Wednesday, February 1, 2017

RACE REVIEW:PHOENIX WOMEN'S HALF

If you want to go fast, go alone. 
If you want to go far, go together.
~ African Proverb

This past Friday I flew to Phoenix for a Oiselle team meet up.  As most of you know, Oiselle is a women’s running apparel company and I have been an ambassador for the brand (aka Volée) for about five years now.  Over these years I have met and connected with some of the coolest gals from all over the country who I now consider some of my dearest friends.  Several of us would be reuniting for this particular event so I was more than giddy to get there.  I was also looking forward to getting to know some of the new birds who had recently joined the team, many of whom I'd already met over social media but had yet to meet in person.  And, let's be honest, Phoenix weather is a hell of a lot better than Boston's at this time of year, so there's that.  This specific meetup was based around the 2nd Annual Phoenix Women's Half Marathon, which, along with a 10K and 5K, would be held on Sunday morning.  There were about 100 gals in the group who would be either racing or cheering depending on their current training agenda.  The ringleaders of our group would be Sarah (aka Lesko) & Heather (aka Feather).  They both work for Oiselle and manage the Volée (a nationwide team of over 3000 women), which is no small feat.  They also happen to be two of my favorite people in the world.  Yet another reason that I was stupidly excited to go out there.  My main focus for this trip was to meet and hang with my teammates and to enjoy all of the team-related activities but I was also going down to race the half.  It would be my first race of 2017 and I was both nervous and fired up to test my current fitness.

At the airport w/ coffee.  My second. 
(Or maybe my 3rd)

After a relatively painless flight that included two coffees and three movies (the new Ghostbusters is really good, Bridget Jones' Baby, not so much), I arrived in Phoenix around 2:00pm.  My roommate/wingman Ashley, who I met back in 2013 and have stayed with at almost every Oiselle meetup since, was coming in from Texas but wouldn’t be arriving until Saturday morning, a bit torturous given how psyched I was to hang with her.  After a nap and some much-needed down time, I hopped in the car with Lesko and Feather and we made our way over to dinner to meet up with the rest of the Oiselle crew who’d arrived on Friday.  As it often is with runners, it was an instant love fest.  Hugs, kisses, maybe a little screaming; all of it most definitely annoying to those who weren’t in our group and trying to enjoy a quiet dinner.  Late sorry to them.  Couldn’t be avoided.  We met and/or caught up with each other over ridiculously large bowls of beer and pizza.

 w/ Erica, Dana, Feather & Tara

The hours flew by but finally (and thankfully) someone initiated the shut down.  The time change was definitely hitting me hard, particularly given my usual 9:00pm bed time, so shortly after dinner I put myself to bed.  Of course, we had to get a team shot before we broke up for the night.  I'll just throw it out there now...there will be a lot of these.

HOPDODDYS
SATURDAY
The next morning our plan was to meet at Granada Park at 9:00am for a shakeout run and then go straight to breakfast.  Not surprisingly, I woke up at 5:30am because of the time change (okay, yes, it was more likely because of how excited I was) and after attempting to drink the coffee in my room (aka brown water with coffee flavor) I headed down to the hotel's cafe to try and find something stronger.  Lesko and Feather came down as I was sipping my second cup (still weak, but better) and, once again, I jumped in their car for a ride over to the park.  It was a clear, crisp sunny day, but only about 30 degrees which was definitely a little cooler than I’d expected.  Another group of Oiselle gals would be rolling in to join us for our run having arrived late the night before or early in the morning.

Rolling out w/ Feather

After lots of chatting, some photos, some stretching and a little dancing in the parking lot, we finally headed off for our run.  Within minutes we all fell into step together and various pods of runners formed depending on desired pace and distance.  We soaked up the sun and the good company as the miles passed quickly behind us.  I had the pleasure of running with Marilyn and Christiana, two birds that I had not yet met but felt like I’d known for years by the time we finished our run.  I love how that happens.

