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Race Report: Polar Bear 5K

They had me at pancakes.

When looking at the race application for the Polar Bear 5K I noticed that the post race festivities included a pancake breakfast.

Yes, I know that many would have preferred beer. But pancakes? I was so in.

The Polar Bear 5K is held in Olcott and on Sunday, that meant lake effect snow squalls from Lake Ontario.

Oh goodie!

The gimmick of this race involves a guy dressed in a polar bear suit who runs the race. The t-shirt you receive at the end of the race either proclaimes "I beat the bear" or "I can't believe the bear beat me."

I was pretty sure I would not be beating the bear. He looked pretty fast -- and he took his head off not a quarter mile into the race. I think that could have been a disqualification, but I'm not up on my USA Track and Field regulations that apply to polar bears.

The first mile of the race was a breeze -- literally. The strong wind was at my back pushing to a rather speedy 8:40 clip.

Then came the turn ... into the wind, with snow showers and a low but gradual incline.

I had convinced a friend to run this race with me. I was pretty sure he was cursing me out at this point in the race.

With no real goal in mind other than to finish and get to the pancakes, I kept steady and passed two women.

In the final mile, I passed another guy.

A check of my watch and it seemed that I might actually finish with a good time, so I pushed it a bit. Why not? I felt OK, though I certainly was running hard. It felt like ages since I had run a 5K, so I ran based on feel.

The finish line was just ahead and I glanced at my watch. My shot at breaking 28 minutes had passed, but not by much.

Final time: 28:15.

It was good enough for first in my age group and, upon inspection on my return home, a personal record.

Seriously? A PR? On a cold, windy, snowy day? On a day when I wasn't exactly in a race mood and had just been told by my coach that next week was a recovery week?

Really?

I'm not saying that the race was easy or that I didn't run hard. The race was difficult and I certainly ran hard.

But the less I think about times and paces, the better I seem to get. The more I put in the work, the more I reap the rewards without much consternation on my part. It took a year of consistent training to be able to pull off this 5K for myself.

Oh, and the pancakes were definitely worth the effort.

Quiet days, swimsuits and Floyd

The college-aged girl slowed to a walk, then stopped along the indoor track in Alumni Arena at the University at Buffalo.

"I'm going to stretch," she told her runnng partner.

She then proceeded to talk about the wierd noises she was making while running.

"You're running hard," her friend said. "You're suppposed to be huffing and puffing."

"But then people want to talk and have conversations," the first runner said.

"They're athletes," her friend implored again. "They're used to it."

"I guess. But it's embarassing."

Ah, the conversations you can catch while getting in that early morning run.

I could sympathize with the young woman who felt she was struggling and not exactly in running conversational mode. It's not easy to run and talk at the same time -- particularly when your pace isn't the same as your running mates. Or on days when, for whatever reason, you just aren't feeling the groove.

Today was one of those days where I wanted to get the workouts in, but I knew they wouldn't be spectacular.

Then again, what counts as a spectacular workout? Is it hitting lots of fast times and good splits? Or is putting in a quality effort and focusing on what you can control that day -- be it speed work or concentrating on your form?

Today was one of those days not meant for conversation and workouts.

And so, I'll let some others do the speaking for me today.

If you're still on the fence about the new LZR swim suits which were all the rage at the Olympics this year and somewhat controversial, check out the story of Australian swimmer Felicity Galvez who couldn't use one of the new suits because of sizing issues. It nearly cost her a spot on the Aussie Olympic team.

Meanwhile out west the Tour of California is underway along with the quiet return of Floyd Landis who was stripped of his 2006 Tour de France win and served a two-year ban from cycling after testing positive for a performance enchancing drug.

The nuances of winning

This morning during my 30-minute easy-paced run, I came upon a mom placing her child on a school bus. As I passed the bus I looked up to see elementary faces staring back at me, the slowish runner in the bright pink cap and royal blue running top.

It made me smile for some reason.

My reading lately has included the history of women's collegiate athletics and specifically the battle between the AIAW and the NCAA.

In one way, the battle for control was philosophical. The AIAW, which governed women's championships, favored participation over recruiting and scholarships. It valued egalitarian play (there were no divisions among schools -- all sizes competed at the same level) and providing opportunity with minimal pressures on finances or winning which often led (and still lead) to things like point shaving and performance enchancing drugs.

The NCAA was built around providing quality championships for the male teams of its member schools. It built power around prestige and money and placed the emphasis on competition and winning.

One was play for play's sake. The other was play to win.

For a variety of reasons, the NCAA ended up governing women's collegiate sports and the AIAW and its model of participation faded into obscurity.

