This week I finally laced up my runners and took to the pavement for the first time since my last race. My three week hiatus was due in part to circumstances. We took a weekend trip to Tokyo and then Dave left for a week in China, making running nearly impossible. But the break also had to do with that bit of fatigue I tend to feel after a race. Not physical fatigue so much as training fatigue. The structure of a training program is comfortable and motivational for me when I am in the midst of it, but after the painful triumph of a race completed, I feel stifled and tired and in need of a break. An when I need a break, I take one.
During my first run since the half, I thought back on the training and the race. The way the program kept me running through some cold and wet months, the way the race itself was such a new adventure since I don’t speak Japanese and literally couldn’t even sign up for the race myself. During my run the sun was shining and I stomped down the road and up a mountain and past tea shops so glad to be back out. After a hiatus like that, I feel a bit out of shape. Lungs are tighter, legs are heavier, miles are longer. But it’s no matter, because you know that a few weeks, a few runs, you’ll be back and it’s always worth it and while we may run in races, running is not a race.
The half marathon I did on January 14th, however, was a race. And I ran it faster than my first two halves in 2009 but slower than my personal best set in September of 2012. The course was nice and tame, my training times were satisfactory, but the weather. Oh. My. Stars. The weather.
Running a race in January, in this part of Japan, I knew the weather wouldn’t be a sure thing. During the months of training I ran in snow and rain and made mental notes about which layers worked best for which temperature. I’m from a winter place, I like winter sports. No. Biggie.
The day before the race was 12C/54F and sunny. Sun as far as the eye could see. On the morning of my race it was snowing, almost raining, and 1C/33F. By the time we drove an hour to the city where I’d be running, it was clear that this was going to be tough. It was incredibly windy, incredibly cold, incredibly wet. The snow had turn to freezing, pouring, sideways rain. I was excited, though. I stayed positive. I got my cheering squad settled in the gym set-up as a holding area near the start, and then I got myself ready. Icy-Hot rubbed on, layers layered, playlist on deck.
At the starting line I jumped around to stay warm with a few thousand other runners. A quick perusal of the list of runners an hour earlier had confirmed that I was the only non-Japanese runner, my name stuck out on the list due to it’s being written in a different alphabet. That fact came as no surprise, but in that seas of bouncing racers I began to notice how few women were with me there. In the past I’d hazard to guess the ratio at least 50/50, but in this case it seemed more like 80/20. I found this quite motivating, actually, right after finding it really annoying.
When the race started, I felt pretty good about things. The brim of my hat was keeping the water off my face to a reasonable degree. My ears were warm, my hands were covered, my music was raging. The pack thinned and we headed out into the countryside. And it was pretty. But exposed. And windy. And the rain kept coming harder and harder. Some of the low points in the road were filled in an became 6 feet wide puddles. Some runners tried to run around them, but eventually it became apparent that our feet were going to get wet. And by mile 2 mine were soaked. Each step made a squishy sound. Like running on sponges. Cold sponges.
On a positive note, since this race was being clocked in kilometers, there were signs showing our distance ALL THE TIME. I loved it. Miles can seem long but kilometers just fly on by.
Back to reality, by the turn at the half way point of the race (it was 2 loops of an approximately 11km course) every single piece of my body was wet. And cold. I was feeling motivated, but wet. And cold. Dave, Ves and my girl Katie were all there standing under an umbrella, shivering, and cheering me on. Seeing them was an AMAZING boost, and I could see that some runners were quitting at this point. Which made me feel like a bad ass. A cold, wet, bad ass.
The weather got progressively worse as the race went on. The puddles on the course became slush, the rain turned to snow and back to rain. It wasn’t great.
Around mile 8, I started to struggle. My knees felt raw, my feet felt numb. When I told my toes to wiggle I couldn’t really tell if they were actually wiggling. Every inch from my shoulders to my fingertips was aching. My hands felt like one huge finger, I had no dexterity and could not manage a zipper or change the song on my iPod.
By mile 10 I was picking up my pace just a bit, using my mind to move my body in a pattern that resembled running because I wanted it to be over. I finished without a flourish, so happy to see Dave waiting with a coat and umbrella. 2 hours and 3 minutes.
Dave was genuinely concerned when he caught me at the finish. He said I looked pretty good, told me there were lots of finishers coming in just before me who couldn’t walk and were shivering uncontrollably. Just before I had come in, he had bought a bowl of hot soup for one runner who sat huddled and shivering after his finish.
When we got back to the gym to meet Katie and Ves I saw what he meant. I saw runners under those silver emergency blankets, just shuddering. I felt frozen. I felt sore. I felt wet to my very bones. But overall I was fine, and when I saw the others I felt really grateful for that. Some of the runners had actually been in tank tops or t-shirts, lots of them ran past the water stations. I was way too practical and too thirsty to behave that way, and it paid off.
Amazingly, the next day I only felt slightly stiff. It was my fastest race-recovery ever, possibly because of the heaping portions of healing ramen I ate that night.
I am now ready to set my sights on a new race: 10K on May 11. I’ve never done a 10K before, and I’m loving this challenge since it will have me training for pace since I know I can do the distance. Any tips for 10K training and getting much faster?