Other than a short blast of really cold weather early in December, it’s been surprisingly nice lately. Of course, this means doing more fun things and less writing (thesis or blog or other). Instead of a year-in-review, I’ve decided to just to a last-few-months in review, since I finally found some pictures to go with it and have some time to get things together 🙂
After racing Castlewood, I was planning to get back in running shape for Pere Marquette – a hilly 7.5 mile run over in Illinois. At first I told myself I would train for it, planning hill repeats and intervals and stuff. Then, as it got closer, my motivation waned. I went over and ran the course (who pre-runs things? Like, ever??) and realized just how far off previous years’ times I was. So, I focused on writing my thesis, drinking beer (I made a kickass bourbon vanilla milk stout, and it is dangerously delicious), and eating cookies.
I still got out to run a fair amount, just not what I consider “training” (as in, I lowered my expectations and average pace around the park, and it felt good).
But before Pere Marquette, I managed to squeeze in a few fun races. Ya know, cause that’s what we do? A few hashy friends put together a relay team for the annual St. Louis Track Club marathon relay in forest park. For $12, it was an awesome morning of running (faster than I have in a while), eating chex mix, and just mingling with other fit people before the thanksgiving binge (have I mentioned that thanksgiving is my favorite holiday? It’s all about FOOD! What’s not to love?!). We took 2nd in the coed division – pretty solid for a last-minute pick up team! Best value in St Louis, I’m pretty sure.
To celebrate the fantastic Thanksgiving holiday, I got to join Caroline at her home down in Ozark, MO. I’d been down there for Thanksgiving a few years ago as well – it’s close enough to be a quick day trip, but a nice break from the city. Also, her mom is a FANTASTIC cook and makes everything necessary for a legit thanksgiving feast: turkey, gravy, sweet and non-sweet potatoes, green beans, and STUFFING (my favorite). OMG it was so good.
Also, it’s a tradition in the Esch household to run the Springfield turkey trot – one of the largest turkey day runs in the country! Of course, mama Esch had signed us all up… and she decided that I should be in the elite division. I told her she was a jerk. All together, we had people in every division: papa esch with the dog in the dog-walkers category, mama esch in the walkers, caroline in the runners, and me in the elite. What an array. It was, as usual, a chilly morning, but I dutifully lined up with the elite runners… giggling the entire time as people did warm-up sprints, and stretches, and looked serious. The only thing I’m serious about is eating stuffing.
But, you know, I ran fairly fast at the marathon relay, and figured I’d at least give it a go. I stood right in front of the very operatic national anthem, and went off with the gun! Since I’ve been doing endurance events all summer, a 5k seems silly. It’s barely a warmup. But, I ran fast and figured if I exploded, well, I’d still finish. It was very low stakes and expectations. As we were nearing the finish, I passed a few dudes, then was surprised by a guy next to me who had been just chugging along start sprinting… then I realized what he saw – the clock was at 19:50, and we were close to breaking the 20 minute mark! I caught his excitement, and paced in the last few meters to see if I could make it under as well. We were both successful, me coming in at 19:56!! Note, this is the 3rd time I’ve broken 20 min for a 5k… ever. The other two being in high school cross country, which is a lot of years (and quite a few pounds) ago. So I was super stoked. I had some nice hot coffee and snacks, then ran back to join the family. Later, we were checking results and it turns out I got 3rd of the women. Overall. Wut. Mama Esch was happy to throw my ‘elite’ placing back in my face. Much bragging was had (by mama esch, horribly embarrassing), much food was consumed, naps were taken. Perfect holiday.
Which brings us back to… Pere Marquette. Race day appeared, and I was placed into wave 4 based on my estimated finish time of 1:10. My test run took about 1:17, so I figured I’d over-estimated my abilities a bit (knocking off 7 minutes over 7 miles is quite a task, even if I was just chillin on the training run). I saw a bunch of familiar faces checking in – Wendy, Jim, and Sydney were all there, along with Borb Jerkins, Emily, Elena, Stacey, Karen, Mary and David, Gerry, superkate, Brian, a bunch of hashy friends, and pretty much anyone who’s into outdoor stuff in St. Louis (seriously, it’s a who’s-who of awesome people). I was already overwhelmed and intimidated, but figured I’d be seeing plenty of people as they passed me. The wave start meant 25 runners entered the course every 30 seconds; the waves started at 0, so in wave 4 I was starting 2 minutes after the first runners.
I took off, following my usual plan of run hard until you run out, then cry. JK (kinda). But I did start out at what felt pretty fast. Then came the hills, then they didn’t stop. I managed to get through the first half of the course without walking, which I considered a win. I also passed a few ladies, which I was surprised by (I led out the front of my group, so I had to assume they were from earlier waves, weird). By the final aid station, I heard shouts of ‘you’re the 3rd girl’! Whaaaat?! The wave start makes things tricky, as I’m sure there were a lot of fast ladies starting later than I was, so I tried to just keep pushing. At one point I passed a dude who gave me Sona-level intel (‘you’re the 3rd girl, second is just a bit ahead, first passed me at the road crossing’). Whoa. I was impressed he was paying that much attention to people instead of just gasping for air. Thanks dude! At times I had glimpses of lady #2’s ponytail, but it was usually as she was at the top of a climb and me at the bottom… before I started walking said hill. I wasn’t particularly concerned – if I was the third lady across the line, that’d be sweet.
At the top of the final climb, I saw a familiar face – my friend Mike’s brother! I don’t think he recognized me, but I smile-grimaced at him and braced for the screaming downhill back to the start. About ½ mile from the finish I spotted him… Mike! Mike is a fast dude who beat me by 20 seconds at quivering quads this year – which totally caught me off guard. I never thought we’d even be in the same ballpark (he’s super speedy). Also, post QQ, we discussed getting ‘chicked’. Now, it is important to note, Mike started in wave 2. So as I caught him, I said ‘hey Mike, I have some bad news for you…’ (this was quickly followed by an ‘oh shit’ from him) ‘you’re about to be chicked. You have a ½ mile to put a minute on me… good luck’ (sometimes I’m an ass. But it was awesome). He picked up the pace a bit, and my strategy was to tell him at the point where I thought I could go with him… and maybe gain some time on #2 lady. A few other guys came blazing down the muddy slope, and I held off a bit to make sure I stayed upright. Then I watched as Mike really turned up the heat on the last flat stretch while I just kept my pacing consistent – I figured at least he could maintain some dignity by finishing before me (yep, still an ass).
I drank a bunch of water and watched my friends finish – chatting about the killer hills that everyone battled, the mud, falls, epic staircase of pain, etc. Finally, clothes changed and cookies eaten, I went over to the van where results were posted… and I was in 2nd place! Also, the person just above me was a lady (the overall champion), and only 3 seconds faster! Gah, if only I had actually stuck to the plan and kept up with Mike for the last few hundred meters! But, it would have been one of us by just a few seconds either way, and I was so SO stoked for an overall 2nd place, and the age-group win. Turns out ‘giving up on training’ can look a whole lot like ‘tapering’. I’ll take it.
Moral of the story – even when I think I’ve finished racing, I find things to do. That are usually races (one of the perks of having awesome athletic friends). This year has been a fantastic whirlwind of meeting people, making friends, and really getting to know just a few of the incredible athletes that dominate the scene around here. And are just fantastic people.