Monday, July 5, 2010

Summer of Speed : retrospective

So what happened to my summer of speed! I mentioned it, then never wrote another word about it, or much of anything else. Well, in one sense it went unexpectedly well. I was able to break my old 5K pr at the Gilio 5K in May. That PR--17:35--actually came from at an away dual meet. Bloomfield, maybe? Anyway, looking back on it, I don't think all those high school XC courses were wheeled out very carefully--if I were really picky I'd probably have to give the honor to one of my old times at Wickham: 17:53, I think--but I'm not really picky; that was just a rambling aside about why some of my old PRs are the least squishy.

Writing that made me nostalgic for Wickham Park. I can practically smell that burned-grease odor that always permeated the top of the pavement hill from the nearby concessionary. I bet thousands of kids who raced there can remember the same thing.

.... Hm, right, Summer of Speed. The 5K went well. I wasn't really sure what to do next. I didn't quite feel enthusiastic about digging around for another 5K flat enough to challenge my track PR (17:08, thanks for asking). Then I ran the club handicap mile and damn near yakk'd (my own damn fault. Damn afternoon races--it's like the only race I do in the afternoon all year. I totally forget how to eat beforehand).

That pretty much takes me to the last race: the Bridgton 4 on the 4th. It always astounds me to see 1800 people all toeing the line in the middle of small-town Maine. But maybe it shouldn't surprise me--the race is well run, and the town is always hopping that time of year. The course, however, is not easy. Not trail-race hilly, of course, but still--you need to respect that first hill, and you need to be thinking about the rollers on Dugway, or they will EAT you (I am sorry to be reporting from personal experience, here).

Yesterday's rendition went over much differently. I was a bit worried at the start that I hadn't got enough water, as it was shaping up to be hot, and there was none at the line. A lot of high school kids and campers come out for this race, so there was a fair bit of horseplay and clowning around in the parking lot adjacent to the race start. I skulked around in the shade as best I could and tried not to think about being thirsty. Props to the two guys (girls?) dressed up in full-body duck suits--those things must have been wicked hot.

We were thoroughly anthemed before the RD handed over the starting pistol and set us to our marks. The shot rang and we were off. Almost immediately, a pleasant surprise. The heavy feeling in my legs disappeared, and along with it the doubtful boy-I-wish-I-had-studied-for-this-test sense that came from two pretty so-so weeks of training. I felt good. I knew I could run the flat opener much harder, but I picked my own pace and ran it confidently.

I don't remember having to think about the hills, which is always the best way to do them. Mainly I remember carrying my strength into the last mile, passing a guy, he catching up again; kicking--just a little too early!--fading off behind me as I crossed the line.

A good race, a personal CR by 20 seconds. As usual, when I finish a race with a little vim left, I have to wonder if I could have run harder. The price of running a controlled race, perhaps?

I am closing the book on my summer of speed for 2010, although it's certainly too early to write off the possibility of a 2011 edition. Now it's time to start thinking about Applefest, and then Baystate Marathon. Next calendar race: Marshfield 20K (speaking of squishy prs...)

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Spectating the JJR

Immediately following the Blue Hills Foxtrot, I jumped in my car and made my way over to Dedham to spectate the James Joyce Ramble. This is a fairly big 10k that puts up enough purse to bring out some serious runners. I didn't see any Kenyans this year, but the BAA guys showed up in force.

No fancy race commentary from me. I'll just post the pictures I took. Most are rubbish, and I missed half the club. Don't ever hire me to be an event photographer.

nice shoes, twinkle toes

too much energy for mile 5

I wonder if he caught that guy in the hat...?

I noticed the guy behind Maureen, because he's wearing a MV 20M shirt from 2010, which I know Maureen also ran. A rematch, apparently? I looked up his name in the JJR results, but when I cross-referenced the MV20 results, he did not appear, so I'm guessing he either borrowed the shirt, or the number. Incidentally, if it was a rematch, Mo would have smoked him--she finished in 212th place; he faded to 827th.

one more shot of Mo.

My only approach shot of Mel was totally obliterated by some other guy. Oh well.

Mike turns the corner.

I almost totally missed Dave. (I was looking for the mask, sorry!)

ditto Michelle.

this guy is not actually in our club. Looks like you could bronze him and put him on the top of a cross country trophy, doesn't he?

