Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Koguryo Marathon 10K, Seoul Olympic Stadium

I finally ran my first race in Korea!!!

        Searching the races for 2011 with the Seoul Flyers Running Club I decided to go for a 10K in the later part of February. I didn’t much care what the swag was, but I did want it to be somewhere that I could get to within a couple of hours. The Koguryo Marathon fit the bill so I signed up. I didn’t realize until we got there that all the races, Full, 32K, Half, and 10K would start and finish inside the Seoul Olympic Stadium! It was really awesome to be in such a great venue, even if the stands were pretty much empty.

The tiny yellow arch in the distance is the finish chute. This place is HUGE!

        After meeting up with two other runners (who’s collective ages barely exceed my own), we hopped a bus, then a train, and arrived at the stadium in time to pick up our packets from the tent set up for our running club. Everyone was milling around trying to stop their teeth from chattering with cold and laughing hysterically at the tiny shorts that came in our swag.
Yes, my friends, those shorts I’m holding are not for an infant, they are Korean women’s medium!

       The information simply said the race started at 10am. What everyone else knew, but I didn’t, was that by the time they got through all the waves for the marathon, 32K, and half, the 10K would be starting around 10:45. Needless to say I was not properly warmed up at all! Oh well, no matter, I was only running for fun and not expecting a PR. It was all about learning the ropes for Korea and meeting the Flyers.

       When they finally called for the 10K, we all crowded behind the start, but first, a little warm up. Of course, I couldn’t understand the words, but you pretty much get the idea when everyone around you puts their hands over their heads and stretches to the right, then left, then shoulder rolls, then everyone puts their arms out and gives a shoulder rub to the person in front of them. Then we all turn around and give shoulder rubs to the people behind us. I must say, the guy in front of me gave a great shoulder rub! Okay, all ready for the start horn.

Some of the Flyer ladies

       Talking to another American runner, it sounded like we were similarly paced so off we went. Leah was great. She was planning about an 8:40 pace, but if she felt good at 3 miles would pick it up. Cool! We chatted while we ran, her giving me tons of info on Korean racing, me prattling on about who knows what. I repeat, I had not warmed up properly, but I didn’t want to lose Leah and be alone the rest of the race so I struggled to keep up with her. We ran around the through the stadium, and then out along the Han River. It was mostly flat with only slight grades up and down along the river bank, but sunny and warm enough to be comfortable. By the time we approached the turn around to head back, I had to stop for water, and that was the end of having a buddy. Leah got ahead of me while I gulped/inhaled a mouthful of water and I was never able to catch her again, she was true to her statement about speeding up if she felt good at 3 miles. No worries, I was on a good pace, finally feeling warmed up, and ready to relax and enjoy my groove.

       Earlier I had set the virtual partner on my Garmin for a 54 minute finish to show another runner how to do it, but I didn’t really expect to run that fast. I had glanced at a few of half mile splits, but was more concerned with my heart rate and having a solid race. Between the part of the race that was through the stadium, and a cluster of huge freeway overpasses that we ran under, my Garmin had lost satellite a couple of times so I didn’t know if it was accurate anymore or not. Once again, I didn’t really care. I watched my heart rate and if it went down too far I stepped it up, but when my “Pace” was saying things like 14:23 and 6:02, I knew I couldn’t trust what I was reading.

        On the return, somewhere between the overpasses and the Stadium, the 10K runners were split off onto another path. It was a little weird because the path had lots of Sunday strollers who were walking 3 abreast with a child in the middle and not paying the least bit of attention to the fact that they were in the middle of a race course! I weaved and dodged, hopped over chunks of old packed snow, and tried to spot the stadium entrance. Finally they turned us right and into the cement arches and darkness. Around we went and then up a steep slope. As I crested the slope, I saw daylight again with a steep slope back down through the stands to the track and finish line. For a brief moment I was sure I was going to make my entrance in a head over heels tumble down the ramp, but I managed to keep my feet under me and even pulled a final kick (although it couldn’t really be called a sprint). I had definitely left it all on the course! The clocks were about 15 feet in front of the finish line. Yes, clocks, one on top of another, 4 clocks. I figured the little one on the bottom must be for the 10K, but I couldn’t believe my eyes, 53:20! Of course, it took me a while to remember to stop my Garmin, so I wasn’t sure what my chip time was, but I didn’t care, had to be a PR!

