Wednesday, April 30, 2014


Tapril.  It's Taper + April, see?  Tapril!  I really ought to have that trademarked, registered, copyrighted, all of that.



Because I've registered to run the Mini for eight consecutive years (missing two due to a broken leg), I'm always tapering in the last couple weeks of April, which makes taper and April 50% synonymous for me. It's an exciting time because it means the race is nearing. It's an awful time because the potential for me to experience taper madness is high.

For nonrunners who are wondering, taper is the time period before a race when you "taper off" your high mileage to give your legs a rest before Big Race Day. Sounds awesome, right? Wrong. WRONG. When one's body becomes accustomed to high mileage, one's body craves high mileage; and when the mileage drops, it starts experiencing symptoms similar to withdrawal. Aching legs, extreme appetite, a sore throat, and utter exhaustion are my top taper symptoms that manifest physically.

However, the worst part of taper is the psychological drama, which is tenfold with this admitted worrier. I worry that I've not trained well enough. I worry that I'll have a bad day on the day of the race. I worry that the weather will not be optimal. I worry that I'll be at the start line and realize I've forgotten something important. I worry that I'll come down with some terrible illness and be unable to perform well. I worry, worry, worry, usually about things I can't control. I've even dreamed that I was shot by a sniper while running the race.

Calm Down
Running happy since 1983
The truth is, I've had a GREAT April. It's the first month in 2014 where I've been happy with my mileage. The weird edema in my heel finally gave up a few weeks ago, though there are vestiges of pain left behind. I had a great 15K pace run, and I was able to join Amelia for her big run. My fitness is right where I want it to be. Wendy and I have a solid race plan for Saturday, and our friend Becky is going to join us. I couldn't feel more prepared and confident. When my mind starts darting to the doom, I try to focus on that confidence.

Truthfully, as important as the Mini and my performance in it are to me, I know that even if I have a bad race, it will be a good day. Any day I run is a blessing, which sounds cheesy, but is a known truth to runners who have been injured. The Mini is my favorite race of the year, and I can't wait to run it with my friends. A PR (sub-1:54:19) would just be icing on the Mini cake. If I focus on the fun, the rest will fall into place.

Month Four
Here are my statistics from the fourth month of 2014, Tapril.

Miles Run: 88.88
Runs: 14
Hours Run: 14.45
Average Run Distance: 6.35 mi.
Average Run Pace: 9:45.39
Average Run Duration: 1:01:56.4
Average Temperature: 49.9°F
Longest Run: 13.10 mi., April 19
Shortest Run: 2.75 mi., April 1 (Three parts: 1, 2, 3)
Favorite RunApril 5, 9.30 mi.; and April 19, 13.10 mi.
Total Lifetime Mileage: 3,222.35

(I swear the 88.88 mi. happened on its own. I didn't do it on purpose.)

That I ran the most mileage I've run all year in a taper month says a lot for my rehabilitated injury. This body is ready for a PR on May 3! Be sure to download the Mini app to follow along on Saturday. Just search 500 Festival in your app store, and search for Jo Cobb, Bib #1301. Good luck to all my running buddies who are racing this weekend!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Kentucky Derby Mini Marathon - Race Report

I had never run the Kentucky Derby Mini Marathon. It is usually held the weekend before the 500 Festival Mini, which I usually run, thus at which time I'm usually in taper. I have no reason to run 13.1 miles the week before I race 13.1 miles (and every reason not to), so the Derby Mini was a race I figured I'd never run. Wrong.

Wendy's daughter Amelia decided last fall that she wanted to be like the cool kids and run a half marathon. However, she didn't want to "just" run a half marathon; she also wanted to give it purpose. She decided to use the half marathon race and its training as a means to raise money for Saving Sunny, a pit bull rescue in Louisville. Accordingly, what better race to choose than the Derby Half, held right in the heart of Louisville?

Plans were made. Wendy and Amelia registered for the race. They set up a donation site. I made a donation. I said, "Good luck." I figured I would follow her progress and say, "Yay, Amelia!" and, "Good job!" and totally mean it, but I also figured that would be the extent of my involvement. Wrong again.