But on my run this morning I wondered at what price?

Did society really have to choose between competition and participation? Did it have to be an either-or scenario?

Highly competitive athletics for college men and women have many benefits. But have we created such an emphasis on winning, whether it be a game or a college scholarship, that we've forgotten about the less gifted athletes? What about the kids on that school bus who may never have the skill set to play Division I basketball, but enjoy a good, competitive game anyway?

Would our society be healthier if we introduced kids to non-traditional sports at a younger age?

There's a balance between participation and competition even within my own training and it often comes in how I frame the competition. If I'm competing against myself, trying to get better, I end up with better results than if I'm concerned about how I fare in comparision with someone else. Sure, the goal of a race is to win, but if you only defining winning as finishing first, you miss a lot of nuances that make life so interesting and rewarding.

Defining authenticity

The subject line simply read "Authenticity."

My coach often sends out thought-provoking emails. I figured this should be good one. Or yet another email about the TV show "Lost" to which she is addicted and I have never seen.

This particular email quoted a passage from a blog by Seth Goodin, an author on business books and marketing. His post was about authenticity and the difference between "being" and "doing." 

He writes: If it acts like a duck (all the time), it's a duck. Doesn't matter if the duck thinks it's a dog, it's still a duck as far as the rest of us are concerned. Authenticity, for me, is doing what you promised not "being who you are."

It was interesting food for thought during my run yesterday and swim this morning.

What does being authentic mean?

And what if the duck splits its time between acting like a duck and acting like a dog. Or what if the duck acts like a dog all the time?

Oh, the combinations are endless.

For me, I believe authenticity isn't an either-or choice between being and doing. For me, they go hand-in-hand.

Our actions often follow our thoughts and our thoughts control and shape the way in which we approach the world, approach ourselves and utlimately present ourselves to the world. If we think we are lazy or stupid or incapable of running a 5K then usually that's what we will be. It's the whole "self-fulfilling prophecy" idea. 

Dr. Wayne Dyer takes it a step further when discussing the concept of "Acting as if":

Act as if what you intend to manifest in life is already a reality. Eliminate thoughts of conditions, limitations or the possibility of it not manifesting. If left undisturbed in your mind and in the mind of intention simultaneously, it will germinate into reality in the physical world.

I know. It can kinda sound goofy. And it's not as simple as think-yourself-to-a-better-you. You have to allow your thoughts to lead to action. I can think I'm a good swimmer all I want, but if I don't practice, I won't be good -- or as good as I could be. Same goes with anything -- from finances to relationships. I can think I'm good with money, but if I ring up credit card debt and fail to make payments, well, my actions don't support what I'm saying.

But getting to that finish line, being authentic, means thinking about what you want in life, who you want to be and getting comfortable with those thoughts, feelings and ideas. It then requires action. The old "be the change you wish to see in the word" addage.

Who do you want to be? What do you want to do?

What's stopping you? Think it. Then do it.

That, to me, is authenticity. 

Race report: The Lockport Y-10

The hill.

It's pretty much all people talk about when you bring up the Lockport Y-10. Well, that and the cold and wind which inevitably come when running a 10-mile race outside in February in Western New York.

But Saturday was a beautiful day in Lockport -- no wind, a little sunshine and temperatures in the upper-20s. Not bad at all for a February run. So the hill, well, it scared me.

I grew up in Lockport so I knew the Market Street hill. It's a rather steep decline that takes you from downtown to the canal. It separated what once-upon-a-time was called "lower town" from the rest of the city.

To get to that hill, though, I had to run over nine miles first. While most races like to bill themselves as "flat and fast" the Y-10 doesn't pull any punches. "Challening 10-mile course" is how it was described. Pace yourself.

The race begins and ends at the same point so the Market Street hill descent is the first thing you encounter. I learned from running with Sue to let the down hill take you -- the more you try to hold yourself back, the more energy you expend. So I relaxed my arms and coasted down and made it to the first mile in about nine minutes.

Ok. My race plan was to run about 10-minute miles, so I figured I was in good shape. I knew the course was hilly throughout and while there were no "climbs" the course certanily rolled through the Niagara County countryside to keep you honest.

The first five miles actually felt pretty good. As often happens to me in a race, the pack settles in and I end up inbetween -- running by myself. Occassionally someone would pass me and a few times I passed someone else. But I was working a bit too hard to keep from being lonely at all. My goal was a 10-minute pace, but I figured the hill at the end would slow me down, so if I could bank up some time on the first five miles, I could afford to be a bit slower on the hills on the second five miles.