        Gasping for breath I stumbled up to Leah, who had finished about 3 minutes ahead of me, and another Flyer. They told me where to go to turn in my chip and get my medal and snacks. The snacks were weird, but not as weird as when I ran in Thailand. I cracked my drink to discover it was something like ginger Gatorade, which was awesome since I love anything ginger flavored! Then the pint sized banana, and last a pastry with a hot dog in the middle. Even though it was only a 10K race, it had been 5 hours since I ate breakfast so I inhaled everything! After my finish line Kodak moment, we wandered back over to the club tent.

hot dog danish anyone?

       Some of the Korean clubs were in full party mode with delicious smelling food wafting from the groups and drinks being passed around. Someone took pity on us and brought us a bottle of Mekgeolli, Korean rice wine. While rather different than the cold beer served to runners in America, it was quite refreshing and tasty. Everyone was really enjoying the sunshine. Down in the stadium, with the breeze blocked, the warmth was amazing and people were sprawled out on the track like starfish on a beach soaking up the rays.

Mekgeolli, Korean rice wine

       One of my traveling companions, who is only in Korea for a couple of weeks for a military exercise, won the 32K! The prize was a nice digital camera and very cool trophy.

       When it was coming up on 3pm, most everyone had finished their runs and people had been trickling away to head home for some time so our little group from Osan headed south. I was told my final chip time would be texted to me on my phone so it was long after I had tumbled through the front door that I got my final time. 53:10! I hadn’t realized it took me so long to get to the start line! My splits were a total mess. The first mile was way too fast, but the half miles before and after the turn around were my most consistent and average. Each mile after that was slower than the last. I definitely need to work on my pacing again and get a better feel for what I’m going for. I hadn’t practiced 10K pace and it showed. Leah’s finish time was also a PR, I wonder if staying slow the first half helped her.

Finisher's medal
       And once again, the Vibrams were a big hit. At one point I had to grab onto a friend to keep the Koreans that were lifting up my foot to examine my shoe from tossing me on my face, LOL.
      Next stop, half marathon, Apr 10 Adidas MBC Marathon

Friday, February 11, 2011

On the Road Again

"You have to erect a fence and say, Okay, scale this." **Linda Ronstadt**
     My running schedule has been so erratic lately. I tend to decide on the spur of the moment what distance I will run. I can plan which days I will run versus spin or weights, but I have been going by feel when it comes to the decision to do intervals, long slow distance, tempo, etc. The weather also plays into the decision, but I have no hard and fast rule for what temperature is my breaking point.

     Wednesday I decided to take advantage of lovely weather and run the flight line. I figured I could run the 6 mile loop and then do 4 more on an out and back to get in a 10 miler. As I approached the 5 mile mark I decided that even though I felt great if I went all the way back to the gym I would likely talk myself out of the last 4 miles. I decided to do an about face at 5 miles and retraced my steps. This was going to be my longest road run in 7 months! The last time I went over 6 miles was my farewell run on The Noland Trail back in early July, so once I had covered the first mile on the trip back, every step was shiny and new.

     I love the feeling of accomplishment when I hit the stop button on my Garmin at the end of a successful run. As I planted my feet in front of the gym I felt fantastic to have finally accomplished a double digit road distance again, but the real thrill came when I got home and uploaded the record to the computer. I didn’t know at all what my pace was because I decided at the start to only go by heart rate and had forgotten to reset my Garmin.

  Once I had deleted the extraneous laps, my pace popped up as exactly 10 mpm mile. Not 10:03, not 9:59, but exactly 10:00 even! I thought I must be looking at it wrong to get such a precise time, but the splits added up. When I was running into the wind, I averaged 10:30 mpm and running with the wind I averaged 9:30, but it all broke even at the end. I could definitely have run it faster. There were times when I noticed my heart rate was around 10 beats per minute lower than my target and I push a bit more, but by the end I was coasting a lot and letting my heart rate stay down.