In January, Wendy learned that she had to have a fibroma cut from her foot. The surgery rendered her "runless" for six weeks. Suddenly, Amelia and I had both lost our training partner. As a result, we thought it would be a great idea to train together. I joined Amelia on many an icy-cold morning to grind out 10-or-so miles. It was fun.

The more I ran with Ameila, the more I wanted to part of the big event. Fate seemed to intervene as my schedule magically cleared for April 19, the date of her race. Additionally, the Derby Half was scheduled two weeks before the Indy Mini instead of one. My injury(-ies) were starting to stabalize, too.  I asked told Wendy if I could I was going to join the two of them in the race.  She said, "Sounds awesome!"

The Two Race Plans
Amelia's initial race plan involved taking it slowly (≈10-min./mile) for 10K, and then accelerating as she felt like it. After the 500 Festival Training Series 15K where Amelia laid down an 8:37 pace, we decided to run the first mile of the half slowly to get through the crowd, then target some 9-min. miles.

However, Wendy and I never have a single race plan, so we honored tradition and bequeathed to Amelia our practice of matching our clothes and wearing flowers in our hair when we race. The clothes plan is as (more?) important than the race-attack plan. Because Amelia would be wearing orange shorts and a white singlet with the Saving Sunny logo, we planned to wear white singlets and orange shorts.

Sis BoomBozz (It's funny!)
Derby Mini Eve
Ed and I left Bedford for Louisville immediately after school.  We arrived at our near-the-start-and-finish hotel, then walked to the Expo. (Aside: Now, I love me some Race Expos, but this one was Code Red insane. Participants were forced to snake through EVERY booth, nearly single file, in order for their race chips to activate. That format probably backfired in the organizers' faces, because it was the least conducive thing to shopping I've ever seen. End Aside.) After getting my packet, we navigated to Bardstown Road for a great dinner. (Another Aside: The lack of parking lots in Louisville is frustrating to Bedford-born-and-bred me. End Another Aside.)

We met Wendy's friends and Saving Sunny volunteers Brittnay and Russell and Wendy's whole family for a lovely meal at BoomBozz, an establishment managed by Russell. We had a truly fun time chatting, laughing, discussing the race, and telling stories.  And the food... the FOOD! After a great meal, Ed and I headed back to the hotel, and I turned in early for what would prove to be an unforgettable day.

Before The Start
I awoke after an only slightly fitful sleep and prepared for the race. Then, Ed and I walked a half-mile out of our way to meet at Wendy's hotel. The race atmosphere was charged with excitement. Running into a local running buddy and a college friend enlivened me even more. Amelia had the typical excited/nervous/hyper/apprehensive jitters of the first time half runner. However, everyone in our group was about to be full-on pumped.

As we approached our coral we saw in the distance... AMELIA'S FACE. It was enlarged at least two times its normal size and held above the crowd on a stick. And there's Buddy's face! And Darla's! And Brooklynn's! (Those babies are all Amelia's dogs.) The Saving Sunny crew had chosen a GREAT way to motivate Amelia and show their support.

The First Half Of The Half
The first mile of the race was very crowded. We stuck to the plan and took it slow, and I couldn't wait for the crowd to thin. Amelia was chatting and laughing. We took in the sights. I showed Wendy that, yes, there is a river north of Louisville, one that is actually fairly large and notable. Wendy's husband Tim was with us. I ran into another friend, this time from my student teaching years, on those first miles. Everything was all smiles and happiness except for the course congestion, which wasn't thinning like I'd hoped.

Knowing Wendy wanted to stick right with Amelia, I adopted the role of trailblazer. I stayed a few steps ahead and made paths for us, because goshdarnit, that crown would not thin. I had studied the course, so I knew where to be and when. Tim joined me in my efforts, but unfortunately had to bail due to an uncooperative Achilles. Around the sixth mile, I noticed Amelia and Wendy were a little farther behind me than they had been. I slowed to join them and ask Amelia how she felt. "Fine," she answered. I knew better, and so did Wendy.

