Race: Snowman Shuffle
Place: Louisville, KY
Date: February 9, 2013
Yes. That’s another asterisk. Another proud moment that was made…a little less proud…by the simple fact that the race course was measured wrong. I’m not saying I’m not proud of my accomplishment(s) in this race. Not at all. But it just seems a little…less…amazing when someone says, “Whoops…that wasn’t quite 4 miles.”
But, at least the race sponsors and those who put it on are being honest. The course was to be the 4 mile course of the Snowman Shuffle, part of the Polar Bear Grand Prix, in Louisville, Kentucky. This is the last of the three-part race series and it runs over the hills of Cherokee Park. The scenic loop at Cherokee can be intimidating on its own, tack on just under 2 more miles to it…and it can seem like a huge challenge.
And, if you read my post prior to this one, you’ll know that…I was not feeling too good about this race. Nor was I even looking forward to running it.
(*INSERT WHINY RUNNER MOMENT HERE, COMPLETE WITH FOOT STOMP*)
It doesn’t make it any easier to get out of bed on race morning when you really don’t feel like running in that race. And I’m still not certain what brought on that mentality or that feeling, but, come race morning, I pried my sorry runner’s butt out of bed and started to get dressed for the race. I knew it was going to be chilly out…but I really didn’t want to mess with layers. So, I got out my red Nike fleece top that I bought before the Louisville Sports Commission Half Marathon and donned that, along with my compression tights and some nice wool running socks to keep my feet warm. I chose some rainbow hair extensions to wear in an attempt to brighten my mood…and then, after trying to choose what headband to wear…I finally went with the one my roommate suggested the night before but I flat out turned down. It reads: Vanquish the weak. Hurdle the dead. Arrive TRIUMPHANT. I don’t know why I decided to go with it…but I did.
Now dressed, I spent my morning getting the rest of the stuff prepped for the day. As with most Saturdays, it was going to be a busy one before and after the race. So, I put dishes away, got my change of clothes and shoes together, got breakfast ready, started a pot of coffee, and opened the front door to step outside and confirm that it was, indeed, face-numbing cold out there.
My roommate’s alarm clock actually went off 5 minutes earlier than she told me it was going to, so I wasn’t prepared. This meant I now scurried back to the kitchen to get her cup of coffee poured, because she has to drink everything at room temperature. Too cold, she hates it. Too hot, she hates it. So…yeah. Picky does not even begin to describe her when it comes to a temperature level on her food. I pick on her all the time about it. I got the vitamins for the day sorted and placed on the table. Then got milk into her cereal and almond milk into my gluten-free cereal. And I settled in for a quick nibble on brekkies. And I mean quick. The goal was to get to Cherokee Park by 8 a.m. And I was going to run the garbage down to the dumpster before leaving, still had to brush my teeth, and needed to drink my own coffee (which I prefer hot…thank you very much). So…I managed to do all of that while she finished up her coffee. Including running the sack of garbage down, to which I realized that my car had frost on the window.
Kicking it into high gear, I hurried back into my room to use the bathroom and brush my teeth. I swished mouthwash around while I zipped up the bag with my change of clothes in it. And then made sure I had the KIND bar that she and I were going to split about an hour before the race. I know from past experience if I don’t eat something about 45 minutes to an hour before the race, I’m usually famished at the start or about halfway through. I’ve started taking steps to avoid having that happen. We hurried down to the car, where I proceeded to scrape frost off all the windows. Then I hopped inside and we began to make the trek over the river to Cherokee Park.
The start of the race was up at Hogan’s Fountain. That’s normally where races at Cherokee Park start, although sometimes they change it up (like for the Frostbite 5K) and start at the rugby field. I prefer the rugby field because we knock out all the hills within the first two miles. But…I hate hills…so that’s my entire reasoning behind that. So, we made it through the winding road that runs the Scenic Loop of Cherokee Park and actually managed to find parking that wasn’t too far away. We were lucky. The area began to fill up fast.