Blue Hills Foxtrot 10 miler race report

Yesterday I helped the CSA put in its potato crop for the year. Potato planting is surprisingly easy. The farmer has already furrowed the field with his tractor, which takes care of by far the hottest and heaviest of the four jobs. The other three consist, in order, of: (1) chopping seed potatoes into about golf-ball sized chunks; (2) dropping the potatoes into the furrows; (3) hoeing over the furrows so the potatoes sit in about 2 inches of dirt. You couldn't have asked for a nicer day to do farm work: blue skies and temps in the 60s, new green on all the trees and robins caroling in the bushes. I'd figured to spend about 2 hours there, but somehow double that time drifted by before I knew it. Something about farm-work just puts you in the zone. Potato, flick, potato, flick, potato, flick, row after row after row....; after a while the action becomes unconscious and higher brain functions largely unnecessary. After the fact, I'm totally at a loss to identify what I was thinking about; I just don't remember ever being bored.

That aside had almost nothing to do with running, except that my back was a little sore this morning, prior to the Foxtrot. It worked itself out by the time I started racing. All right then, enough about potatoes! How did the race go?

What a fantastic day for a trail run! Cool and cloudy, not raining, but overcast in the particular way the sky has when it is earnestly considering it. The woods were an emerald dream of verdurous spring-time growth, rich dark mud, and flowing streams. We toed the line at 9am and got to it.

Right from the siren two guys jumped out ahead and I tucked in behind them. It was faintly possible they were running the 3 mile, but I thought it unlikely: you can usually tell a 5k from a 10mile runner by their arm carriage--besides which,the hard-core guys almost always do the longer distance at this race.

I love the course layout for this race, but I particularly love the first couple miles as they are fairly flat, your legs are fresh, and you can really fly, spinning over all the obstacles, your feet magically finding the stable ground between the rocks and roots that vein the trail. The trees blur by, and you take each downhill like a waterfall, inexorable, flowing always into the easiest path.

I don't run this race with a garmin. If I did, I would look at it and think I should be running slower. That might well be true--but I can't bring myself to do it. Flying through those early miles is just too much fun.

Around mile 2 I started losing contact with the lead pair. All my muscles were feeling strong, but my breath was coming fast, and I knew I had to hold onto it.

In 2008 (the last time I did the 10 miler), I somehow got confused during the race and thought the limed mile marker reading "5" actually read "6". As you can imagine, it was a bit of a psychological blow when I hit mile 6 again -- near the top of long up-hill. I was determined to have a better back half of the race today.

I took some water from the 'stop at mile 5 and I totally nailed it, except I got some on my glasses. I think my water station technique has improved.

Mile 6 and 7 are tough in this race. There's a couple long uphills to contend with, then the easy even Green Trail--which nonetheless throws some up at you--and then a brief section of the skyline trail, which absolutely sucks. I knew it was coming this time and was bracing myself for it. Perhaps too much so--in the middle of one of those long climbs, an HFC guy caught me! I willed for some faster turnover, but my legs were giving what they were giving. I caught up a little on the next down-hill, but not enough. Inexorably, he started to gap me.

I reached the mile 7 mark with great relief; The last 3 miles of the race are mostly pretty easy, and I still felt strong, my attitude focused on racing, not merely surviving. I flowed into the next downhill, feet finding the way.

Total solitude for the next three miles. I kept hearing what I thought were footfalls, but any time I hit a switchback turn (of which there are many), I couldn't see anyone behind me. At mile 9 I rejoined the green trail and picked up the pace. What a joy to stretch your legs after all the single-track where self-preservation forces you to be careful.

No one near me at the finish. A big kick over the footbridge, and I was done.

Results: 4th OA (AG ? ), time of 66? minutes

I didn't hang around for the awards so I don't know exactly how I did. Although I wasn't foolhardy enough to attempt double-headering like last year, I still wanted to catch the JJRamble....

One observation: holy crap what a difference it makes on the downhills to land more on your forefoot. I experienced a big improvement in downhill speed since the Great Footstrike Conversion of '09. Heel-striking downhill on trail is scary; you take fewer strides, so each stride has that much more weight behind it. And if the plant is bad, you're already totally committed, so there's nothing you can do. Maybe you roll your ankle, maybe you just jam it awkwardly. It tends to make you cautious in a way I hadn't appreciated.

Monday, April 19, 2010

spectating the Boston Marathon

Today I biked into Wellesley to watch the Boston marathoners go by. This was only the second boston marathon I've spectated in person, and I had a much better cheering spot this time. The runners really lucked out weather-wise; it was chilly but not super-windy, and it rained nary a drop. All told a beautiful early spring day. It was really inspiring to watch the elites go by: nothing but flow, a pure harmony of motion. What other terrestrial animals run like that? Us and timber wolves, and huskies, maybe.