At the midway-check point everything was in order. I crossed the five-mile mat in 46:44 for a 9:21 pace. I walked the water stop, took some sips of water and few gel blocks and started up running again.

The second five miles were difficult. I went to the website MapMyRun.com to check out the elevation of some of the course. At one point in Mile 8, it appears there is a 4 percent incline and it appears the Cold Springs Bridge which takes you over the canal might be at a 3 percent incline.

Not very nice.

In my head I start thinking of "harmonious hill running." It's something Sue taught me. Frankly, I don't remember exactly the point because she was discussing this book she read about hill running during a 6 a.m. run in December. I wasn't quite awake enough to catch the entire drift, but it came down to thinking about how much you loved the hill. It was about feeling in harmony with the hill rather than fighting it.

So I tried to find my happy place and think "harmonious hill" the final two miles of the course. Then came "the hill" up Market Street. According to my crude calculations on MapMyRun.com, that final ascent was 121 feet over about a quarter of a mile and a 7 percent incline.

It was steep.

My goal -- keep running.

I didn't care how slow I was going up the hill or if my "run" wasn't much faster than a "walk." At this point it's all about your head and your mind and I was going run up that hill darn it.

I was just about at the top of the hill when one of my friends who had finished ahead of me came back to help run me in. Thankfully for him, I was already up the hill -- he was dreading the thought of having to go back up it with me. But the sight of a good friend at the end of the race helped me get through those final yards.

I pushed across the finish line.

1:37.53.

Yes.

In the final numbers, my second half was slower than my first. I ran my second five miles in 51:09 for a 10:14 pace -- but since that incluces my brief water stop and the hill, I'm pretty pleased. I went out fast enough at the start to gain some cushion but had plenty left in my tank to finish it off.

And I could still feel my legs.

Oh happy day.

My parents greeted me at the finish line, pretty pumped about my run. My coach was rather joyed at my time and pace, especially considering the approach to the Y-10 was as a training run. In other words, we weren't "gearing up" for a good time at the race. There was no taper or rest, just an integration into the regular week.

On to this week to see where training and challenges give me opportunity to grow and improve.

The drama of pro cycling returns

If you're looking to escape the drama of your own life this weekend (and who doesn't need that from time to time) turn your gaze to California where the Amgen Tour of California begins today. The eight-day stage race kicks off the 2009 cycling season and this year, there are plenty of reasons to watch.

It begins with the man who made cycling somewhat of known commodity in the American sporting world -- Lance Armstrong. In a press conference before the Tour began he had some interesting words for a European journalist who in a radio report called doping and Armstrong a "cancer on the sport of cycling." It wasn't the doping allegations that rubbed Armstrong the right way but the choice of words to call it a "cancer" on the sport after his own bout with the disease and efforts to raise money for research.

And if the saga of Lance bores you, there is the return of American Floyd Landis after a two-year suspension for testing positive for a performance enchancing drug after winning the Tour de France in 2007. Landis fought the testing procedures and the ban but failed in his appeals -- both legally and in the court of public opinion.

If you're looking for a good primer to the drama and dirt check out Jim Caple's piece on ESPN.com  which gives you a good synopisis of the soap opera known as professional men's cycling.

Coverage of the Tour of California begins tonight on Versus. 

I'm hoping to record some of the coverage to watch while I'm on the trainer. Meanwhile, I'll be suffering on the run today as I tackle the Lockport Y-10 -- a 10-mile race on a hilly and open course. Cycling in California sounds so much better today. Drama included.  

Letting the big goals fall into place

This is often the chain of events: I whine about going to my scheduled training session whether it be swim practice, to the gym, to a run with friends or to my basement for a spin on my bike trainer. I continue to whine en route. The workout begins. It's not so bad. Time flies. I feel great at the end, not because it's over but because I had a good workout and generally feel accomplished at reaching my goal.

The past two weeks, my motivation for getting started has been difficult. Perhaps it's because it's February and we've had those few teasing days of spring mixed with more cold and snow and slush. Perhaps because it's still so gray outside. Perhaps because that goal of the Buffalo Marathon in May sees so .... far .... away.

What's so great about the universe is that once you start paying attention, your questions and problems are addressed without you even putting forth much effort.

So as I struggled with lack of motivation and those far-off big-list goals, I had the chance to hear an assistant coach for a women's basketball team talk about goal setting.

Her staff decided not to have many goals at the beginning of the season because that list of goals is pretty much always the same. Yes, they want to win a conference championship and go to the NCAA tournament. So do 300-some other Division I schools. But in January and March, that's a rather amorphous goal and one that seems so far off, it almost fails to motivate on some days.

