Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Race Review: Georgetown to Idaho Springs Half-Marathon

On Saturday I raced in the Georgetown to Idaho Springs Half-Marathon. This race is one of my favorite races for a number of reasons. I like the course. It's a net downhill and it starts and ends in pretty places. The course itself runs along a frontage road along Clear Creek which is also creates nice scenery and because of the net downhill there is an opportunity to get a relatively fast time despite the fact that you are starting at an elevation of approximately 8500 feet and ending at an elevation of approximately 7000 feet.

This year was also fun because some of my friends came up and also did the race, which is always a fun time. My friend Lauren who is awesome came, and she brought her friends Emily, who I've done a couple runs with and her other friend LeeAnn who is also really nice and is training for a marathon. Emily's boyfriend ran, and Lauren's boyfriend Tim and LeeAnn's husband Ken and of course my husband Trent were all on the cheer squad. So this wasn't one of those lonely races where you just show up, do everything alone and then sadly come home. This was basically a small party. It was awesome.

Trent and I got up early to drive the hour and a half up to Georgetown. We had time to make one quick stop in Idaho Springs for a bathroom and coffee stop at Starbucks. I'd like to give a shout out to this Starbucks and their nice, clean, single stall bathroom. I think you contributed to a great race.

The race started at 8AM sharp, and we arrived about 7:10--which was plenty of time to do a 2 mile warm up, pin on my number, and start to feel appropriately nervous (Read: I kept telling Trent, "I'm about to throw up," to which he responded with eye-rolls and asking why given that distance running is not an adrenaline sport). During the warm up I also practiced some mental skills, mainly self-talk, telling myself I was ready, reminding myself to be controlled at the start, and that I knew the course and what to do. I saw Lauren and Emily and we finished our warm up together. It was interesting because I told them I'm always afraid the gun will go off and I'll just be standing there! Like I forgot how to run (external self-talk) and Emily said she was afraid she'd just run out and run 10 min miles or something. Even though we both had these external negative self-talk moments, we both ended the conversations positively by saying that this had actually never happened. I always started running when the gun went off, and Emily had always started at right pace for her--so we refuted our negative thoughts.

I had some pretty specific goals for this race:

1) Start near the front--okay so you probably won't see my little face in the "Start" promo picture but you know, a few rows back...

2) Time goal: 1:23-1:25=6:20-6:30 mile pace

3) Be controlled and conservative in the first 3 miles--in a half marathon you can make up time, but your can't get the first few miles back so if you blow those out you really risk the rest of your race

4) Finish strong in the final mile. The final mile of this race has consistently been hard for me (as in I've been pretty sure I was going to die and I dropped the pace so I wanted to do better here)

We all lined up together to start--and as for Goal #1--being in the group of people actually helped a lot. Lauren, Emily, LeeAnn, Emily's boyfriend--we kind of made such a big group it was easy to be like, "Hey we're here...and we're in the front.." Goal accomplished.

The gun went off and off I went...for the first mile I ran about a 6:35-6:40. You a loop around the outskirts of Georgetown and it's a wee bit hilly so again conservation is the key here. Ironically enough at 1.5 miles I saw a girl laying on the side of the road grabbing her leg and screaming in pain--clearly with some sort of cramp. She was way in front of me and I can only think she had been running pretty fast. Remember what I said about running conservative in the first three miles? Thank goodness we were still near the ambulance.

I was feeling pretty good and having a fun time, the first two miles are cool because you loop back through the start and everyone is cheering for you--including the cheer squad.

As we left Georgetown I was starting to get my groove. My "mental plan or routine," that I had set my mind to was simply consistency counts, control, and positive self-talk. I had some cue words to work with and I really locked into those.

For miles 3-5, it seemed pretty consistent that I was about 6:20-6:30 pace which was right on. This part of the course rolls a fair amount. It has some nice longer downhills combined with some flats and even some shorter gradual uphills.

I hit the halfway (10K) mark at around 41 minutes which I was comfortable with. Actually, I was pretty happy with it, considering it's a better time than I ran at the BolderBoulder--and it's in a race heehee. This course is sort of interesting because if you are locked into checking your Garmin consistently, the mile markers and the Garmin don't match up. For instance my 10K mark was about 30-45 seconds before the course had marked the 10K. This was consistent up until mile 10, where both my Garmin and the mile marker were right on. The only thing I can think of is I was cris-crossing the course--and the mile markers are placed as if you ran the course from point to point--NOT crossing the road etc. etc.

Right at 10K I also whipped out my mid-race snack. Raisins and some water. I choked down the raisins because I had to but all I can say is, they were pretty dry and thank goodness the water was there to help wash them down. I'm glad I ate them though because by about Mile 8, I definitely felt that little push!