As we got out of the car and tossed a few belongings into the trunk, I opened up the KIND Bar, because it was now time to finish breakfast, and broke it in half and we both devoured it as we made our way to packet pick-up. I was already unhappy and miserable in the cold, but I put on a happy face and greeted the kind volunteers who were helping with packet pick-up. They handed me my number and my backpack and I grabbed some safety pins. I was number 2900 for this race. Awesome.
And instead of standing around under the shelter to pin up and hang out…my roomie and I high-tailed it back to the car to sit in the heat for a little bit. Why? Because, as I said before, I. HATE. THE. COLD.
So, sitting in the car with the heater going at least made it tolerable. We watched as many running groups ran around the Scenic Loop prior to the race. We even saw a few people running some hills with race numbers on. I hear that short runs do a body good before short races in warming up muscles, but I didn’t want to expend energy that I didn’t need to before hitting the hills at Cherokee Park. So, I sat comfortably in my warm car and that was that.
Until about 15 minutes before the start of the race. My roommate said it was time to get my number pinned on and head up to the start line and stretch out. She was right. When the weather is cold, stretching is vital. Muscles that are cold and un-stretched when engaged in running can lead to injury. So, as one of my goals is to be injury free this year…stretching had to happen whether I felt like doing it or not. So, Cathy pinned my number on me and we hiked back toward Hogan’s Fountain, passing by Dawn and Matthew along the way and exchanging brief greetings.
I actually did get some stretching in. Good stretching…not my usual ‘I’m too cold to really stretch so I’ll just half-ass this’ kind of stretching. I really wanted to get my leg muscles warmed up. As well as my core. So, I did some hip circles, knee circles, some high knees, some lunges and the like…until they announced the race would start in about 10 minutes. Cathy took my jacket away from me at this point, so I went ahead and got into the starting area with some other runners who were making their way there.
And so the chilly wait began. I remembered about 4 minutes before the race to let my Garmin find the satellites, which it did. Whew. So glad it wasn’t going to take forever like some mornings. More and more people began to fill in and soon we were all huddled together at the start. I noticed another person who recently found my blog and gave a wave to Kelsie as she lined up on the other side. And then…we were given our final instructions and…with a Take Your Mark…whistle blow…we were off.
I decided the night before that I was just going to go into this run with a very zen attitude. After all, I wasn’t feeling it. I just wasn’t feeling it. No explanation…no reason…just did not want it. I think it was the cold air, but I should be used to that by now, yes? Anyway, with that sort of attitude, despite having my Garmin set and running…I promised myself that I wouldn’t even look at it. I would just…run at whatever I felt comfortable with, push if I felt I needed to, back off if I felt I needed to. Focus on my own run and not the timer or the pace.
And with that in mind, I headed down the first hill and into the first mile of the Snowman Shuffle 4 Miler. As I made it down the hill and around the straightaway, I knew that we were about to hit a side road and run to a turn around point before coming back and getting back onto the usual Scenic Loop part of the run. Being prepared for that, and just as we headed down that way, Mile 1 ticked off. I heard one of the runners behind me say, “That was sub-7.” But…I didn’t pay that much attention to the comment, my brain completely shutting down and just focusing on my own footfalls, my breathing…and nothing more. I chose not to listen to music on this run because I’m finding that at times I’ll slow my pace to the beat of the music. When I run without it…I’m more consistent and…yes…even better.
Hitting the point where we turned around, I headed back the other way and passed by the stream of people heading our direction. I heard some of them say things to their friends who were ahead of me, offering encouragement. I love hearing that. Just goes to prove you don’t have to be fast to be an awesome runner. You just have to be supportive and have a good attitude.
Hitting the Scenic Loop again, Mile 2 ticked off and I was feeling better than I thought I would. But the hills were about to hit. First at Dog Walk Hill, then at the hill leading back up to Hogan’s Fountain. So, I mentally prepared myself for this as I continued to make my way through Cherokee Park. The first hill at Dog Walk hit and this one feels like it just goes on forever. It’s not a steep climb, but it is constant, and does continue around a couple of turns before leveling off at the top. Somewhere in here Mile 3 hit and I knew that the last obstacle would be the steep climb on the hill back up to Hogan’s Fountain.