When the men passed by Hall was in the lead, which I thought was not his plan (what happened to finding a happy middle between leading and settling in at the back of the pack?) All the same, looking at the results, he clearly knew what he was doing since he ran such a great time. Not a win, but what can you say to 2:05:51? That's not just great, that's a staggering time for Boston. You've got to give it up for the new Robert Cheruiyot; he earned it!

I was looking for GNRC jerseys the whole time, but didn't see any! (I hung around 'til 1 o'clock, and I was pretty near the half-marathon mark). You guys must have slipped by me in the crowd. Hopefully my hooting and hollerin' cheered you on in spirit!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

medical report

When I started this blog, I was at the tail-end of the longest-running running injury of my adult career. It was a bit humbling; I hadn't been seriously hurt since I was 16, and that owing more to an uneven growth spurt than anything else. Now I was just another injured runner. Well, that experience had the silver lining of motivating the period of experimentation that I've been documenting over the last few months. I tried barefooting and Vibrams, and then when it got too cold I settled into a pair of Nike Frees, reconfiguring my gait in a rather dramatic way. All this was supposed to help me fulfill one of my listed goals: getting healthy. I thought an update on that would be appropriate, and I'm happy to report the result: about 98% there.

In late February, when I ran my Marathon, I was pretty sure I had it all figured out. My knee pain from the 2009 injury had gone away; my foot pain had vanished, and I could tell my foot muscles were a lot stronger. Many things did not work out on marathon day, but falling apart due to injury was not one of them. A week after the marathon, eager to hang onto all that hard-won endurance, I went out for a 20 miler. I ended up stopping at 19, feeling tired but mostly OK. But then! IT pain so bad I literally couldn't walk (inconvenient since I was still a mile from my house--fortunately after a rest I made it about 5 steps, and then things improved geometrically).

I recognized that episode as a signal to accept my body's inevitable inclination to take some down-time following my crest in February. I wanted to dive right into the next thing, but my body was not on board. So my summer of speed is to be preceded by a spring of loafing around (how clever of me not to call for a Spring of speed; I congratulate myself!)

Actually I think I'm through most of the loafing. I discovered a good stretch for IT pain, and then I discovered an even better therapy for it (although I haven't tried that trick with the 2L soda bottle yet). The therapy is just 2 barefoot miles on the track infield. I'm not sure if it's the barefooting or the soft, even ground, but whatever it is, it pretty consistently blows away the pain in my legs.

Yesterday I did 8 miles in Vibrams; today 12 on trails in the Frees (which are really falling apart in earnest now; I kind of like them like this--they've got credibility--but I don't think I can hang onto them much longer ).

My Vibrams, which I hadn't worn for a while and remembered to be a little small, actually slipped on pretty well. Only the pinch point on the side of my right foot is still there. I am considering "modifying" the offender (i.e., cutting a hole in it with an Xacto knife ). Drastic maybe, but otherwise I'm going to be going through bandaids at a ferocious clip (the Vibrams are too snug for socks).

That is all for now. See you out there!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Summer of Speed

My legs were pretty blasted last Monday, but after that I was happy to find I recovered pretty rapidly. My run this Friday felt pretty much totally normal, except for some twinges on the outside of my left knee (I think just more IT band tightness, and nothing to worry about).

One consequence of switching to lighter shoes and consciously working on soft foot-strikes is that it's gotten harder than ever to signal my presence to other pedestrians. This was always a problem, especially in the woods. I would routinely sneak up on people, not out of any malice, but rather owing to the soft surface and a fairly rapid closing speed.

This morning, as I was running in the woods, keeping alert over the light dusting of snow that had fallen the previous evening, just such an occasion presented itself. I stamped to announce my presence to the person I was coming up upon. Nothing. I tried again, harder. Still nothing. At last I resorted to awkward "a-hem", throat clearing, but by then I was close enough that I surprised her anyway.

I need a bell.

What was this post about, again? Right! Next running goal! I've done distance for a bit; now it's in my mind to turn my attention to speed. My rationale is: I'm going on 29, and I'm healthy. Now may be the best time to take one last shot at some of my short-distance PRs. In particular I want a rematch with my 5k time. Unlike most other distances, four years of cross country and track in high school means I ran a lot of 5ks--and at least a handful of them were OK.