     That was my fastest pace ever for a long slow distance run and has been my goal pace for those runs for a long time. I am so excited to be at this point! In December of 2008, I ran my first 5K with a less than 10 mpm pace and was over the moon. I had pushed myself to my limit that day, maxing my heart rate in the last moments and nearly throwing up on the poor guy removing my chip. If someone had told me I would be able to run that pace comfortably, for more than 3 times the distance, in little more than 26 months, I would have thought they were selling some kind of fake miracle juice!

     No miracles here, just hard work. In the world of running 6 mph pace for a long run is nothing to get excited about, but in the little world that is just me running for me, it is Olympian!

     Next up is a 10K. I think instead of setting a specific time goal, I will just watch my heart rate and do my best. With a little luck I’ll remember to look at the clock at the end!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Ten Miles on a Treadmill

“Life's rewards go to those who let their actions rise above their excuses.”

**Lee J. Colan**

        My mileage is coming back more each week, despite the occasional set back. After my 25 mile week my back went out (non-running related, too many teenagers in the house at once related,) so I missed about 5 days of running, cutting me back to 10-12 for my weekly mileage. Once the muscle spasms and soreness was gone, I got in a couple of days of good running before a weekend of craziness bumped it to a back burner again. It is SO easy to let excuses take over and keep us from running. Looking at my schedule for Monday morning I knew if I didn’t get my run in before dawn, it wasn’t going to happen. Time to put my money where my mouth is and do it!
      I had hoped to run 10 miles, but I woke up feeling an RA flare in full swing. My jaw was so inflamed I couldn’t open my mouth to eat breakfast and I was wiped out tired, the last thing I felt like doing was go for a run. Fortunately, I knew a good run would get my joints back in motion and bring my energy levels up. Running was my best shot at feeling good fast.
      A glance at the thermometer told me it was going to be a treadmill run. UGH! I headed to the gym with hopes of a 10 miler fading from view, knowing that if my back started to tighten or I totally ran out of steam I could cut it short and simply get off the treadmill.
      Arriving at the gym I organized me things, untangled my headphones, filled my water bottle, said hello to a friend, and then finally ran out of ways to stall and started my run. After less than a mile my body was warning me to plan a bathroom stop soon, rats! I decided to push and try to make it 3 miles. Done!
      I made a quick dash to the ladies room and got back to the treadmill. I was feeling good and loosened up so my next goal was to run through a TV episode I had downloaded to my MP3 player. That took me another 4 miles. Done!
     At that point I was a mere 5K away from a 10 miler and still feeling good. No soreness, no tightening muscles in my back or feet, and no screaming RA joints. I made a break for the water fountain and refilled my bottle, then back on the treadmill for one last stint.
     I had maintained a 10 minute per mile pace thus far, but without the usual incline to simulate a road effort. Mostly I just wanted to get used to running long again. I was irritated with my RA flaring up. With all the things I had to do I simply did not have time for it and was determined to beat it back without having to crawl to my doctor's office for more bone thinning steroids.
     At this point I was starting to flag. With 7 miles and over an hour behind me, I was approaching my limits.
     {Half a mile} come on body, we can finish this
     {1mile} okay, 2/3 of the last 5K done
     {2 miles} Cool, that one went by okay
     {2.5 miles} Just---hang---on---for---5---more---minutes....
     DONE! A 10 full miles. I was exhilarated! As I wobbled off the treadmill with my jellied legs I was felling back in charge. One more step to reclaiming my pre injury levels and a great start to my log for the week. Take that Daily Mile!
     After getting cleaned up I grabbed a 15 minute power nap and faced the day. By the time I collapsed into bed that night I felt good about all the things I had successfully scratched off my to-do list and all the obligations I met, including the most important obligation to myself.
     It wasn’t until the next morning that I realized the extent of what that 10 mile run had done for me. I woke up almost free of RA symptoms! No sore jaw, no stiff feet, and no tin-man shuffle to the coffee pot! The only lingering pain is the hip that has not totally recovered from slipping on the ice last month and even that was better than it was last week. A steroid shot wouldn’t have worked this fast or this completely. I was totally shocked at just how effective my run was. I have no doubt that the same effect could be achieved with other forms of intense cardio so I recommend anyone battling an auto-immune disease to find what works for them, swimming, biking, walking, whatever. I haven’t been able to give up my biologics yet, but I still hold out hope that one day I can let them go too. It only takes one time of feeling the release from RA’s grip to make you a devoted exerciser!