Down the hill I went, expecting to make a journey out onto Eastern Parkway to round the statue and come back in…but the race signs directed us right to the last climb and the last hill. There is something very sadistic about having a hill there at the end…just before the finish line. But this is where you either find your strong or you step to the side and walk. I do not walk. So…I dug deep and started up the last stretch.
As I was climbing, I saw one of the finisher’s heading the opposite direction. “Just a half a mile left and you’re done!” he said. Half a mile. I could do this. I could.
The climb felt like it went on forever. I could feel that I was slowing down. Legs were getting tired. But…I pressed onward…as I so often make myself do on these hills. And as I made it to the top…there was a photographer right in the sunlight, so I almost didn’t see him. I avoided a collision and hurried now toward the finish line. I could hear my roommate screaming at me to go…just run…and so…I did.
And I crossed the finish line, feeling…amazing. I saw the clock. It had just ticked over to 27 minutes. I was in shock. I was elated.
I stopped my Garmin…and noticed that it was reading 3.7 miles…not the 4 miles the route should have been. Hmm…
I figured it would be sorted out and I went to go get some water and a banana to nibble on while we waited for the awards. It was still very cold, so I got my hoodie and fleece from Cathy and snuggled back into those, zipping up against the frigid air. As I was walking around, Kelsie finished and found me and we stood around talking about running, about being gluten-free, about the treadmill, and other such things. Including blogging.
After a long while and a lot of shivering in the cold, the final person crossed the finish line. This meant that the results could now be tallied and we would be given awards, if we happened to place. There was a chance I had, so I stuck around. And was freezing. But I wasn’t alone. Dawn and Matthew were also hanging out with us, also freezing, and also trying to act as wind breakers for each other. That’s what runner’s do. But with the laptop now in place…River City Races was prepared to give out the awards. This was when the big announcement about the turn around point being in the wrong spot came. So our 4 mile run truly was a 3.7 mile run. All of us who thought we set a new PR…now knew for certain we hadn’t. But…awards were still to be given and that immediately commenced.
This was actually kind of amusing because all of the people who braved the cold air to hang around for awards were all wearing gloves, so when names were called…the clapping sounded so much like a golf clap, it was funny. But we all applauded the efforts of the runners who placed. And it turned out I placed 2nd in my age division…to which Cathy, Dawn and Matthew all cheered.
And Kelsie even placed second in hers…so Cathy and I gave her a big cheer for that as she went to get her medal.
We hung around for the rest of the awards, and finally went to climb into the car. We were on a mission for brunch…at my favorite allergen-free bakery. I was going to change clothes there while Cathy placed the order. And from then on…I was hoping to get warm and stay warm.
So, the official results of the Snowman Shuffle 3.7 Miler are that I finished in 27:00, which, had it been a 4 mile run, would have still been a new PR. So, that’s good to know. I just don’t know what that time would officially be. So, if I ever run another 3.7 mile race…I have a time to beat. I was 71/727 finishers. WOOHOO! In addition, I was the 12/401 women finishers. And, as mentioned before, I was 2/72 in my age division. I couldn’t be happier with these results.
And…even more outstanding was…the runner who mentioned the sub-7 thing at Mile 1…was absolutely correct. My first mile in the Snowman Shuffle was run in 6:49…my first ever sub-7 minute mile. So…I take that away from this race…feeling beyond proud and a bit surprised that I managed that. The rest of my miles were sub-8 minute miles, so that’s pretty awesome too. Yeah…I’m proud of myself.
As for the overall standings for the Polar Bear Grand Prix…nothing is official yet…but as of last night, I was third overall for the women’s open division. That being said, I just looked again, and while still unofficial, I no longer hold that spot. Instead, I am currently at 1st in my age division. So…for a moment…I was on the verge of getting an overall spot…but I fell from glory.
