Interlude for a race recap. In preparation for a 44-mile run around Mt St Helens in August, I've signed up for several intermediate races. These aren't to test my mettle against the locals - though it's always fun to compare - but to inject a little interest into the training regimen.
I like to think of the training season as standing next to a dirt pile and trying to build it as tall as you can. Every session is a shovel of dirt, and when you start out, it's easy to just chuck that dirt on top and see some growth. But after a while you need to get strategic: if the dirt mound is too tall and not broad enough, it will fall back on you, so some days you need to lessen the slope of the pile so it won't collapse. (Overtraining is like finding that your dirt source is the pile you're trying to build.)
So a couple weeks ago, I decided to run the Laurel Hill Park 10-miler. My schedule indicated a 10-mile run was in order. The prior Thursday had been a particularly rough interval session, in which I totally misread my training notes and ended up blasting my legs to excess at 5-mile pace. As Friday drifted into Saturday, my legs were sore, so I wasn't hopeful for a great performance. Indeed, I plotted out the course with 8:30 miles in mind, and a stretch goal of 1:15.
Before the race, I practiced my prep. People who have a consistent pre-race routine usually see better results simply because their bodies are in "race mode". The routine I've settled on:
1. About 30 minutes before the run, drink some coffee. Not much, maybe a half cup. I've weaned myself off daily caffeine, so this really hits me.
2. Go to the can. This is enough time to clear things out so that if I don't get another chance, I'll be fine during the event.
3. About 20 minutes before race time, do a short, ~0.25 mile warmup jog at extremely low pace.
4. Push-ups and sit-ups. Nothing too strenuous, focus on getting the core activated.
5. Additional ~0.5-1 mile warmup jog. Focus on loosening up, so do some butt kicks and stride steps and cross steps.
6a. If needed, strip off warmup gear. Your body should be race-warm at this point.
6b. If possible, do 1-3 hill climbs, no more than 5 seconds each. These will raise the heartrate and activate the core a little bit.
With 5-10 minutes left before the race, your body is now warm. And that's where I found myself 10 minutes before race time, standing on a paved path in a knot of runners. Feeling a little more confident now that my legs were warm and I'd assessed the actual leg soreness, I slid my way near the front.
The race went off easily enough. I slotted myself about a dozen people back from the lead, since there was a mix of 5-mile & 10-mile runners. Around the first couple bends we were together, and I slid up a place or two. It's hard to contain overexuberant legs, so I was hesitant to make any aggressive moves.
The first 3/4 mile felt like nothing. We were on the paved Cross County Trail (CCT), which also makes up part of my hometown Wakefield Park trail system. We wrapped around the back of a storage building, skirted the east side on grass, then re-entered the CCT. Finally the pavement gave way, and we hit the big descent with switchbacks that was slowed by the people in front of me. Ever so quietly, two 10-mile runners broke off the front and disappeared a few dozen yards ahead as we moved into the woods.
I could have shaved 10-15 seconds off the final time with some aggressiveness in this section, but it worked out as I found my spot behind a fellow-paced runner. I rode his heels for a couple miles, sliding by another half dozen others who had more stately paces until at last we reached the first turn-off loop. I followed him in the slight rise into the woods.
As we approached that rise, I heard someone behind me. The characteristic footfalls and rustle of clothes held back for a half mile or so before finally whisking by on the arcing, descending curves. Their owner popped ahead like a man possessed, and I said to my pacer, "He must be a 5-miler." Then I spotted his bib: red stripe, definitely a 10er. He had the pace to break away, but as the trail leveled he and his bright yellow top took up a spot maybe 15m in front of us.
We stayed with him at that distance through the rest of the side loop and halfway into the extension loop. By this time I'd been on the same person's back for almost half the race, and since he showed some reticence through the dusty, rocky turns along the far plateau, I slipped by him. He stayed with me for a little while, holding my heels through several curves, but the descent and climb up at the far end of the course put him firmly 10 or so meters behind. I gained an equal amount on our leader.
We were maybe 5 miles through now, and I still felt good. My leader was young, probably not too experienced at race tactics; the guy behind me was my age, but I knew the final switchbacks of the race course would give me opportunity to run him down as long as we were close. With that in mind, I now started a game with the yellow jersey: he hated hearing footsteps, so I'd let go during descents, get close enough to be audible on the ensuing flats or rises, and he would pace up until he got out of earshot. I imagined his power level dipping at each of these, an extra jab here and there in a long bout.
We hooked around to do the main loop the second time, now passing runners from both races. Our pace picked up a bit along the flats at the top of the main hill, and as before the yellow jersey cruised on the wide turns into the valley. He got a few extra steps on me, but as we rose back up on the other side, I caught up again.
"Was that other guy a 5?" He finally asked.
"Nope, 10. He's still there," I told him, having seen the third in our group no more than 20m back along the switchbacks.
We came out of the woods, bent right at the aid station, and I was aware of someone behind me. We polished off the loop, and now he was just a few meters back. Back to seriously overlapping with both races, we made our way along the base of the dirt pile hill in the heart of the course mostly by running next to the trail, calling out our passes as we went.
Having cleared the bulk of this, we opened into a wider stretch, and the guy behind made a move. He passed easily and camped a half dozen steps ahead of the guy in yellow, with me now taking up the rear. Our course turned down into a dip, then sent us into some rollers that were set up for rapid-fire mountain bike fun but made for slightly less running fun.
We strung out a bit, since this small slope and the few runners we were passing slowed us all to different depths. Now into the woods again, I expected the final climb, but it didn't come: a small up-and-down, then a brief drop to cross the tiny creek. And after that, the ".5 miles to go" sign.
We made a hard right, and I considered my place only a moment before opting to go. Worst case, I figured, I'd blow up and lose by 20 seconds. Best case, I'd hang on and close out ahead.