I was never super-fast, which is actually just as well now, because I don't have some unattainably awesome performance to measure myself against. My track 5K PR is 17:08. Last year, in trainers and coming off an injury, I still managed to run a 17:46 at the Gilio 5K. That makes me think I'm not too decrepit to make another run at this time.

I am contemplating a typically unsophisticated training strategy. Much like my marathon training ("do lots of 20+ mile runs"), my central principal will be: "you race fast by practicing running fast." I want to mix in "fast miles" to most of my training runs, like 5:30 or faster. Terrain and sunlight make this tricky (hills may be roughly accounted for, but it's hard to run really fast in the dark). There's always the track, but the track is boring. And besides, when I'm racing on roads, I like to practice on roads. Real courses have hills too.

That is all from me for the moment. Thanks for your supportive comments about the marathon, I'm feeling much better about it now.

Sunday, February 28, 2010


The half marathoners are just finishing. I look at them enviously as they stream up towards the chute. My legs are burning. Why did I go out so hard? Why didn't I eat anything? Why did I completely ignore my race plan? I am only half-way finished and I'm a total wreck, pretty much done in. Grimly I begin the long, slow trudge that will take me once again over the course I just finished, each step feeling like it will be my last...and then I wake up. Just an anxiety dream (whew!). I look over at my clock, and it's still 30 minutes before my alarm, but I swing out of bed anyway. I have gotten loads of sleep. I feel strong and ready, like nothing's going to get in my way today.

A couple of hours later, I am in Hyannis, picking up my number and poking around the race expo. They have 26.2 stickers! Superstitiously I decline from buying one, as the race isn't run yet. I also run into Mike and say hello, but I'm feeling too restless to stay in one place and socialize.

I head back to my car to make last-minute preparations. My plan today is simple. I am going to run even splits, as slow as possible for my goal pace of 3:10. I've chosen 7:06's (really 7:00 - 7:06), figuring that would give me 3:07:25, assuming I run long by 2 tenths of a mile. Every 5 miles I'm going to have a gel and wash it down with some water. If necessary I have shot bloks (more runner candy) to eat over the last 10k. If things are going really, really well, I might try to pick it up a little at mile 21, but I'm not counting on it.

I'm actually not thinking of this race in miles at all, but in leagues (three mile intervals). That way I can think to myself, "I'm only running 9! Hell it's even a short 9, that's not so far!").

Minutes before the start, I have lined up by the 7 minute/mile pace sign. (This turned out to be unwise; the starting queue filled from the front, and newcomers pushed us back from our chosen starting position. A little irritating, but the race is chip-timed at start and finish, so I guess it doesn't matter much). Someone next to me says, "anyone here looking to run a 3:10?" and I say I am. He's a pretty fast-looking guy with sport sun-glasses running over his ear warmers, and a 70.3 tattoo on his left calf. That's good-- I won't say no to some company.

Race start. I knew this would be hard and I wasn't wrong. People are streaming by me. Even though I queued up at my goal pace, which I am now running ruthlessly, looking at my garmin every few paces to be sure, I apparently queued up too high--I'm one of "those" runners! d'oh! My erstwhile pacing buddy is off like a shot. Too fast for me; I'll either see him again or I won't.

I see for Melissa for the first time. She looks like she's settled into her goal pace already, just like me. There's a lot of traffic between us so I just drift on, mentally wishing her luck.

Mile 1 passes; for me I am reading 1.02. Worse than I feared, but it's the first mile, which is always hard to run efficiently because the mob hasn't thinned out yet. Second mile comes: 2.04. Shit! I am a little worried. If that keeps up, I'll run 26.7, a full extra half mile; and I thought I was being conservative guessing I would run 26.4!

The miles drift by. The 10ks turn off around mile 5, and things thin out still more. The weather has really cooperated. It's cloudy and cool, with no rain. I am enjoying myself (first 20% of the "enjoy every mile" goal? Check!)

By mile 10, I am pretty much surrounded by half marathoners, and I start to feel a little residual pull as they all hasten into their last 5k. I keep it cool and have my second gel. Things have gone right according to plan so far and I'm trying to keep it that way.

End of the first loop. The half-marathoners turn up towards the hotel to make their finish. I was worried this would be disheartening, but actually I feel super hard-core and kind of inspired that I'm going to be doubling down on what was the entire race for most of the field. I am working on my 5th league, and things still feel great.

