Thursday, July 26, 2012

Find your strength and the extra mile

You know I must be busy because it has been over 2 weeks since my last blog.  Ah well.  Some running stories got lost in the shuffle, others will fit in here.

The UC Santa Cruz campus is hilly...understatement of the year.  It is not a college on a hill, it is a hill.  Where I am staying is at the top, so, whenever you go down for a run, you always have to remember to save enough energy to come back up again!  Last year, when I first arrived to Santa Cruz, I struggled to adjust to the hills.  And I had done hill training before, but this was something new.  And I found an excerpt from a post I wrote last year:

But the hills I am dealing with here in Santa Cruz are like nothing I have ever seen before. In Boston, the hills are hard. I know this, I have conquered the Boston Marathon twice. But honestly, the hills in Santa Cruz make the Newton Hills look almost easy. I have now been humbled in California. To run the perimeter of campus, you both descend and ascend 600 feet during a 5 mile loop. I supplement this with a 5 mile out and back run to Wilder State Park and back.

The first few weeks I was here, I would get so fatigued from the climbs, that I would have to walk for a minute midway. Walk? Me? I haven't walked during a run for years. It seemed as if that was the only way: I just needed a moment's rest before continuing on.

But things have finally clicked! Conditioning takes time! And now, I can take to these hills with some semblance of speed. I have been here 5 week exactly, and it was just a week ago that I felt as if I finally got the hang of these hills.

This year, things have been a bit different.  While the hills presented some challenges in the beginning, it took much less time time to adapt to the hills.  I never needed to walk, and some of the long climbs have not proved to be as debilitating as last year.  The last year must've really helped condition me, because I thought I would need to re-learn how to train/run in Santa Cruz.  I really surprised myself - I did not expect that I would feel this good already.

I have been having some really good weekend runs.  As per usual, I do some sort of tempo run on Saturday and then a long run on Sunday.  On Saturday, I had a 10 mile run of 5 miles easy (8:30 pace), followed by 5 miles moderate (7:30ish).  Overall, I was pleased with the run - I felt like I was able to do the steep climbs with relative ease.  Last week, I had a good fartlek run when I was running close to 6:00 pace for 10 x 90 second bursts.  And likewise, this one felt strong as well.  While these paces, in terms of numbers, are nothing to write about, but the feelings of strength and power that accompany them do feel significant.

In terms of my summer camp, our first session ended on Friday and our second session began on Sunday.  The interim period, known as intersession, is really busy because within 48 hours, one session ends and another begins.  Nonetheless, the 10 mile run made it in (even after a late night showing of Dark Knight Rises), and I was hoping that on Sunday morning, I would be able to get in my 12 mile long run - the longest run I've done since April.  Saturday night workwise picked up considerably, and I kept looking at that 12 mile run on Sunday with some doubt and trepidation.  After all, I had to be at work for Opening Day at 9AM, could I really fit the long run in before then?  I was chatting about it with a friend/colleague, and was saying that I might just cut it down to 10 miles.  Her response: "What is the difference, really?  You just need another 15 minutes or so to get it done."  After all, I don't really ever chicken out on runs.  And while I knew I was going to be cutting sleep in place of the run, I didn’t want to chicken out.  I left my office at midnight, slept for about 5.5 hours, and then got up for the 12 mile run before Opening Day of Session 2.  6AM in Santa Cruz in not necessarily dark, but it is foggy.  It certainly made things feel extra quiet.  As I started to trot out, I felt tired and a little sore, and 12 miles seemed like a long way to go.  I got through my warm-up, running through the woods for 2.5 miles.  I then turned onto this really steep road – I tried to take a picture to show how steep it was, but it didn’t do justice.  I was really just hoping my quads would carry me through this part.  Parts were slow-going – I was not concerned about pace, but I was getting through it.  And I got so lost in the run tht in this stretch of the run (my long runs are run on a few parts of Santa Cruz: trails, roads, and the perimeter road of UCSC), that I added on a little bit extra.  I headed back to the woods for the 2.5 back, and felt like I was finally starting to wake up.
It is times like that when I know I am a distance runner – because it can take a few miles or up to 20-30 minutes for me to warm up or wake up.  For some people, that would be enough time of a whole workout, but for me, it can take a while to settle in.  I’ve had people ask, because on race day and speed workouts, I always do a 2.5 mile warm up (roughly 20 mintues), and people say, “isn’t that a bit long?” No – it really does do the job for getting my legs moving.
But I digress.  The last part of my run is the perimeter of the campus – 5 miles.  It goes downhill for 2.5, and then is followed by a steep climb back to the top for 2.5 miles.  I call it the anti-gravity campus: because what goes down must come back up.  I was really starting to move at this point, and felt like I was really conquering the run.  The whole thing felt so cleansing - I was working through stress from work and really putting it all behind me.  The climb to the top of campus is quite spectacular, and I was taking in all of it.  
I emerged from the run not having done the planned 12, which I had even thought of cutting down to 10...but 13.4 miles.  Over a half marathon done before 8AM, giving me more than enough time to clean up and go to work to open the second session of my camp.
All in all, I got in 45 miles - the most I've run in a week since April.  I found inner strength to take on the hills of Santa Cruz, and was rewarded with some spectacular views.  I really feel fortunate to be running here, because this job gives me 7 weeks of great places to train.  The hills are so hard, but they really do teach me a lot about conditioning and toughening up.  I found strength from within and went the extra mile, literally.  While the times and paces of these runs may not be especially noteworthy, they've taught me a lot about pushing through and finding new layers of strength and strong.  It is my hope that with more intentional speed work down the road (pun intended), it will all coalesce into some good fall races.
In the meanwhile, getting very excited about my Northern California running weekend!  Meeting up with some runners and running the San Francisco 5k on Sunday.  Looking forward to my West Coast/San Fran debut!
This was while kayaking in Santa Cruz

Me and my friend Katie on our day off
Finally, just putting in a few pictures from Santa Cruz, including of beach day and kayaking day (both a lot of fun).  Again, feeling very fortunate that I get to be here for 7 weeks.

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