Ah well. You win some, you lose some. I’m okay with this…in the end…I proved a lot about myself as a runner this year. Since I ran this race last year, I improved on my time in each one. And I also discovered that many of my fellow runners are much better sprinters…made for those shorter races. But when the extra miles get added beyond a 5K…I seem to best a lot of them. Distance is my thing. I do not like 5K races. I love the longer ones. So…this just helped proved why.
Despite everything…I truly did enjoy running this series for the second year in a row. We had rain on the first race, beautiful weather for the second one, and face-numbing cold for the third one…but in the end…I saw what my hard work over the year has brought to each and every run. And I hope to see only more forward progression as the year goes on and other races and series are run.
Maybe one day I’ll win some sort of overall placement. Or maybe…I won’t. It doesn’t matter…because even when I don’t feel like running, I find myself and I find my joy in the run. And that’s what happened at this race.
And it was magic.
Tomorrow, Saturday, February 9, 2013, will mark the end of this year’s Polar Bear Grand Prix. Last year, I was greeted by a very cold morning and pouring rain. This year…I think it’s just the cold that I get to contend with. At least…I hope.
But…in reality, I don’t really want the cold.
Fact: The cold air naturally slows me down. It’s harder to breathe through. I have to layer my clothing. I just feel…awkward in cold weather.
And I have been getting out to run in the cold as often as possible. Last Sunday, I even went for 6 miles in the snow and ice. My roommate called me hardcore. The fact of the matter was…the very thought of going to the gym for the second day in a row to run my miles for training was unbearable. I hate running inside. I hate the treadmill. I hate the tiny indoor track at my gym even more, where 1 mile is 18 laps around it. Told you…it’s tiny. That’s what got me out in the snow and ice that Sunday morning. And I took it slow and easy and really just kept myself close enough to home that should I need to give in to the elements and cut the run short, I wouldn’t have far to go.
And though it was a slower run for me…it was a good run.
But there is that word. That word I hate using…but I feel it so often.
I don’t know why I focus so much on my speed, especially on these training runs. I think it just comes natural to a runner to want to improve. Or at least maintain. But lately it’s just felt like I’m moving backwards. Figuratively, of course.
And here’s why I think it’s been bothering me all week…
Despite the cold, hard rain of the Snowman Shuffle last year…it was one of my best races to that day. No joke. I finished the four mile course, complete with those killer hills at Cherokee Park, in 33:17. That was huge for me. That meant I had a lovely pace of 8:19, or about 7.2 miles per hour. Up until that point…that pace had never happened.
And over the year that has now passed, I have only begun to get faster than that. Until, it seems, recently.
I would like to point my finger at the elements and push all the blame off on that, but the fact of the matter is…I can’t. I could sit here until I was blue in the face and rattle off reasons as to why I feel inadequate coming into this race, despite the training and time I’ve put into my runs during the week and over the weekends, but what good would it do? They are just excuses when it comes down to it.
“It’s so cold out! The cold slows me down.”
“It’s hard to breathe in that bitter cold air!”
“I f***ing hate layers!”
“But it’s so dark when I go out to run that early in the morning…”
Hey…it may be the truth…but it is also an excuse. Any way you slice it.
So…why the added pressure? I made a mistake a couple weeks ago and looked at the overall standings for the Polar Bear Grand Prix. Yep. Bad…bad idea. Because currently, I am sitting in third place in the overall women’s category. Not my age division. Women…overall…for all the races. And suddenly…it just feels like I put a crap-ton of pressure on myself to maintain that. I mean, I’ve had killer races leading up to this one. I placed third in my age division in the Reindeer Romp 4K, and second in my age division in the Frostbite 5K…but it was seeing that overall ranking that just…it really took away my zen runner attitude and I’ve been fretting over it since. That…and my finishing time.
This isn’t like me. Not really. But I feel that when I revisit races, I should only better my performance. After all, I have a year of training behind me. The second time around, or third, or whatever, should only show improvement. But…but what if I don’t.
And given my recent morning runs…even on the weekends…I haven’t been feeling good about besting that 33:17 finishing time. In fact, I’ve made a point to check my Garmin at each 4 mile beep on my runs that go that long or longer…and I am usually right at, if not slower than that time.