As I start league 6, I'm already thinking about league 7; I know it will be a critical one, where I expect to find out if my pacing assumptions were on the money. It's deliciously quiet. The clouds have cleared away and I can see blue sky. A bit of a wind picks up, but I'm not complaining. Given the nor'easter I spent so much time last week worrying about, it would be hard to ask for a nicer day.

Around mile 18 I start to feel my old friend, the Resistance. He is way ahead of schedule. I am suddenly filled with worry and doubt. I've got another 8 miles to do here! I remember what I said to myself ages ago: "if you run into the Resistance and it doesn't seem like you can go on, just run another 2 miles. That's not so bad, right? 2 miles against the Resistance, and you don't have to feel too ashamed of yourself."

I make it another 2 miles, then eat my mile 20 gel, walking.

I don't want to dwell too much on the next 10k, because it was pretty ugly, and you can probably read most of the story in the pace chart. The disappointment, the gradual certainty of my pace goal slipping away, all present and accounted for. I would pick some visual goal, run until I reached it, then walk for a quick 0.1 until the burning subsided somewhat in my legs, and then repeat. If I were to be a determined optimist, I would say my walk-jogging technique has improved significantly, even since Martha's Vineyard.

(One bright note: remember my erstwhile pacing buddy, the one who took off like a shot? I caught him! He was walk-jogging too, even slower than me).

After some unreckonable period, I reach the last mile. The muscles in my calves are rippling spasmodically and I'm a little worried about them. Despite everything I still want to finish and at least get a time. This is full on Xeno's Paradox mode; the first half of the race seemed equal in time and difficulty to the next 10k, the next 5k similar, right on down to this interminable mile.

The last quarter mile. I imagine myself setting off around a track. One loop, that's it. It's awfully nice of these people to hang around and cheer in us marathoners. Somehow or other I make it up the hill to the finish. The clock says 3:25:56.

I really wanted to hang around and find Mel and Mike after the finish, but my mental state just then was not so good. I don't think I really appreciated how much I had invested physically and psychologically into the race until it was over. Now all I could think about was slinking away some place quiet to sulk, and that's what I did.

I am still working out how to feel about my first marathon. I am mainly disappointed, but on the other hand, I know plenty of people who would be happy to run a 3:26. I am not ashamed of it or anything. I could certainly have run a mentally tougher race, but even if I had fought like a tiger I don't think I could have shaved 16 minutes off my time. I wanted to enjoy every mile. I wanted to be so strong that I could run the last 10k of a marathon with strength and confidence. And I wanted to qualify for Boston. I did not do any of those things.

Well that's all a bit of a pity-party, but it feels good to get it out of my system. The nominal purpose of this blog has concluded, but I am somewhat in the habit of it now and I expect it will continue. Stay tuned for a post about my next running goal!

Final Tally:
Time: 3:24:56 (edited; official results took 60s off my time)

Distance: 26.2 (26.55 by garmin)
Place: 39 overall, 18AG (out of 383 finishers).

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

blast from the past

Last year, just around the time I started running with the GNRC, I ran a small trail 3M and was lucky enough to win it. The race only had 60 people or so, but as runputt will vouch, a win's a win, right? Anyway, I kept circling back to the CRR website, hoping to find they posted some pictures showing how awesome I was, but gave it up after a few months. Now as I look at the 2010 races, I see pictures from 2009 appeared at last!

I think being the "Bunny Hop" winner pretty much says it all.

I thought hard about whether I wanted to come back and run the trail 10 miler (well, it's anywhere between 9.7 and 10.2 miles, depending on what tweaks they decide to do to the course this year), or to run James Joyce the same day. At last I decided I couldn't give up a race in the Blue Hills; rocks, roots, choppy hills, muddy puddles, and at least one stream to jump over; in other words exactly my kind of race. I'll swing by JJR afterwards so I can cheer on the rest of you! (but no double-header this time).

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Foxboro Old Fashioned 10-Miler Race Report

We had a warm and sunny, albeit rather blustery, day today for the running of the Foxboro 10 Miler. I had woken up this morning with a bit of a scratchy throat, but by the time I got to the race site the cruddiness had more or less subsided and I felt ready to race. This run was to be my last real sharpener before Hyannis, and I was hoping it would be a confidence booster. Also I have no time on the books for a 10 miler, and I wanted to leave a respectable mark in the sand.

