Thursday, November 29, 2012

Lanzarote International Running Challenge Race(s) Report

And now, here is the story of how I originally scheduled a brief week in Lanzarote to wrap up my time in Spain, and ended up completing one of the craziest sporting ventures of my life....

I blame it all on google. Google is great for lots and lots of things, but it gets me in trouble from time to time. When I have a stuffy nose, google is always there, offering up unsurmountable evidence I've actually contracted scarlet fever (which, you know, KILLED Mary in Little House on the Prairie (eta: just kidding, she only went blind)). When I let one small drop of water fall on my passport two days before traveling, there's google, convincing me that my "damaged" passport will never be accepted overseas, of course leading to countless nightmares involving detention at the hands of scary Icelandic customs officials.

And when I'm looking for some small little race, maybe a 5K, to do in Lanzarote....there's google, offering instead the option of the International Running Challenge, an event comprised of 4 running races of distances ranging from 5K to a half-marathon, each on different types of terrain, completed over the course of 4 days. Or, as it came to be known, the Crazy Running Event. 400+ crazy runners participated, most from Ireland, the UK, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands. I was the token American.

Gratuitous big waves shot

So, without further ado, the races:

Day 1- 10K Road Race:

The first race of the series was considered the "classic" race-- a 2-loop, 10K run on the roads around Club La Santa, the resort that hosted the event.

Club La Santa = Triathlete Dream. In addition to this pool, they have a 50M one

For reasons not worth going into here, I was very low in confidence coming into this race. My running and training in general just felt "off," (moving locations every week or two will do that to you) and my spirits weren't boosted at all when I showed up to the track and saw dozens of teams with matching jerseys doing extensive and elaborate warm-ups and, mostly, looking like real runners. Turns out there are a ton of Irish, British, Danish, and Dutch running clubs that come to Crazy Run Event every year, and there are true rivalries that are taken very seriously. I resigned myself to finishing mid-pack, if I was lucky, and lined up several rows back from the front, hoping to just not embarrass myself.

The finish line for 3 of the races. I love a blue track.

With that attitude, you'd expect it'd go horribly, right? Well, shock of all shocks...the race went well. I ran very controlled the first mile as per my plan, and when I looked down at my watch at the mile mark and saw something like 6:20 (fast for me for a 10K), I figured either my watch was messed up or I'd blow up spectacularly. But when the second mile's pace wasn't much different and I still felt like I was running very comfortably, I had a fantastic moment of realization... hey, maybe I'm more fit than I think I am. Cool!

From there, I was in a great place mentally, and just rolled through the rest of the race, working my way through the pack, relaxing and staying calm when the wind picked up substantially (Lanzarote's winds are notorious and we were most definitely NOT spared), and feeling quite good. The miles ticked off quickly and I was thrilled to finish with a huge PR, vastly exceeding my expectations and finishing way higher than I thought I would (6th overall, 2nd in my age group). Off to a good start. And lesson learned -- I need to just trust in my training and not overthink everything, because sometimes you can feel like absolute garbage for weeks on end, and actually be gaining fitness.

Gets a little windy in these parts

Day 2- 13K Ridge Run

After doing everything in my power to recover quickly from the 10K (more on that later), I woke up on Monday morning feeling fairly decent, but unsure of how my legs would feel once I tried to go hard again. The second race, called a "Ridge Run," essentially took us away from Club La Santa, up to the top of the ridge of one of the local volcanoes, and then back down. So, generally, 4 miles up and then 4 miles down, with a large chunk of the race on trails. The course was absolutely beautiful, from what I could tell from the brief moments when I looked up enough to take in the view. There were rocks, and I'm a klutz! I couldn't afford to sightsee.

We climbed to the top of one of those...can't tell you which one, though (no sense of direction, here)

Like the day before, I started conservatively and by Mile 3, I was feeling good and passing people, including several girls that'd beaten me handily in the 10K the day before. The course got more steep at this point, and I tried to relax but still keep driving up the hill. I kept thinking of all those hills I begrudgingly climbed in my neighborhood in London and the last long run I did in Spain, when I basically ran down a mountain for a half hour, and then turned around and ran back up it. 4 mile sweat! (And having just uttered those words, I don't think I can call myself a Chicago girl anymore).

Look closely, that's me climbing in the foreground (#78). Favorite race pic ever
A few seconds later

Once we reached the top, I knew it was all downhill, so I just let go of my fear and flew down the hill, turning over my legs as fast as I could and trying not to trip on rocks. My race was almost obstructed by a goat that had wandered a bit away from its herd, but I'm not even phased by random animal encounters any more so I just shrugged and moved on. I ended the run 2nd in my age group and 4th overall and generally felt like it was, in a lot of ways, a better performance than the day before

Day 3- 5K Beach Run

Tuesday morning, we were bused to Puerto del Carmen, the biggest beach on Lanzarote, for a 5K race on soft sand. I underestimated this race; a 5K just didn't seem like that big of a deal. I didn't adequately figure in the difficulty of running in soft sand. It was brutal and I hated it. I couldn't find any sort of rhythm and constantly felt like I was inches away from face planting. I got quickly frustrated and just had a horrible race. While I'd been 6th and 4th overall the previous days, I was 12th in the 5K and I had no explanation other than I just didn't know how to run on sand and somehow, the others did. The other women that I'd been in competition with in the overall standings put over a minute on me, just in that stupid 5K.

