Friday, September 30, 2011

5 Weeks

In exactly one week, I will run my final collegiate 5k. Two 6ks follow, and then my collegiate cross country career is over. I am still working on the hip. Most days are good days, but I had my worst day in long time on Wednesday, the afternoon following a fantastic speed workout. Since then, I have been in the pool. Hopefully I will be ready to run hard tomorrow morning. A good workout can do a lot for race mentality.

This is the point in the season where I have to work on staying focused. I have been back training with the team for over seven weeks. I miss the woods and solitary runs, but I know that my last season will end in just five weeks. I know that after that last race, I will miss even this time of the season.

I really can't believe this is all ending so soon. I mean, I knew it would end. The day has been marked on my calendar for months. In past years, I wished it would all end sooner. I wanted to run for myself again. I wanted to be free from the pressure and the pain. But now I have truly realized how great this bond is with my teammates. We make it through the hard times together and witness the good side by side. These experiences are shared only by our small group. We will never have this again.  Let's make the most of it. Five weeks.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

We're not in Florida anymore

I have very few opportunities to race for my cross country team outside of the state of Florida.  In my collegiate career, I will have traveled out of the state for five meets.  Last weekend, my team and I ventured many hours north to South Carolina.

The land was beautiful.  I had the chance to take in the views the night before the race when the girls and I got in a good five miles on the course.  Even though it was nice, it really makes me appreciate where I run at home.  I think that most cross country runners have that special place that nothing can even compare with.  I certainly have mine.  But it is good to experience what other runners love, too. 

A few differences:

1.  I could have been convinced it was mid-December (Temperatures in the 50s!)
2.  Grey, grey, grey skies
3.  Everything was a winter brown
4.  Dirt
5.  Hills...

The course is probably the most difficult race I have ever run, and one of the most fun.  Although the start is a slight downhill, the footing is quite different than any Florida race.  The hard ground was covered with dips and holes, making the first mile challenging.  This front part of the course, a few hills and all, was the flat part of the course, so it needed to be faster.

The large back loop of the 6k race was like a roller coaster.  A sandy roller coaster.  In the second mile, I took advantage of the longest downhill I have ever experienced.  I could not have stopped even if I had tried, so I let the hill take me and tried to make my legs keep up.  Naturally, the next mile was all uphill.  Gradual and less sandy, this was the place to maintain a constant pace and close in the gaps between other runners.

I knew I was about to hit mile three because I could just spot the wall of sand was peaking through the trees.  This hill marked the start of the end of the race.  If I could be strong and work my way to the top, it was generally downhill for the rest of the race.  I booked it at the bottom of the hill, trying to pass a few girls and put some space between us.  Chances were, they wouldn't put up a fight.  Then, I worked on staying strong.  I remembered the months of the work I put in to get back to this point.  Recovery from injury is never easy and it makes us stronger.  There is no way I was going to give up here.  I repeated that as I climbed.  At the top, I felt a sense of relief, but it was no time to rest.  I went.  Up a smaller hill and back down to the start, I gave it everything I had left. 

In the end, I do not know my finish time.  The race results were inaccurate because of the primitive timing system and lack of a backup.  According to the posted results, I PRed by about 15 seconds, but I am not sure that is true.  I guess when I race here again in just over a  month I will just have to be even faster and earn a new personal record.  I honestly felt strong, even up that final hill, and I know that I will be a better runner in a few weeks.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Let's Try This Racing Thing Again

It's amazing how much you can learn about yourself in just over twenty minutes.  As much as I would like to skip a write up of this race, I know that I have to reflect on those three miles.  It is just one step in the long process of becoming competitive again.  This race provided a baseline.  I now truly have a place to start.

The University of Tampa's Early Bird Classic is the season opener for much of the state.  The 5k held at Tampa's Sydney Dover Trails was the first collegiate cross country race I ran years ago.  It was nice to go back once more.  I learned a lot this time around.

I learned that I can still ask my body to give me more.  I don't have to hold back in fear of re-injury.  I can be competitive.  I can run a smart race.  After everyone was settled from the first mile and a quarter or so, no one passed me.  I did not run negative splits, but I kept my eye on those ahead of me and picked them off one by one.  Honestly, it felt good to run like that again.

Going into the race I expected to be tired, which was probably by biggest mistake.  This past week or so has been rough on my legs.  They have just felt trashed.  I have been running with caution for months because of my hip injury.  Inclines, sand, and banked surfaces, all things that worry me, were waiting for me in the race.  And you know what?  I did it.  The hip is really no worse for the wear.

I am a no-excuses kind of girl.  I ran it, I analyzed the problems, and I will figure out how to do better in the future.  It's strange how a mediocre race can help me regain the confidence I gradually lost in the past year.

Now for the park:  The path at Sydney Dover lends itself for large cross country races.  The majority of the trail is wide and open; great for big starts and spectating.  A bit of sand and a few inclines makes things interesting and unlike many Florida races that are simply run around retention ponds (seriously).  I do not know the layout or size of the entire park, but I believe it is generally one loop just over seven miles long.  Being that the land is so open, it gets quite hot in the afternoons, so I recommend morning and evening running.  Overall, it is a perfect place for cross country races and I can imagine causal running.  But let me tell you, that speed bump of a hill at the first mile mark and in the middle of the second is just mean.

Photos are not from race day.  All photos from Biking Florida (great website with directions to the multiple park entrances).