The Last Half Of The Half
After the halfway point, I traded back and forth between Trailblazer and Motivational Statement Maker, a job I've learned well from the likes of Wendy and her declarations of, "You are closer to the finish than when you started!" I said a whole host of fully obnoxious things to Amelia, including the gem, "You only get to run your first half marathon once!" I philosophized about "Today Ameila" and "Tomorrow Amelia," and how proud Tomorrow Amelia was going to be of Today Amelia and her efforts. Finally, Amelia said very politely, "Let's shut up." Got it.

We ran through Churchill Downs. We ran through tunnels. We ran around some statues. The crowd never thinned. The sun was starting to feel overly hot. When we were nearing completion of Mile 10, Amelia did not look good, but she looked laser-focused on her task. Wendy suggested we run Mile 11 for Buddy, Amelia's late dog. That proposal brought about a little levity that made the time pass, but the pain was coming hard for Amelia. I learned later that she was experiencing cramping (her mother's daughter), and lightheaded-ness. You would never know it based on the effort she was about to display.

I spent the last few miles running ahead of Amelia, yelling to the crowd, "She's 11! She's having a hard time! C'mon, let's hear it for her!" I was being beyond obnoxious, but every cheer brought Amelia encouragement, so it was worth my silliness. We would pass runners (yes, us passing them), and they would marvel at her. I would offer the rest of the story on her fundraiser so they would praise her even more. ANY ounce of encouragement I could help ignite for this child was helpful, so I was on an encouragement-mission.

While a very kind runner was making a video of us at the end of the twelfth mile, I spotted Wendy's brother, Wes, and the Saving Sunny crew with their great big signs high in the air. Our ensuing celebration was, luckily, caught on camera. That group of people gave Amelia the push she needed to make it the final 1.1 miles.

"What is this insane pace?!"
Wendy and I continued the encouragement on the home stretch, but Amelia surprised us when she rounded the corner to the finish line. Since she's known for a fast finish, I expected Amelia to kick. What I did not expect was the 5:13 pace she dropped on the last 200 meters. For this woman, 200 meters is a LONG WAY to run at 11.5mph. We saw Amelia's dad, Yancy. We saw Ed. Then we saw a finish line, and it said 2:01:38.

The Half Aftermath
Just like that, it was over. After a few minutes of "not running," Amelia started to recover. As the day progressed, she felt prouder and prouder, as she should. She was able to celebrate her efforts with her family and her Saving Sunny friends, human and canine. In addition to those important numbers 2:01 (which were earned with negative splits), Amelia was also able to flash $2,200, the amount she raised for the Saving Sunny organization. Not a single person involved in Amelia's fundraiser and running mission had a bad day on April 19. It was all happiness, success, and pride for a job well done. (Here are race results and stats 'n' such.)

As For Me...
I really enjoyed focusing on someone else for an entire race. Keeping tabs on Amelia, blazing her trail, and quarrying for crowd support were FUN jobs. It was like being a bridesmaid to the bride, but way, way, way, freaking-WAY better. Secondarily good news is that I also ran a 2:01 without much effort (until that last 200 meters - good heavens). It used to be my heart's desire to run a sub-2, so a 2:01 that included pace changes, tight crowds, and no self-focus says a lot for my fitness. It tells me that my 1:54 PR is totally crushable in Indy next month.

I hear Amelia has plans to crush her 2:01 at the Indy Mini, too... the 2015 Indy Mini.

Some of Team Amelia

Monday, April 7, 2014

500 Festival Training Series 15K - Race Report

When you're an injured runner, you obsess about not running. Everyday without a run is a day that you "lose fitness," even if you're cross training. When my leg was at its painful worst, I halted my running in order to keep myself from further harm until I could make sure my injury was runnable. That time off running left me with a lot of mileage unachieved. I had no way to tell how ready my body was to race a half marathon. Enter the 500 Festival Training Series 15K in Indy, a course on which I could test my fitness... or lack thereof.

With Amelia in our room
Earlier in the year, I had approached Wendy with the idea of running this 15K. We thought it would be a great race to target as a pace run, meaning we would pick a pace and see if I could hold it. After my leg issues, we decided that we would begin at my half PR pace (8:42), and then accelerate at 10K if I felt strong.