Mile 7-8 are run on a little dirt path right down by Clear Creek. I think this is a really fun part of the race. It's kind of like cross-country here. The creek is right beside you, it's nice and wooded and shady, I really just like this part of the course. Interestingly here I was also firmly running in the 6:20's.

Mile 9-10 are the hardest parts of the race it seems. It was here that I sort of started thinking, "wow, I'm about ready to be done," and I had to keep following that up with "you're getting work done," and "you can do it. You're running your goal, don't stop now!" It was also about here that I met up with another lady. Until this point I had been mostly running with guys and also these guys had been pretty content to run with me or simply let me pass without too much of a fight...however as I started to move up closer to the faster women--they are all competitive, and they all worked like me to get to the front--let's just say these ladies aren't going down without a fight. For the rest of the race I was going to be running close by this lady...back to the race. Despite the fact that Mile 9 and 10 felt hard, I somehow managed to drop approximately 6:15's here--which I suppose is why they felt a little harder than my cruise pace of 6:20-6:25!

Mile 11 drops you down a consistent long hill, and again the pace was about 6:15. It's hard to not start to get excited for the end--it was also here that I was still consistently battling the lady..I'd pass her, it seemed like I dropped her but no--she'd suddenly pass me and run three steps in front of me--NOT dropping me--I'd run on her side (it's three steps why can't we work together?) but no, that didn't seem to work for her either--so I'd let her go and then she'd drop the pace again and I'd pass but not be able to drop her. To say it was frustrating was a bit of an understatement. This is part of racing, and it's an area where I really have to stay focused and practice composure. The temptation I suppose is to 1) either drop the pace off to lose her, but that can be a temporary solution when you still have between 2-4 miles to run (drop the pace too much and those last few minutes will suuckk--you risk them passing you back anyways) or drop the pace off and go slower and let them go--but again you risk your race--it's playing THEIR game. The only thing I could really do here was check the ole' Garmin, and realize I was still on my pace, and whatever she did was out of my control. It sounds so easy to do that. I did it but it wasn't exactly easy to just tune the lady out!

Mile 12--sweet mile 12--you turn this long sweeping corner and come into the town. The town has some rolling hills and in a running delusion they kinda make you want to the past I've really struggled on this last mile, but in this race--I came around the corner and firmly told myself, "here it is. Last mile. 6 min and 20 seconds. You can do anything for 6 min." I knew this because I've actually recently done some 6 min fartleks and didn't die, so I knew this to be true. I told myself, "6 min fartlek...let's don't have to change anything now..just keep going.."
The next thing I knew it was 3 min to go and I was able to tell myself "3 min to go! You can do anything for 3 min--even work this hill." I felt pretty strong and actually smooth...

In this race you run basically a huge straight away to the finish and then turn a corner run 100 meters and there is the finish. So..that's what I did.

I ended up finishing the race on the gun time of 1:24:01, with my chip time being 1:23:54..That was a 4 minute PR for me! As I crossed the finish line I felt really happy--and really tired. Running is hard.
I ended up getting 7th overall, and 3rd in my age group.

I have a small confession to other reason I really like this race is the trophies. Yep. I'm that person. I'm motivated by the external reward of the trophy.

But see--the trophies are these little gold pans that have a piece of fool's gold with a little carved stone big horn sheep on them. I've been close to winning one the past two years but no dice--finally--FINALLY this year I got one! It was a big moment for me.

Oh, and the lady--she was in front of me. We were running up on another girl and she got that girl too...I passed two guys--but couldn't catch either lady..what a bummer huh? Well. It was kinda a bummer, but in the end I still had a super fun time at the race--I felt like I achieved my goals, I got to run with my friends and I won my little gold pan!

As for a review of the "race." I think this race is pretty well managed overall. Last year I missed the start due to a combination of bad timing on my part and a serious lack of bathrooms on their part. They acknowledged that this was a problem and did a great job of having more bathrooms at the start this year...also as a result I learned a lot of lessons about pre-race yeah. Lesson learned there :). I think the course itself is really nice. I've heard a few people who don't like it--but I do. I like the downhills, I like the dirt path, I like running by the creek. It's on a frontage road and they completely close it off--it's totally safe and the entire road is yours. I really like that.

The course support is also pretty well done. There is water/powerade at miles 2,4,6, etc. The stations are run by different groups in the Clear Creek School district and you are supposed to pay attention to them--and then vote for your favorite at the end. The only one I remember was the Wrestling team--because they had a banner :/, but the idea is nice!

At the end of the race you go into the high school football field and they always have fresh watermelon, bagels, yogurt, and all the sponsors. This race supports the Clear Creek booster club and really the people who put on the race are so nice and friendly.

