August 04, 2011

How to Run (and Win) Four Races in One Week - By Jen Bigham

Guest Blog by Oiselle team member Jen Bigham.

Jen is one fast runner! She's also a great mama with covetable abs has some serious style (as seen in the blog entry "Tee Two Ways") We're honored to have her on the Oiselle team. Hearing about her racing is inspiring! Like this blog post about her birthday week of racing victories.

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A lot of runners do something running-related for their birthdays – run their age in miles, race a distance they haven’t, or try to set a personal best. For my 30th, I ran 4 races in a week…and won them all! In the process, I pushed myself harder than I ever thought I could on some of the hottest days I’ve experienced.

My crazy week started on my birthday with a 5k at the local zoo. It was a nice day, pretty cool for July. I won on the hilly course with a decent time and was feeling good. The zoo race was on Sunday morning, so I had a whole three days to rest before I raced on Thursday night, Friday night, and Saturday morning.

I haven’t ever run 3 races 3 days in a row so I was worried. My coach (also my older brother) predicted that I would run well on the first night, run faster on the second night, and just have to give whatever I had left the final morning. It was hard to believe I could be faster the second night, given that I usually take 2 days to recover after races, but I decided to trust him. Part of me wondered why runners didn’t always do a warm-up race the night before if it was really true.

Thursday finally came, and it was time for the USATF Niagara 3 Mile Championship. I got a message from the local USATF chapter saying the race might be canceled due to heat. Remember the heat wave the swept across most of the country? (I know, Seattle, it missed you!) It decided to show up the night before my 3 consecutive races.

All day I remained focused (anxious), knowing I would need to be extra tough if the race happened. I knew I also had to prepare for the heat. I drank ice water and Nuun (an awesome electrolyte replacement) all day so I could start out hydrated. I got to the race about 90 minutes beforehand and did a shorter warmup than usual. I also packed my sports bra and shorts with ice cubes right against my skin to try to keep my core as cool as possible.

The final thing I did was mental. I reminded myself that every person in the race was dealing with the same conditions and I was prepared just as well as anyone. It’s a good thing to keep in mind for a lot of what’s intimidating about races – hilly course?  Well, it’s hilly for everyone. Too hot or cold?  Same for everyone else.

The heat index was 98 degrees at the 6:30pm start. My ice cubes melted by the first mile (but still helped me beat the heat!). My time was slower than I would have normally expected, but everyone’s time was slower. And, I won!

Afterwards I stretched and did a short cooldown (funny thing to do in this weather…), and stretched again. I ate a Clif Bar as soon as I could after the race, knowing it would be critical for the next day’s race. When I got home I took an ice bath, had dinner, and went to bed early.

Friday came and the stakes were high. The winner would get $500, plus an additional $100 for breaking the 5k record. I was a little tight, but felt better than I had expected. It was hot again (a chipper 90 degrees at 7pm), and so I repeated my routine from Thursday – I hydrated, mentally prepared, and stashed ice in my sports bra and shorts. It was just under 90 degrees at the 7pm start.

The race started off well. I went through the first 400 meters, and heard my parents and baby daughter cheering. Despite the heat, it really did feel cooler compared to the night before. I got the win and course record. My time was only 8 seconds off my personal best and given the heat I was happy. I finished up with stretching, snack and a cooldown, plus an ice bath and dinner at home, knowing every effort made would help my legs on the final race.

My final race came just 13 hours later on Saturday morning. By this race, there was no denying that my legs were tired and sore, but once again not as bad as I thought they would be. This race has sentimental value because it marked my one year anniversary of returning to racing after having my daughter. I ran a 5k personal best on that first race back, and this encouraged me to keep training.

The race went well. My dad also ran and I used him to pull me along, cheering as he zoomed by his competitors. It was a great race. Not a fast race, but I pulled off another win, and my dad won the master’s division. What a great way to end my birthday week!

As I reflect on the week of racing, especially racing in the heat, I think a few things were critical. I was mentally prepared for the heat – I knew I wouldn’t run my fastest times, but kept in mind that everyone else would be struggling too. I stayed tough in the heat, even though I feel heat is my major running weakness. I did everything to make sure I was physically prepared, from hydrating and fueling up post-race to ice baths and stretching. Every bit helps.

I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of competition even the tough parts. People often think that these hard races - the hot ones or hilly ones or long ones, will be their worst memories, but they make the best stories and my best memories.