To make the event more fun, we also decided to get a hotel room in Indy the night before the race. We chose the Fairfield Inn & Suites in downtown Indy, less than than a quarter-mile from the start line at the NCAA Museum. Amelia, Wendy's daughter, opted to join us with the plan of running the whole race at the 8:42 pace. The stage was set for a fun overnight trip.

"OMG, you're wearing THAT?"
"Race Eve" fuel
After a night of enjoying the mall (especially the food court), we reviewed our race plans and got a good night's sleep, something that usually eludes me in a hotel. The wind, which had been incredibly fierce a few hours earlier, was much calmer in the morning. During the race, the temp was predicted to be in the upper 30°s with a cloud cover. Wendy and I donned matching singlets, shorts, and arm warmers. Amelia chose a T-shirt and a throwaway cover, but she also wore arm warmers and shorts. We each had a bite to eat, and then ran to the start line, a short 300-meter warm-up.

When we arrived at the NCAA Museum to pick up our race numbers, we noticed people looking at us. The looking turned into staring... which turned into pointing... which turned into whispering. I was feeling self conscious and little uncomfortable. Finally, people started approaching us. "You're going to freeze. We can't believe you're dressed like that," said many, most of whom were wearing full tights and at least three layers. I replied to every single one of them, "I'll be cold for a mile, and comfy for eight miles." A few removed at least one of his/her shirts after talking to us.

When we joined the crowd at the start line, we noticed two ladies dressed similarly to us: singlets, shorts, arm warmers... and they MATCHED each other! We approached them and chatted for a bit before the race. Those two would eventually place as third and fourth females. We ran into them in Starbucks after the race and discovered that we have mutual friends. Neat! Always fun to make new pals.

We crossed the start line seven seconds after the gun sounded and started our Tour de Downtown Indy. During the first mile, people flew past us, but we held our planned 8:42 pace through the gentle ups and downs. We talked, laughed, chatted with a guy who almost wiped out, and marveled at the number of people dressed like it was the dead of winter. The 8:42 pace felt pretty easy, but I felt a bit melancholy, because I knew it would start to feel hard sooner or later.

The first few miles ticked off uneventfully, though we began passing droves of runners. My ankle/heel hurt a bit on the third mile, but I never felt it again in the race. At the beginning of the fourth mile, there was a hill that is steeper and longer than the others on the course. (It's actually a highway exit.) I thought that hill was probably where I was going to start feeling terrible. However, we held our effort level, and at the top of the hill, I felt no different than I had at the bottom of it... except for maybe a little more hopeful.

I passed the time on White River Parkway getting spectators to cheer for Amelia, telling them she was only 11, and "Good HEAVENS, doesn't she look GOOD?" :o) Around this time, one of the runners yelled, "Halfway!" I looked at my Garmin: 4.65 miles. Two thoughts entered my mind: 1.) "That was quick," and 2.) "I'll start feeling crappy sometime in the next 1.5 mi." I don't know why I was so being so negative. Being positive is usually my biggest strength. Luckily, those negative thoughts turned out to be DEAD wrong.

Acceleration Nation
Wendy (#goodfriend) got water at the hydration stations while Amelia and I continued our paces, then she ran the water up to us. (Must be nice to be that fast.)  During one of these instances, around 5.5 miles into the race, I decided to stride a bit and see how it felt.  It wasn't a huge acceleration, but it was faster... and it felt goooooood. I told Wendy then, "I don't want to be cocky, because I know it can change in an instant, but I feel invincible." She replied, "Then let's go." 

We made sure Amelia was OK with us enacting the acceleration plan, and she told us to go, and that she was planning to hold the original pace. Wendy and I accelerated little by little, bit by bit. The awful feelings I was expecting never came, and I continued to be able to hold conversation. At the 10K mark, Wendy suggested we start counting the people I passed. "One... two... three..." we counted. When we'd come upon another runner, Wendy would say, "Here comes number ______ (whatever was next)." 