Post-run high
#wingsout

After our run we made a mad dash over to brunch at Luci's at the Orchard, an eclectic little indoor/outdoor cafe that made awesome breakfast burritos and killer lattes.  We parked ourselves in the back and hung out for several hours; sipping coffee, chilling out and gabbing some more, basically picking up where we left off on the run.  It was incredibly difficult for us to pry ourselves out of our seats and get going but we finally motivated to get back to the hotel for some down time before our next team activity.  Around 2:00 we all ventured out to Tempe Beach Park where the next round of our teammates would meet up with us.  We parked ourselves on the green with blankets and food and hung out for another couple hours.  Yes, a lot of hanging out and chatting during these meetups.  But, when you haven’t gotten to spend time with your runfamily for a while you have to make the most of it.

w/ Ashley, Kerri & Feather

Dinner that night was at Sauce, another cool eatery that served simple, healthy food which somehow managed to meet the pre-race needs of a group of 100 runners.  Impressive.  We planted ourselves under the heat lamps outside and while the vibe was still warm and bubbly, the excitement had simmered down a bit and you could sense that many of us were starting to get nervous about racing the next day.  Pro-runner Stephanie Bruce who runs for Oiselle, lives in AZ and would be racing with us as well, joined us for dinner.  This was beyond awesome as she’s one of my biggest sister/run heroes and I think I can safely say the same goes for most of the crew that was with me.  I was pretty excited about the fact that I’d be running along side er…behind…one of the greatest female distance runners in the country the next day.  I was also tired and thankfully this was one of the few meals where everyone wanted to call it pretty early so we could rest up for the next day.

Sunrise in Phoenix

SUNDAY
Ashley and I woke up early again the next morning and bee-lined it to Starbucks.  In exchange for the use of their car, we also grabbed coffee for Lesko and Feather.  A legit win-win.  The race was starting at 8:30 so we all got going around 6:45 in order to give ourselves enough time to gather with our crew (all here now), pick up bibs, warm up, stretch and do all the other pre-race rituals that we do.  It was another gorgeous, sunny day and the temp was around forty; chilly to start but otherwise perfect racing conditions.  I took off for my standard two mile warm up and then got back in time to have a little pump up session in the car with Lesko, Ash and Feather before heading over to the start. This was our second of several impromptu dance parties.  The day before I had texted my coach to ask him about my pacing strategy.  I threw out a goal time of somewhere between 1:25-1:26, a result that would have been a PR for me, my best time being 1:27.  But, I’m currently training for a May marathon and have just begun to ramp up my mileage so this goal was lofty or in my coaches words “aggressive but not suicidal”.  He told me to aim for a pace of 6:30-6:40 but not to be surprised if that felt too difficult given where I am in my training cycle.  I decided to go for it because...why not?

Team photo before the start


THE RACE
Miles 1-5 
After a simple ready, go we were off.  Okay, so this was weird.  We could take a hard right or go straight and there was no sign to tell us what to do.  And there was also no one standing there to tell us what to do.  Instinctively, I went right but after a few steps I heard someone say, is this the right way so I stopped and turned around to make sure.  We finally got it figured out and continued on our way.  But it was definitely not an ideal way to get things going.  I took some deep breaths and tried to ease into goal pace and settle down after the hectic start.  We made our way down a path that ran under all the major freeways in Phoenix and while it was nice to be off the road we would be going down and back up the tunnels beneath the roads which, I later realized, occurred every couple miles for the entire race.  I did not know this beforehand which was probably a good thing.  These dips weren't long but they were significant and after the novelty of the first one wore off I knew that they were going to be a challenge for me, particularly in the end.

Running alongside my teammate, Jo Rupp

After about two miles I found myself in the lead (exciting) and totally by myself (scary).  This is not something I’ve ever experienced before in a race and I quickly realized that I didn’t like it as I knew it was going to be tough to stay focused without someone to keep me in check.  I cruised comfortably for these miles and when I got to the 5 mile mark the folks at the water stop told me turn around.  Like....right here? I asked.  Yes, right here, they said as they handed me water.  There was no cone, no barrier, nothing to signify the turn so I literally stopped and switched directions.  Another first for me in a race of this length.

Pro-Runner Stephanie Rothstein Bruce

Miles 5-9
After the hairpin turn I worked to find my rhythm again, which was tricky.  But, then I started to see the other runners headed in my direction, many of them my teammates, and I got really, really excited.  I’d been solo for the past 5 miles so It was virtually impossible not to high five, wave or yell at almost everyone that I passed.  Which I did.  And it was awesome.  I also passed Steph Bruce who was running the 10K.  She gave me a peace sign.  I gave her a thumbs up.  That was awesome, too.  I ran some good, solid miles in here at or below pace on account of being back with the crowd and on a fresh high because of it.

