/2 mile to kick my pace up a notch.  My brain was speaking clearly, but my legs did not seem to get the message.  There is a long uphill just before Mile 6 (9:40), and I suddenly felt zapped of energy.

I walked for 100 steps to reach the peak of the hill.  I tried to talk myself into pushing a bit harder once I reached the top, but again my legs just wouldn’t respond.

I wasn’t going to give up, by my next splits– all along miles much flatter than the previous ones– were 8:55, 9:11, 8:58, 8:49.  I couldn’t figure out what was wrong.  As I ran I just felt tired in a sleepy kind of way.

I saw a friend who coaches a running group about 1000m from the finish.  She worked very hard to cheer me on, and I appreciated her efforts.  I was just sorry I couldn’t capitalize on her goodwill and push a bit harder into the finish.

My final time was a disappointing 1:30:29.

In hindsight, I think I was under-hydrated going in to the race, and I didn’t drink enough along the way, either.  My legs were never tired with muscular fatigue…they just wouldn’t respond to my desire to run faster.

I have chosen to reframe this lackluster performance as a perfect marathon-pace long run.  I’m not sure I could have hung in there for 16 more miles at this pace, but that’s a detail I don’t need to worry about right now.  As for nailing marathon pace in my legs over a hilly route, the Run for the Water was a great race.

Even better, the race supports The Gazelle Foundation, which brings life-saving water access to people in Burundi.

Race Report: Run Free Texas 80s 8K

Race Report: Run Free Texas 80s 8K

austin distance challenge race report

A Plan To Start Running

I revealed a few weeks ago my plan to start running again regularly.  That time arrived yesterday!

As the first race in the Austin Distance Challenge, the Run Free Texas 80s 8K offered a festive kick-off atmosphere.  My favorite tunes were grooving at the start area, pumping me up for the first race in my new training cycle.

That said, I am not well trained.  I spent much the summer not running or running only very little.  I’ve run for an hour only three times since Comrades, and even most of my shorter daily runs have been sloggingly slow.  Every time I would plan to start running again regularly, the weather beat me down. August and its lesser-known but still beastly hot and humid cousin September have not been kind to me.  The 60ish degree temps at the start of the 8K were a gift.

As I toed the line for the race, I had one main goal: don’t embarrass myself.

I went into the race with astonishingly poor research and planning. All I knew was that the route is advertised as flat.

The advertising lies.

I would describe the route as gently rolling; while there were a few sections that were flat for 800m or so at a stretch, there were also several long slow pulls.  Fortunately, because the start/finish point was the same, there were also several nice long declines.  Overall, it is a very runnable course.

Once the gun went off, the runners were surprisingly quiet and reserved given the exuberant atmosphere of the start.  As is my practice, I thanked every officer at intersections and waved at the few clusters of folks out cheering.  I know that keeping a positive mind is key to my success.

With zero recent speedwork, I had no idea how fast I was running; I was aiming for an 8.30 pace for the first mile.  At mile one, I hit the split on my watch and saw 8.20.  That’ll work.

The rolling hills appeared in the next mile, and I wanted to keep well within myself.  Mile 2 marked: 8.16 split.

The course meandered through a residential neighborhood, so there wasn’t much to look at.  I tried to just keep running steady.  My breathing was still easy and regular. Mile 3 came at the bottom of one of the nice long hills: 8.22.

But then there was an immediate uphill.  I knew I didn’t want to push the pace yet.   I kept steady, briefly encouraging a young boy as I passed him and his dad.  The boy just turned nine.  I told him I’ve been running with my dad since I was his age, and we’re still running together.  I left them on an uphill, getting to Mile 4 in a surprising 7:59.

The plan indicated a push in the last mile.  I’m not exactly sure what happened, because I felt like I was running harder.  This is where my lack of knowledge of the course came back to bite me.  In the last mile there is a nice gentle downhill followed by a 400m-ish uphill.  Then there’s another 400m or so until the finish.  The uphill really zapped me.  I was able to finish strong, but I admit I was disappointed with an 8.20 final split.

Overall (official) finish time: 41.34.

I ran my 10-minute cooldown, grabbed a breakfast taco, and started writing this recap in my head.

austin distance challenge 80s 8k race report

It’s a decent time, and it not surprisingly equates to right around a 4-hour marathon.  This prediction gives me hope.  I am not in good shape now, nor was today’s distance my sweet spot.  That said, results indicate I am currently in 5th place for women 40-49 in the Austin Distance Challenge.

I look forward to some good, hard training over the next month before the second race of the Austin Distance Challenge: Run for the Water 10 miler.  I plan to start running with the consistency and intensity needed to be much better prepared.