Instead, the team has specific goals for each game. They can be extremely detailed -- like getting three fastbreak layups off steals in a game, holding a team to a certain field goal percentage or committing single digit turnovers.

All those game-by-game goals help make the team and individuals better and the sum of the parts will put them in a position for their big goal -- a conference championship.

From my training standpoint, I had a list of variable goals with my coach: The Small List, which included general things like not going OCD on my nutrition and reducing negative self talk; The Medium List, which included more specific goals, like running a sub-2:15 half marathon in Miami (check mark!); and The Big List which featured the goals of running the Buffalo Marathon and the 70.3 Muskoka race.

But I'm feeling it would be worth it to break it down even more and focus on a week to week basis. I've done that in the past, but without much consistency.

Now, it's time to get organized.

In fact, sometimes my coach will leave goals for the week in my training plan. This week's list included the goal "stay consistent." Odd as it may sound, I thought about staying consistent during my workouts this week -- keeping to my schedule. Taking it one day, one workout at a time. When I found myself wandering during the workout, or whining as often happens, I drifted back to the idea of staying consistent. Because whatever it is you're doing, if you plug away at it every day the cumulative affects will take you to your big, long term goals.

But you can't get to the big goals, whether they about winning a championship, finishing a race or merely how you want to live your life, if you don't take care of the steps along the way. You become the best person you can be by taking care of the daily goals and letting the big goal fall into place all on its own.

The power of "hate"

I was innocently watching reruns of The West Wing after taking a nap (those swim practices are early and today is a late-night work day) when the commercial came on.

"I hated my body," said the pretty blond woman. "I hated my stomach. I hated my thighs."

She went on to describe how she took some supplement that helped her lose that "embarrassing fat" and helped her feel great about her body.

I was still hung up on the word "hate."

It is such a powerful word. So full of, well, obviously, negativity.

And it seems so useless. Particularly when used about ourselves.

Heaven knows I've used it countless times on myself. There are plenty of things I think I "hate" about my body. Plenty of personality traits and habits and ways of thinking that I "hate" about myself. Usually, my monologue about how much I hate something about myself ends up in creating a vicious circle of self-loathing, self-flagellation and ultimately tears.

Clearly, this is not the most productive way to spend my time and energy.

I'm starting to find that turning the passion and energy of "hate" into "love" isn't as difficult I thought. Both are strong, active emotions and aren't exactly the polar opposite. A friend of mind told me recently that he read the opposite of love is actually indifference. Upon reflection, that make sense. Love and hate both imply an intense level of feeling. The opposite of that would be lack of caring -- or indifference.

While the idea of turning hate into love hasn't been the focus of my mental training, so to speak, but I have worked on being more positive in my thoughts. My friend Sue told me about "harmonious hill running" which in part has the runner think about how much they love the hill, how they are part of the hill, instead of trying to fight their way up the hill.

In swimming, the more you try to "fight" the water, the easier it is to sink. Think about playing in the water and soon you feel like a dolphin.

Oh, it's so much easier for me to go to the negative, to use my emotion and passion for hate rather than turning it into positive energy and love.

But the next time I start to feel myself going into a negative inner monologue, I hope I remember the thin, blond woman from the commercial who hated everything about her body and found salvation in a magic pill and wonder what part of life she missed out on because she was too focused on the negative.

Change your story

There are days when I'm just not in the mood.

Then there are entire weekends when the spirit isn't exactly moving me to train like an elite athlete.

Saturday morning featured an early-morning swim practice. Motivation was sorely lacking at 6 a.m. to drive to the pool. It's absence remained as I dangled me feet at the edge of the pool. The water was cold. The workout was 3,000 yards.

Ugh.

But in I went with two usual suspects in my lane. I went off last, not moving particularly fast but picking it up enough to make the intervals.

I started to get my groove going a bit. Then two new people showed up.

The women arrived to practice late and I could see them at the edge of the pool, talking to the head of the swim program. They stood, watching us swim a 200 IM. Eventually they got in the pool.

I don't know their story, but it seemed like their first time at an organized swim practice. They were slow, unaware of the etiquette and a little bossy about asking if anyone knew where we were on the workout. Heck, I was passing them. Me. The slowest swimmer ever to don goggles. In part, that was kind of cool.

Only the lane quickly turned to chaos. One of the regulars went to the other lane, since he was lapping the new peeps after a mere 50 yards. The other semi-regular in the lane decided to skip one of the rest intervals and start the next set early. The new swimmers still had no clue, or at least I had no clue what they were doing, and so there were bodies everywhere in the lane. Passing the slow swimmers often meant trying to swim three across the lane.