Running through this stuff....not fun

I gave myself the ride home to pout, and then put it behind me altogether and switched my focus to the next day's race. That wasn't necessarily easy, but it had to be done. A nap and a little Nutella helped (God, they love Nutella in Europe).

Day 4- Half-Marathon

The grand finale was a point-to-point half marathon, starting out in the town of La Mancha. Despite three days of racing in my legs, I felt oddly calm and confident.

Near the start

Without much ado, the race started, and several woman took off quickly. I told myself to put the blinders on and run my own race, but I got pulled along a bit. Instructions were to go no faster than 7:20 in the first three miles, and my first three miles were all around 6:50. Whoops. But I felt very comfortable and was mixing it up with the same girls I'd been trading places with throughout the whole series. I had goals for my overall placement and placement in my age group, so I decided to just race instead of try to hit splits.

From mile 3.8 to mile 5 was a long and pretty nasty hill. I'd studied the course profile the night before and made the decision to take a risk and really work that mile. I had a new found confidence in my uphill running, and thought I could make up some ground there. So I attacked. It meant that I was running pretty much at a 5K effort only 4 miles into a half-marathon, which was scary, but it's what I thought I needed to do. I did catch a couple girls in that mile. Whether it was the right call or not I don't know, but sometimes it's fun to just RACE.

After the 5 mile mark, the course flattened out with some long downhill stretches broken up by a few more climbs every now and then. At 8 or 9 miles, we moved onto a loosely packed dirt/gravel road, and then at mile 10, were hit in the face with a headwind unlike anything I've experienced before. That lasted for the whole last 5K, and it was not fun. At all. But I felt strong and focused throughout and never stopped working. For the first time, there was no upcoming race looming, so I wanted to leave it all out there.

The scenery for much of the back half of the race

And I did. I ended up with a huge PR (over 5 minutes) and slipped under the 1:30 barrier. Yeah, (despite some difficult sections) the course was a net downhill. Yeah, it measured maybe 100m short. But a PR's a PR, and I'll take it, especially after three days of racing.

In the end, I fell a little short in the overall and age group place goals I'd set for the day. For the series, I wanted to be Top 3 overall or win my age group; I had a shot going into the half-marathon, and it didn't happen. But honestly, I wasn't even a little upset. I gave it everything I had, exceeded my own expectations, controlled the controllables, and executed my own plan pretty much perfectly....the other girls were just better on this day. For me to be able to say that is growth. After a lot of work and self-examination in the off-season, I think I'm finally learning how to find satisfaction in the process and not just focus on the outcome. That right there takes so much pressure off, which I think allows for better performance. Next step: keeping it up once we add swimming and biking to the mix.

Most of all, I loved this Crazy Running Event. It was hard and it tested me physically and mentally, but it also brought back a love of running that's eluded me for a while. Even when I was in the depths of pain, all I had to do was look up at the scenery for a minute, and I remembered how lucky I was. To be here and to be able to do really is a gift.

Recovery Nonsense

And a little note about recovery. I will confess that despite hearing over and over how important recovery is, I have never been good about it. I think (thought) compression gear is way too expensive and possibly a marketing ploy, I avoid ice baths like the plague (perhaps due to negative flashbacks from the dumb athletic trainer we had in high school who didn't think ice baths were effective unless they were exactly 35 degrees which is NOT the case), I'd rather use up my calories on things I like, like Arby's or jelly beans or red wine, than bland recovery drinks (although I am newly inspired by Karin's shower smoothie recipes that sound pretty yummy). Mostly, I'm just lazy and perhaps have an inflated view of my own toughness. Basically,  I've spent lots of energy trying to convince myself that all that recovery nonsense isn't really all that important.

Ice baths aren't so horrible when they're in the sea

BUT, I will also admit when I am wrong. I was wrong. That recovery nonsense is important. This week, I decided to do a little experiment and actually do what I'm supposed to be doing with recovery. Perhaps I felt like the stakes were higher with back-to-back-to-back-to-back races, but I went with it. As soon as I finished each race, I practically sprinted to the bag check and got a protein bar out of my bag to eat. I warmed down after every race until my legs felt normal-ish again. I drank recovery drinks. I had high-carb lunches. I did a few easy spins to flush the lactic acid out. I stretched, I self-massaged (that always sounds way dirtier than it is), I took naps (OK, I've never really fought that one, I am a napping champ), I wore compression socks, I even (gasp) took ice baths. worked. I recovered far better from these races than I thought I could. So, yeah, I guess I'll be doing that recovery nonsense from now on. Another lesson learned.


  1. Congratulations!!! What a huge mental and physical leap forward for you :) Those courses look TOUGH.

  2. Holy sh-t you broke 1:30? And in those conditons? Amazing!!!

  3. Kudos for that successful event! Do share more of your great activities especially when it's held in great places like Lanzarote.