There are a couple things that I think the race can improve on: 1) They used to have volunteers walking around with jugs of water as you finished. This year there was a big sponsor--Milk..and they only had milk at the finish--not water volunteers. I really, really missed them, their water and their smiling faces..and their water. I'd bring them back. I didn't want milk. I almost barfed when I saw it.

The other thing is there consistently seems to be some timing or placing issue. They do their best but each time I've done this race I've sort of walked away going--"Was that really my place?" "What was my time?" They usually get it worked out, and each time in the end their times match my times so I've learned to just shrug and go "hey, it's fun," which is good for me.

Overall this is one of the few races I've consistently come back to and I really enjoy it so I definitely give it two thumbs up.

Oh and as a PS Mario Macias who is running awesome right now won the guys race..."Great" you say..well he broke the course record AND the state record with a 1:02:50.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Putting it all together: Mental Routine

After a short break, we've reached the end of the five-part series on mental skills: the Mental Routine. The mental routine is the plan you create to help you get ready for practice and performance. It can integrate the cardinal skills of relaxation, concentration, imagery and self-talk to provide instruction and reinforcement to help you get mentally and physically ready to perform at your best.

A mental routine is different than a superstition or a ritual! Superstitions and rituals control you. Thinking, "Oh no! I'm not wearing my lucky Smartwool socks! I can't race!" is different than "The night before my race, I lay out my favorite Smartwool socks so in the morning, I can wake up, and be ready to go. Even if I forget (which I won't) I know I'm ready to race well." Note the difference in the use of self-talk.

Mental routines can help prepare, regain focus deal with adversity and increase your performance consistency. They are helpful in controlling the effects of both positive and negative influences because they help increase self-awareness.

There are four times when mental routines are typically utilized:

Pre-performance: Incorporating a mental routine into the warm-up before practice or competition

Pre-execution: This is different than pre-performance in that it is done before a specific situation, for example the routine a diver might do right before dive off the board, or the routine a sprinter performs as the prepare to get into the blocks.

Between play: in between specific situations. For example the mental routine a baseball pitcher performs in between batters.

Post-execution: after the specific situation. For example, a mental routine might be used to help refocus a gymnast after she has fallen off the balance beam.

When considering putting a mental routine together, it's important to remember that practice makes perfect. Here you are combining the other skills (that you have already been practicing right!?) and thus this represents the advancement of putting it all together. Practicing on your own and with a sport psychology professional until the routine becomes automatic will help get the most from the skills.

Here are some examples of mental routines:

As a pre-performance mental routine, a runner practices an imagery script to help narrow their focus, get energized before they begin their warm-up for a 5K race. As they are warming up they are working through 3 specific positive self-talk cue words that help them to focus and relax. They tell themselves they are "Ready, relaxed," and "To have fun."

A soccer player is sitting on the bench in between plays. He has just missed a shot for a goal and feels frustration. In order to regain focus on the play and task at hand before he goes out for the next play, he utilizes the self-talk key words, "Review, Respond, Release Refocus," to help remind himself that he needs to review what happened briefly, respond by understanding how to move forward, release what happened and then refocus for the next play.

A diver stands at the top of the 10M platform. Before they move to execute the dive, they perform a pre-execution routine in which they close their eyes and physically mimic the movements of the dive--using imagery combined with the movement. This helps them understand what they will do and give them confidence. Immediately afterward they perform the dive.

When thinking of post-execution routines, utilizing attentional cues to help bring back your concentration and focus can be helpful. In the post about concentration, I spoke about how I used attentional cues to help keep me going up hard hills. If you think of the hill as the execution of a specific situation, as I come to the top of the hill, I might use an attentional cue to also help get me back on track. It's easy to dwell on how hard the hill was, and possibly think "Legs. burning. no. strength! How. much. further!?" But instead, I can always use an attentional cue as I work hills--every single hill I come across, I tell myself, "Keep pushing, push hard!" right at the crest of the hill to focus on moving forward, rather than the pain in my legs.

In each of these examples of mental routines, it's again important to note that they are practiced each and every time the situation occurs. Before each race, before each dive, in-between plays and upon each hill. The repetition makes the routine strong and sticky :).

So, here we are. The end of the mental skills series! I've introduced the four cardinal mental skills of relaxation, concentration, imagery and self-talk and now I've talked about how to begin to combine them into a routine throughout practice and competition.

I know that I have enjoyed writing about the skills and I hope that you have enjoyed reading and learning about them. Even though this is the end of the mental skills series, and it's kinda sad (okay maybe not that sad), it's also exciting because now you have new skills to think about and learn about that can help you perform at your best, possibly opening up many paths for your training.

As always, to learn even more about mental skills and how to integrate them into your physical training plans it is best to work with a sport psychology professional in your area.