By the eighth mile, I was working, and I began speaking in only short phrases. I didn't feel bad, I just needed my breath to fuel my muscles. We held an even effort up hills. I was thrilled at how my body was responding when I asked it to push harder. Wendy kept a mother's eye on Amelia behind us, but also kept helping me by counting folks I passed and reminding me to hold it together for just 1.2 more miles... 1 more mile... less than three track laps. The course's last half mile is on a paved pathway by the river. I concentrated on reeling in each runner in front of me. With about 200 meters to go, I saw the finish line, and I dug in.

Mile Splits
Wendy shouted at me to "go, go, go," then she turned around to get Amelia. I pushed my way to a 1:19:04 finish (8:29 average pace), passing 21 people on that last 5K, which I ran in 25:34. A volunteer gave me water and said, "Almost done." I replied, "Dude. Completely done." :o) I made my way to the side of the chute to wait for Amelia. She finished one minute and 15 seconds after I did, in 1:20:19, an 8:37 pace. She crossed the finish line with her Mom, both of them smiling. 

That I was able to complete this race at an 8:29 average pace, with negative splits, was a HUGE confidence builder for me. I don't even mind that I missed a course PR by three seconds. Knowing that I can hold my half PR pace, and accelerate, in a 15K puts me exactly where I need to be to do well at the Mini on May 3. My sub-1:54 goal is absolutely attainable. I'm also abundantly excited for Amelia to run her first half marathon in less than two weeks. I'll get a front row seat to watch the action, because I'll be running with her.

Oh, and those people who scoffed at our clothes? During the race, we noticed many of them had removed layers and tied the extra clothes around their waists as they ran. It was like a little vindication. :o)

Happy Runners!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

In Like An Injured Lion, Out Like An Uninjured Lion

You've heard the phrase, "In like a lion, out like a lamb," right? Well, that adage didn't apply to my March running this year. My first March run was on a Snow Day, and my final March run was in a cold, driving rain. So, it was "in like a lion, out like a lion" for me.

Rebuilding Month
Because of the pain plaguing my left leg, I backed off my mileage at the end of February and began rebuilding at the beginning of the month. I assumed Wendy's post-surgery comeback plan by starting with short 1-2 mi. runs. Here are the stats:

Miles Run: 55.87
Runs: 13
Hours Run: 9.30
Average Run Distance: 4.30 mi.
Average Run Pace: 9:59.51
Average Run Duration: 42:56.5
Average Temperature: 38.5°F
Longest Run: 9.13 mi., March 29
Shortest Run: 1.01 mi., March 3
Favorite Run: March 27, 6 mi.
Total Lifetime Mileage: 3,133.47

I am woefully off pace to reach 1,000 mi. by the end of the year. However, I'm not (too) worried about it. My mileage will balloon in the late summer and fall as I begin training for the marathon, so I can make up miles then. Also, I would rather miss reaching a mileage goal than push through an injury, thus harming myself further. Not worth it.

The goals that are in clear focus right now are my Mini objectives: to PR (sub-1:54), and if the stars align, to run sub-1:50. I know it is within me to reach both of these goals, but I'm not sure that this is my year. The leg injury has held back my mileage and pace. Wendy and I did a 6-mi. progression run over Spring Break that went well, but one run doesn't give me much information. We are going to run a 15K this weekend to help us gauge race pace for the Mini.

I learned more about my injury in March as well. The shin splint I was experiencing was a result of bursitis in my heel and ankle area. Because of my fracture history, Dr. Weidenbener always thoroughly checks my bones and joints. An MRI showed that my bones were healthy. (One of the MRI images was humorous because it looked like I had a small alien baby living in my foot. I named him Gus.) The very, very good news was that my injury is "runnable," meaning I can run while healing. I just need to be attentive to it by stretching it, rolling it, ultrasounding it, and "electrocuting" it (with a TENS unit). Careful running and regular care have improved my condition tremendously. The lion that limped into March is now running into April.

Warmer days, longer afternoons, and some fun runs are coming. The Training Series 15K is this Saturday, April 5, and it's just over two weeks until Amelia's Derby Half on April 19. The Mini, May 3, is right on April's heels. Sam will also be helping me prepare with weekly strength workouts. Coupled with spring busting out all over, I think April has a lot to offer. Time to hear that lion ROAR! :o)