Sunday, February 23, 2014

Two Races, Two Ass Kickings

It's true what they say (and by "they" I mean I'm saying it now): there's nothing quite like a few solid wallopings to really motivate you to get in shape. As a bonus, I had the pleasure of getting thoroughly spanked two weekends in a row, and suffice it to say I'm experiencing a new resolve to work hard and ensure that the same thing doesn't happen (or at least, not quite so handily) the next time around.

To be fair, these dismal outcomes were hardly unexpected, considering pretty much my entire winter of "training" has unfolded like this:

Jordan: What day can you workout this week? Wednesday?
Meagan: (checks weather app) Looks like another storm is moving in Tuesday night. And I'm traveling Thursday. Better make it Tuesday.
J: Okay, Tuesday morning?
M: (expands hourly detail in weather app) The wind chill is going to be single digits. I doubt I can run fast then. Want to go at lunch?
J: Sure, but I have a meeting at 12. Can we go at 1?
M: No, I have a meeting at 2. How about we cut out a little early and go at 4?
J: Perfect.
M: (3pm, looks outside incredulously, then glares at blatantly deceptive weather app, then looks outside again) Son of a! It already started snowing!
J: (doubtfully, furrows brow) Maybe it will stop.
M: (3:45pm, looks outside again) Well, you're right, it stopped snowing...and now it's sleeting. The roads are going to be a mess already.
J: Want to go jog five miles on the treadmill?
M: Duh.

Last weekend, I participated in the Mercedes-Benz Marathon Weekend in Birmingham, AL for the fourth consecutive year. This race holds a special place in my heart, as it's where I snuck under the radar and nabbed my Trials qualifier in 2011. (It's also the only race expo I've ever worked where the partner retailer calls me in advance to ask what kind of wine I'd like to drink while working their expo because they know I don't drink beer. Trak Shak, you complete me.) I then came back to win the half in 2012 and placed second in the half last year, so despite my lack of fitness I illogically had high hopes for another podium finish this time around. But alas, it was not to be. Local standout Erica Speegle ran a 2+ minute PR to finish in 1:15-mid, with my friend Jeannette Faber a close second in 1:15:53 (or 1:16:05 depending on which results you look at; obviously, runner code dictates we agree upon the faster time). I shuffled along in fourth place, also known as "first sucker who just misses out on a giant check," managing 6-minute pace on the rolling course. It was neither my fastest nor slowest run there but my first time out of the money, which never feels great.

Yet the weekend was not all for naught. I road tripped back to Nashville with Jeannette and got in a few quality double-digit runs in the delightfully sunny, snow-free environs of a more temperate climate. "This is it!" I told myself triumphantly as I boarded my on-time flight back to Boston (via Philadelphia) on Tuesday morning. "This is the turning point when I stop grabassing around and start getting serious about my spring training!" Fast forward to three hours, a canceled flight and a few delays later, and I found myself cursing Mother Nature yet again and drowning my sorrows in a surprisingly delightful combination of Chick-Fil-A waffle fries and $6 pinot grigio in Concourse C of PHL. Literally and figuratively, thanks to the hellacious winter I just cannot win right now.

And yet, inexplicably, this weekend I found myself begging for more. My sometimes training partner and oftentimes Gchat companion Sarah Bard tipped me off that she was planning to make the 2+ hour trek to Amherst on Sunday for the first race in the USATF-NE Grand Prix series, the Jones 10 Miler. Seeing this as an opportunity for a forced extended tempo with possible prize money (and an excuse for post-race brunch), I agreed to join. "After all," Sarah confidently and rhetorically assured me, "how many fast people are going to want to drive all the way to Amherst for a ridiculously hilly 10-miler in the middle of February?" Well, as it turned out, quite a few. In the time it took me to park, make my way to registration and fork over the $45 entry fee (which included nothing, least of all a t-shirt (not that I wanted one, but it's the principle), except my race number and a few questionably rusty safety pins), I'd already spotted at least a half dozen women who had beaten me or come pretty darn close to doing so at various races over the past year. My previously optimistic plan to "stick my nose in there and contend for the win" was summarily downgraded to "shoot for top 10," blowing straight past "place in the top three" and coming dangerously close to the graveyard of "win my age group." On the now-somber warmup, Sarah and I bumped into a trio of formidable Maine runners, Sheri Piers, Kristin Barry and Erica Jesseman, all of whom have faster PRs than me at approximately every distance. As we jogged, Sheri joked (but seriously) that last year's winner, Irish Olympian Steph Reilly, stated afterward that it was the "f#$&ing hardest race ever." Seeing as, in case you glossed over that part, she's an Olympian, this information didn't exactly do anything to alleviate my apprehension.

At the outset, however, things progressed swimmingly. The first two miles, and in particular the second mile, were largely downhill (feel free to see this as foreshadowing for the latter part of the course), and other than a few tiptoe-inducing icy turns it was smooth sailing. A brief glance at my watch indicated I'd comfortably split two miles in 11:37 and was among the top three or four females. Unfortunately, the fun and games all came to an abrupt halt during the third and fourth miles, which I had been warned in advance were drastic uphills. (Mercifully, I forgot to wear my new Garmin and also neglected to peek at the third mile split (possibly because I was 100% focused on trying not to walk), but I learned later that Erica--who, keep in mind, was already a good distance ahead of me at this point--split a whopping 7:00.) Just when the road leveled out and the torture was seemingly over (for the time being), we turned onto a dirt road. This would not be noteworthy except for the fact that the past few days' slightly milder, rainy weather had resulted in much of the snow melting (and our condo building's basement flooding, but that's neither here nor there) but also, paradoxically, icing over many sections of road. So what in better times might simply be an innocuous dusty detour was now a half icy, half muddy mess. Within seconds, everyone in sight was slipping around and splattered shoulder to ankle with mud. The next few miles were dangerous at worst, frustrating at best, and I passed the halfway point in 30:30--almost 90 seconds slower than I'd eclipsed the same marker at Mercedes a week prior. I'd managed to hemorrhage almost a full minute in the past few miles and was feeling worse with each passing second. Punishing hills, ice, mud, potholes; this wasn't a road race, it was a 10-mile cross-country course!

Fortunately, miles 6-8 led us back onto pavement and were gradually downhill, and I somehow clawed my way back to a slightly sub-6 average with two to go. But lest there be any danger of me finishing in a respectable time, we then merged back onto the original road from whence we came and faced a punishing uphill for the next mile and a half. By the time I crossed the line fourth (and winning my age group, holla!) in 60:30 I was equal parts convinced that I was going to really start training now or never run another step for the rest of my life. (It is worth noting at this point that I am subsequently leaning toward the latter option given that winner Megan Hogan ran 55:30 and obliterated the almost 30-year-old course record previously set by Nancy Conz, who for the record was no slouch herself. I can confidently say that there will be no point in my running career at which I am capable of such flagrant badassery.)

But seriously, you guys. It's time for me to get in shape.