And it’s a bit disheartening. Especially feeling this added pressure of that overall standing.
Let me clarify…no one is putting this pressure on me. No one but myself. And, I think that is what makes this so hard to get over, to ignore. It’s that little voice in the back of my head that tells me…I’m not getting any better. I’ve plateaued. That I fail if I don’t maintain that spot in the top 3 women’s overall.
It’s all poppycock, of course…but…that’s what thoughts have been permeating my mind. Not just on my downtime…but on my runs. Every 4 mile beep…that’s what I think about.
Why am I even obsessing? I love running…and finding that joy that I associate with each stride, each breath, each footfall…hasn’t felt good enough leading into this race. And it’s been killing my mojo. It’s been really pulling at me. It’s been…bothering me.
Honestly, it shouldn’t. I shouldn’t even be obsessing over it. But I am. And. I. Can’t. Stop.
The past couple of mornings, I’ve turned my mileage for my training schedule…and each time, I’ve been unhappy with the results. Why? I’m right at that 7.2 mile per hour speed. Which, isn’t slow by any means…but I know I can and do run better than that. I know that most of these runs are supposed to be at an “easy” pace…that I shouldn’t be trying to find that magical race pace unless my program specifically calls for it…but…it’s human nature to get competitive…even if it is with yourself.
The fact of the matter is, the one thing in life that brings me the most joy has been bringing me down these days. Actually…it’s not the running that’s bringing me down. The running, while slower than usual, has been brilliant. It’s that little voice inside…that little devil sitting on my shoulder…that doubt that creeps in every now and again…that’s what has been bringing me down. My own lack of confidence. My own sense of what accomplishment is. My own perception of what not meeting certain goals would mean to me…as a runner…in this particular race.
So…what do I do to overcome this?
I don’t know.
But here’s what I am going to do…
I am going to get up tomorrow morning and dress for the expected 29 degree weather. Yep…this means some cold weather gear. Perhaps even a layer or two. We’ll see. A lot of that will depend on the wind factor, which the Weather Channel is currently predicting to be around 6 mph. I’ll eat some cereal before heading out the door to drive to Cherokee Park and, hopefully, find a parking spot that isn’t outside of the park and a long walk uphill to packet pick-up. I’ll get my packet and get my number pinned up. I’ll do my, “I’m too cold to stretch…but here goes nothing” half-ass stretching. I’ll eat half of a Kind Bar. I’ll line-up at the start…somewhere back from the front…but not too far back. And then…I’ll just run. I’ll run what I am comfortable with. I’ll run without looking at my watch for time or pace. I’ll listen for the beeps, but I won’t look. I’ll simply run.
And what happens when I cross the finish line? I’ll find that whatever effort I put into that run…was enough. Do I need to beat last year’s time? Nope. I want to, of course…but I don’t need to. Will I be any less of a runner if I don’t? Not at all. Will I be a failure if I fall out of that third overall spot? I might feel like it for a moment…but it will pass. I don’t run to collect medals and awards. That’s not what fuels me. What fuels me is passion. I don’t get up at 4 a.m. every morning and throw on my running clothes and take a run in 19 degree darkness because I have to. I don’t have to do anything. I do it because, believe it or not, I want to.
I sometimes forget the whole reason I started running. Because somewhere…somehow…one day when I took up a jog at that itty-bitty track at the gym…I found something that made me smile. I’m not super fast. I’m not an elite. But sometimes helps to just take a step back and realize…while I am not these things…I am enough.
And my passion for running should never be overshadowed by doubt, fear, time, or race placement. I am not a failure. Time doesn’t matter. Run for the love of the run…and the run will love you back.
So, we’ll see what happens tomorrow as I tackle four miles through Cherokee Park’s hills. It looks like another chilly morning run awaits…and if it slows me down…it slows me down. All I should focus on is making it from start to finish. My legs, feet, and determination will do the rest.
Snowman Shuffle…I’m coming for you. Even if I don’t feel like it…I am ready.
As ready as I’ll ever be.