I passed easily, kicked up a notch in pace. The lead guy muttered, "Go get it!" I rolled onto the pavement thinking it was the end of the course, but after a brief stint we hit the final climb on those switchbacks from the start. I quick-stepped up, each time seeing the pair behind by no more than 10m. But at the top, I dug deep to roll over it with speed in spite of the steeper lip. Race tip: don't be lulled into a lower pace by a hill.
Now clear, I accelerated smoothly onto the final mini-descent. Pavement, a few runners, over to the guard tower turn, I hazarded a look back: they weren't in sight, so were still behind those runners I'd passed. It was mine if I didn't ease off.
I dashed across the grassy knoll and slid through the finish a full 12 seconds before my chasers. Final time: 1:09:58, good for 3rd and a full 5 minutes faster than my "stretch goal" time. Maybe it's going to be another one of <i>those</i> seasons, which I certainly don't mind.
At the end, I didn't feel overly wrecked, but after a few hours these legs were sore. The course was decent, featuring good variety, including lots of meadow/dry/exposed areas with some whipping wind. I preferred the wide turns in the forest for runnability and pleasantness, but since it's just 20 minutes away, this little park might be a future site of a long weekend run.
Mash out. Spin on.
The closest I came to training in grad school was tacking a training schedule up to my cubicle wall and checking off the days as they came. I followed that plan as a minimum - in order to finish a half ironman, I would need to do at least that, but obviously I could turn a 50k ride into a 70k ride, or a 10k run into a 10-mile run.
Training to me was not rocket science. It was really just an exercise in linear progression, as far as I was concerned, and I certainly didn't mind running daily. That first plan was actually the first time I enacted a "rest day", which I only sometimes took seriously. As I advanced in my pseudo-career, I kept the rest day but really didn't change the basic training idea.
In general, when there was no plan, that included a pre-breakfast run or ride.
Alas, the schedule of the Goddard folks was quite different. They met at Goddard, assembled before lunch, and ran through what was my normal lunchtime. I couldn’t eat prior to these runs, lest they turn into...uh...runs. So I found myself counting down the minutes to the midday meet-up runs. And because I wasn’t on campus, the rest of the group typically came out to meet me closer to my office.
Jake apparently had a plan, as he spent much of his coaching effort sending out detailed schedules that included pace and distance. Workouts were often 10k or longer - not counting warmup and cooldown. My mileage went up, and my speed did as well, at least in some ways. It turned out that, since I wasn’t 25 anymore, my legs didn’t adapt the way they had back in The Day. But I tried my damndest to hold on.
A couple months into this adventure, Jake encouraged me to find a 10-miler to run. I had improved my speed and endurance and picked the Turkey Burnoff in Maryland. A couple of us Goddard peeps signed up for the chilly/not-chilly race, and I expected to bring up the rear. It was a two-lap race. I figured by the second lap I’d be wiped out mentally. But when the gun went off, I went at my pace; around mile 3, I picked up that pace; and by mile 5, I was passing one of the other Goddardites, and thinking ahead to markers where I could make up time.
That run was a real push, and as I dug deep for the final 3 miles, I knew that at the end of this race would be a hot shower and some tasty victuals. The last climb was a killer, but I passed someone near the bottom and never looked back, hacking up the hill to make the final turn and cross the line in 1:05:26. Not bad for a sort of comeback run.
A brand new event experience followed in February: a meet held at a local track. Really. For real, running on a track competitively like some sort of track and field guy.
I showed up and did a brief warmup (and I mean brief -- others were doing a 5k to get warm, stretching like crazy, and really taking it all seriously; I showed up, maybe put in a 500-meter warmup lap around the neighborhood, then stood around chatting up the locals until Jake insisted we do a warmup run as a team). The event was the 1-mile, and I knew I had it in the bag.
So much so that, like every other running event I’ve been involved with, I had no idea what to expect and probably underestimated my abilities. So I stood at the start line where Jake told me to, watched his shoes, and ran like a demon devil. While my final time of 5:21 was certainly solid for a 33.5-year old guy running on a repaired knee, I felt it could have gone better, especially if indoor running didn’t involve breathing dry and slightly musty air.
But Jake wanted us to do another track meet, this time in Maryland. So a few weeks later, I obliged and ran some sort of distance, but it’s not clear what, as no results seem to have been retained. I’m pretty sure it was the mile, and I’m pretty sure I burned the crap out of my legs and pushed for something like a 5:17. There was definitely some sort of timing glitch, as the Goddard runners finished something like 4 of the top 8 and 6 of the top 15 or some such ridiculousness. But since it was all for fun and cost a dollar or two (no really, a dollar or two), I didn’t mind, though the drive back took me through the RFK parking lot for no apparent reason, and I did quite mind that.
I started the summer hot and just got hotter. Every week I could feel more strength infusing in my legs, my power returning after years of neglect. I was free again!
Actually, I started feeling pain in my left achilles and had to back off, stop running, talk with a physical therapist, and fix my gait. I had been running on the repaired knee with a funny hitch that was obvious when filmed, and it took some time to convince myself that biking was acceptable for fitness and running would have to be on hold for a bit. I put the runs on the back burner, where they would simmer and eventually explode to make a big mess in the kitchen that wouldn’t even come out with the good soap and heavy-duty sponge.
The rest of the year was all about rest, recovery, and riding. I abandoned running because it was agonizing. But biking became agonizing too if it lasted longer than a couple hours. I had to build up slowly, do a lot of stretching, and finally -- and most importantly -- change my shoes. There’s a story in that.
Maybe next time, eh?
Next up: Comebackuppance.
Mash out. Spin on.
Some runner person. Also perhaps a cyclist & brewing type. But for your purposes, a runner person.