Poke out my eye

August 16, 2010

Tonight may have been the worst run ever.

To start with, it was 95 degrees. No, wait, to start with, I’m in the middle of yet another one of my short(ish) bouts with relatively mild(ish) sciatica; this one started Saturday afternoon, on my right side. From past experience I know that if I run for a mile or two, it loosens up and the pain I experience with each step goes away. Unfortunately, that still leaves the first mile or two to get through. By our regrouping point in the park at 1.6 miles, I was starting to feel better.

Stopping in the heat, some sweat naturally started dripping into my eyes. I wiped it away as we started running again, but the sweat in my right eye was really stinging. I said as much to the group. Someone asked if I had sunscreen on. No, I didn’t. That’s odd — plain sweat doesn’t usually sting my eyes that much! The more I tried to wipe it off my face and eyelid, the worse it got. I couldn’t even open my eye at this point — when I did, the stinging was overwhelming.

The epiphany hit me. With a laugh I explained to the others: “I chopped some jalapeños just before the run… and didn’t wash my hands.” One of my running buddies joked that he “thought they taught you about that sort of thing at Ivy League Universities.” (I went to Cornell, a third-tier Ivy. He’s jealous.) I explained that the curriculum was generally more theoretical than practical.

Understand, now, I was still running with my right eye closed. In fact, I had to keep it closed for a mile and a half. Take it from me, a mile and a half is a long way to go with one eye scrunched closed. Once in a while I’d try a test opening and feel searing pain, or squirt some water in there from my bottle, or wipe myself with my shirt. When I eventually regained binocular vision, I felt as if I had been born again. Born again with a bright red eye.

The next two miles were an almost placid perfectly normal battle with the heat. They could have been worse. With about a mile left to go, though, a new stream of sweat must have made it into my eye after running through some jalapeño oils, because the stinging hit again. Thankfully it only lasted a few hundred yards this time.

It wasn’t really the worst run ever: I finished it uninjured and without need of medical attention. I’ll be laughing about it soon. Three years from now, at the latest.


Race Report: 2010 CATnip Friday 5K

August 14, 2010

I don’t run many 5Ks. There was this one, my first race ever, in March 2007. Then there was this one, in October 2008. I ran my third one yesterday.

The CATnip Friday 5K (and Mouse Miler) is a benefit race for the Cat Adoption Team, “the Pacific Northwest’s largest nonprofit, limited admission cat shelter,” whatever that means. I’m sure it means that they are great people doing what they can to help our less-fortunate feline friends etc etc. Anyway, some of the folks I run with on a weekly basis are among the organizers for the CATnip, so that got me to sign up. This was the second year for the event; last year I was injured or had another race or some other good excuse, I’m sure. Either that, or I was just smarter back then.

You see, 5Ks are torture. They are just a terrible, terrible idea. Running as hard as you can for twenty or thirty minutes is just as hard as it gets for me. (Wait, maybe miles are worse. Possibly.)

My old PR was 21:51. My goal this time was an even 20 minutes. Day-of-race, I wasn’t feeling all that optimistic about that goal. Why?

  1. The heat. It’s an evening race and the temperature was going to be somewhere near 90.
  2. My conditioning. Training for the 50 miler had made me slower, then recovering from my knee injury had me running fewer miles. A trial tempo run a week earlier — 2 miles at 6:45 — had proved very difficult.

Despite these problems, I stuck with my goal. I was more interested in breaking 20 than I was in racing the best over-20 time I could yesterday. That meant I was going to try to run the race at an even 6:26/mile pace, and see if I could keep it up.

The race started and finished at the track at Sherwood High School. (Sherwood is a distant suburb of Portland, out past Tigard on 99W.) It was well-organized, well-priced, and came with a nice goody bag and a decent (optional for extra cost) shirt. The event was a little larger than I was expecting and everything seemed to run smoothly. Pre-race, I picked up my packet, pinned on my bib, talked with people I knew, used the bathroom, and kept cool with a large Slurpee I’d brought with me.

Since the race wasn’t chip-timed, it was important to start near the front if you were interested in recording a fast time. The race was small enough that getting up to the second or third row of people wasn’t hard. The air horn blew and we were off.

In just a matter of seconds, I felt awkward and tired. I looked at my Garmin and saw I was going out too fast. I slowed down some. Soon I was on the 6:26/mile pace I wanted. It felt difficult. I was breathing really hard. My legs didn’t feel like they were moving too fast, but I couldn’t get enough oxygen.

My GPS registered one mile after the course’s one-mile marker. I think the course measurements were pretty accurate (I know the guy in charge of them and think he’s probably good at it), so that meant my actual pace was more like 6:18/mile. Whether this was good news or bad news was an academic exercise; I was already starting to just hang on for dear life.

I found myself running about 20 feet behind a guy from my running group. For the next two miles, I’d maintain that 20-foot gap. Unfortunately, we were both slowing down. My Garmin-measured split for mile two was 6:45; I imagine my real split was 6:40 or so. Toward the end of mile two we hit the first bike path segment; one or two sharp turns added to the challenge.

Mile three had a lot more bike path and also some short but sharply steep uphills. If miles one and two had me feeling “why am I breathing so hard?” tired, mile three hit me with “why are my legs slowing down?” I was overheated, breathing as hard as I could, and on the edge of giving up. My time for mile three was somewhere around seven minutes even. Not. Pretty.

Finally we hit the high school, then the track. I glanced at the official time — if I could run 3/4 of a lap in 30 seconds, I could break 20. Ha, ha, right. I didn’t have enough left in me to even pick it up a little until the last 50 yards, when I think I managed to hold off someone who was gaining fast. I collapsed onto the soft artificial turf of the track infield. My lungs hurt. My watch read 20:35.

5Ks are awful. I’ll keep trying until I break 20, though? Why? I have absolutely no idea.

Update: Official results — 20:34 (6:37/mile). 25/180 overall, 24/93 men, 8/23 men 40-45.


Setbacks

August 4, 2010

Sigh. Toward the end of last week, my knee stopped feeling better and I got one of my sciatica attacks. The sciatica often hits about a week after really long runs, it seems like. Good to know. I took a couple days off running (and ran only three on the third day) and the sciatica is better. The knee still feels a bit delicate though.