And the negative thoughts started coming.

Why couldn't people get to their first practice on time so they would know what they're doing? Why couldn't they just follow the group? Why were they so slow?

This, I realized wasn't productive. Or what I wanted to be thinking about these new swimmers.

Because I was a new swimmer once. And I still am.

So I tried to let the critical voice go. How great it was that they had the courage to show up to practice and try to work on their swim, I thought instead. I want to see more people in sport. This is great. Good for them. They will get better.

Meanwhile, I kept bumping into people and lane lines as I tried to complete the workout.

Actually, this is the best training for open water triathlon swimming I've ever had in the pool.

I ended up being one of the last out of of the pool, choosing to finish my slow and easy 300 yard cool down.

That wasn't so bad. Granted, it wasn't a high quality workout, but I did finish 3,000 yards in the hour and 15 minutes allotted and survived the chaos of the pool.

Perhaps more importantly, I got a good dose of the power of changing your thoughts.

Had I succumbed to my need to whine and complain and mutter under my breathe (metaphorically speaking, that is. You can't really mutter under your breathe while swimming) I would have felt like the workout was merely perfunctory and felt terrible about its quality.

Instead, I changed my perspective and actively changed the way I was thinking. I thought it was great for new people to show up and try to jump in. I thought that my ability to do the workout even in those conditions demonstrated how much my swim has improved and my confidence and comfort level in the water grown. I thought what a great way to practice having people bump you, practice passing people and being passed.

When you change your thoughts, you change the way things happen in your life. It can be as basic as that "glass half empty" cliche. But it goes deeper than that. Author Wayne Dyer often talks about how when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.

My friend KP once told me it's as simple as the phrase: "Change your story."

We all have the power to change our story -- the ones we make up in our heads. The ones we tell about ourselves, about the people in our lives about what it is we want and need.

If I think that I'm a bad swimmer and the new people are just annoying, then I will be a bad swimmer and those people will annoy me. If I think I'm a good swimmer, an improving swimmer, and that the new people are there to challenge me, then I will not only succeed, but I will feel good about the workout.

Easy to apply in training. Harder in life.

But as February moves along, my goal is to work on changing my thoughts, keeping positive and seeing what the power of the mind can help me achieve.

Back to base building on the bike

You know the potential for a long workout exists when the instructions explicitly state "hydrate well."

A glance at the workouts my coach constructed for the week already put me on notice that recovery week is over. Time to get back to work.

And while I'm building for the Buffalo Marathon on May 24, I still am training for a summer of triathlons along with that pesky 70.3 Half Ironman in Canada in the fall.

So this week, along with several base-building easy-runs, comes a bike challenge week.

This is where the good hydration comes into play.

My trainer is set up in my basement, which turns my regular road bike into a stationary one. The first workout of the week was a steady hour ride. I picked a medium gear, had my heart rate monitor on, and peddled away while watching DVDs of the Gilmore Girls on my small TV/DVD player stashed in front of my bike.

But the second workout consisted of intervals -- seated climbs where I went into a difficult gear, then sprints where I went into an easier gear but had severely pick up my cadence. The rotation of intervals, with a few rest breaks thrown in for good measure, came in three minute and two minute increments. I'm pretty sure I lost track of exactly what I did but suffice it to say I drained a mega-sized water bottle and got my money's worth and more out of that workout.

There are other joys in store for me this week, including a pedaling drill sequence which has me pedal with my right leg only then my left leg only. Let me tell you, my non-dominant left leg doesn't like this drill so much.

My body (and my mind) whine a bit this week at the increase in volume and intensity after two weeks of taper and recovery workouts. But it's not overwhelming. It's the same routine that fits into my normal schedule and while my workouts are different and more challenging, it's because I've spent a year developing a fitness base that can handle it and recover from it.

The other day, my brother noted to me that he ran for 20 minutes. It almost killed him. How did I do this every day, he asked.

I smiled.

Because last year, running 20 minutes nearly killed me many a time. It's not about going from zero to 60 as fast as possible but slowly building momentum and skill. If you want to improve at anything, you have to practice. You learn by doing -- whether it's painting or playing the piano or cooking or writing or running, biking, swimming.

I chose to focus on my athletic endeavors and kept to my practice schedule. By being consistent, even on days when I'd rather watch The West Wing reruns, I've been able to improve my fitness, my health (both mental and physical by the way) and my ability to compete in races.

So bring on this bike challenge week.

It will only make me stronger and better in the end.

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