Final push

Miles 9-13.1
At mile 9 I was back at the start and then took a hard right to head off in the other direction.  Sadly, I was now alone again.  Don’t get me wrong, it was very exciting to know I still had the lead, but staying mentally on top of it was starting to get really, really hard and I was noticing that my body was starting to fade.  I reached out to grab Gatorade off the table and couldn’t get my hands around a cup but accidentally knocked about seven of them off the table as I tried (think dominos).  That was a bummer and stressed me out as I felt like I needed the fuel.  The temp had risen steadily and was now in the 60s with the sun beaming down on us directly.  I could feel the salt caking on my arms and neck.  It was at this point that I started talking to myself.  Come on Rebecca.  You gotta dig deep here.  You’re strong enough to hold this pace.  Stop doubting yourself and finish this.  And while I was saying these things.  My legs were like…yeah, but we’ve worked really hard and now were tired and we’re going to ease up just a little bit now. Cool?  No, not cool.  My pace was slowing and I started to get pissed but then I saw the giant orange Gatorade cooler which I new was the final turn around, another hairpin, this time with a cone to get around, so I was able to re-group and get back in gear.  Now I was seeing my teammates again, so I started high-fiving, yelling, all of it as I fought my way to the finish.  I saw 1:26 on my watch at mile 13 and I knew a PR was out but I still pushed hard to finish strong regardless finishing in 1:27:59.  Holy crap that was hard.  Much more challenging than I’d expected.  And though it wasn’t the time I’d wanted, I was proud of myself for getting gritty in the second half of the race when I could have so easily let myself go.  Plus, it was a win, which I was thrilled about.

The finish

Like the start, my finish experience was pretty bizarre, too.  I crossed the line as the announcer was yelling out the names of the 5K finishers.  I stopped and looked around but no one was doing or saying anything.  Not a big deal, but for having just won the race, it did feel a little strange that there was no official race person there confirming it.  I walked down the path for a few steps and a little girl tapped me on my shoulder and handed me a finisher medal.  I guess I'd missed them when I went through the chute.  Then I had to ask around to find out where the water was as I was parched beyond belief and there wasn’t anyone handing anything out.  Again, strange.  Let’s just say the direction and guidance from race officials was minimal for this one.  I took off for a little cool down and then made my way back to the finish to cheer on the rest of my teammates who were coming in.  I was instantly elated by the love thrown at me from everyone.  Tons of congratulatory hugs and high fives that made me feel, albeit briefly, like a rock star.  I have to say there is no way I would have held on and stuck with it had I not had that incredible crew of women cheering me on and I was so grateful to them for that.

Post-race shenanigans

The beauty of a meetup like this is that you don’t have to finish the race, drive home and dive head first back into reality.  The whole gang relocated to a quirky Mexican joint and unwound over beers and tacos.  We rehashed our races, both the good and the bad, talked about what we had next on the agenda, traded notes on races that we loved, and talked about a lot of other stuff that I don’t remember because I was painfully tired.  When Lesko asked me if I was having trouble keeping my eyes open I knew it was time to go.  I wanted a nap before we were planning to have our final group session for the weekend, a meeting to go over team logistics, to hear the wise and encouraging words of Steph Bruce and to talk with each other over our roles within the team, what was working and what else we could be doing.  We were in the conference room for three hours and by the time we finished we were all ready to celebrate the end of our adventure.

#RUNLOVE

We dined at True kitchen yet another super hip joint.  As is my post-race norm, I indulged on a burger and fries.  And, oh my, was it good.  This meal was our longest as all of us were reluctant for the night to end.  There were a lot of hilarious conversations, many of them random, some of them gross, most of them funny; something that tends to happen at the end of these meet ups when everyone is tired and overly squirrely.  It’s easily one of my favorite things about the whole experience.  A mad, crazy bond is formed every single time and you leave with a whole new batch of friends that you can’t wait to see, hang and run with again.

w/ Lesko and Feather

It also happens to be why I joined and continue to run with Oiselle year after year.  We love, support, and believe in each other in a way that’s kind of unheard of for a team of women.  It’s almost uncanny how close we are even though we are scattered all over the country.  There is a force that pulls us together and then pulls us tighter, a force that is driven by Oiselle, whether they mean to or not. And that is some powerful shit.  It’s always bittersweet to say goodbye to each other after having spent such quality time together but I tend to find myself almost floating as I make my way home; taking that high back with me and holding onto it until the next time we meet.

Listen to this:
Rockabye - Clean Bandit

2 comments:

  1. Okay, first, I love your coffee commentary; hadn't thought about it much since the trip but you are totally right...it sucked. I'm so jealous that you and Ash were able to sneak off to Starbucks - ha! :) Big congrats on your race effort; it was so excited to see you working hard out there, yet cheering all of us on as we passed along beside you. Thank you for all of your support; I'm so glad we were able to meet and spend some time together!!

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  2. Loved meeting you, too, Tara!! My door is always open in Boston. Come visit. :)

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