I checked in, got my number and swag bag, and met up with some other club folks (so great to run into people I know at races... (Grand Prix <3!). Then I retreated to my car to relax where it was warm and quiet until it was time to head for the line. Outside, a fallen pine bough stirred restlessly in the gusty wind; beyond the trees I could see some of the more hard-core runners doing warmups. I felt pretty comfortable heading straight to the line, as I guessed (correctly) that my first mile would be an endless litany of keep it slow keep it slow keep it slow, nope too fast slow it down... no need to compound the problem by coming hot to the line.

Race start. A crisp beginning. My breath came easily and I payed ruthless attention to my GPS to keep it that way, determined not to get sucked into a faster pace than I planned. I was aiming for 6:15s; my half marathon PR pace is 6:27, but on an easier course (and in considerably better shape), I was pretty sure I could nail that speed.

The first three miles passed very quickly. We ran through the center of town and then turned down a tranquil winding little road surrounded by forest. By mile four the wind had started to push against me in earnest, but not enough to really sap my strength; I carried on, holding to my target pace.

The whole course proved to be pretty windy. I frequently found myself following the line of the runners in front of me as we weaved back and forth across the road, cutting tangents. Not all of it was well advised, but the cars were generally pretty forbearing in their not-running-over of us.

At mile 5 I heard hard breathing and was surprised to see the same girl I had beaten by a few seconds at the Norwood TT pass me decisively. I followed her for the next mile or so until we hit another patch of rolling hills and she faded off a little. I passed her, figuring not to see her again. I also passed an HFC guy, but I didn't recognize him from the super-fast pack-of-five that showed up for the TT last November.

Mile 8 saw us running over the last big hill. I was beginning to feel it by now of course, but I wasn't really hurting as badly as I expected. My GPS was reporting pretty even splits and that gratified me (granted it's much easier to avoid overrunning a 6:15 pace than a 6:45 pace, but still).

The last two miles of this race proved to be dead flat. My pace opened up a little, but I'm sure everyone else's did too; I certainly wasn't gaining much ground on the next runner. At about mile 8.5 I was passed. That girl again! I pieced together later that she was making a bid to catch the #2 woman, who ended up not far ahead of us in the chute. At any rate I was really impressed; usually when I start tailing off, you can stick a fork in me, because I am done.

The last flat mile passed in a blur. I think I could have turned on a lot more juice here, but for whatever reason I didn't. It was enough today just to finish in a good time and redeem myself a bit for blowing up last week.

Final tally:
Time: 62:01
Place: 23 (6 AG).
GPS distance run: 10.1 (damn, even with all that tangent cutting!)

After I made it out of the chute, I paused for about a minute and then turned around for another 4 miles. This wasn't really a "warmdown", exactly; the idea was to practice running into extreme aerobic debt and then let myself recover on the run. I probably did it too slowly to really prove anything, but it was nice to feel that 10 miles didn't leave me exhausted (it better not...!)

On the whole I felt that I ran a good but very conservative race -- fine since this was mainly just a rehearsal for Hyannis. For a while now, one of my long-term running goals has been to break the hour mark at the 10 mile distance; this race left me feeling that this is certainly possible for me, and perhaps even this year.

look at that even pace line! Much better than last week.

the hat--good swag; I have many shirts, but few hats. Also included was this reusable bag. Maybe some of you can help me out...why is the flap to the side-pocket at the BOTTOM of the pocket??


Next Sunday is the Hyannis Marathon, which was the greater part of the inspiration for starting this blog. I will be sure to put up a good write-up for how it went when I get home, good, bad, or ugly. In the meantime, maybe you could all whistle up some good weather for me...?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Martha's Vineyard 20M : race report

Yesterday I traveled down to Martha's Vineyard along with Trace and Mel B for the island's 20 mile race. I heard about this only early last week and immediately jumped on it, hoping it would school me in the ways of racing over half-marathon distance. And boy did it school me. I am very schooled.

The weather felt chilly as we stepped off the ferry, but 45 minutes of running around, trying to get my racing kit together and my bag on the bus, left me feeling warm. It was almost almost warm enough to go without my vest, but I was afraid of a stiff breeze coming off the ocean so I kept it on. I ate my hour-0 energy bar about 10 minutes before the start of the race and then headed out to the line.

We didn't have long to stand around talking at the line before suddenly the gun rang out. The crowd started like a herd of antelope and then surged forward. I do admire brevity at the start of a race, but that was a little too much. I settled in, meticulously watching my pace on the garmin, and let the speedy crowd surge by me.

My plan was to run precise 6:45 splits, as a prologue to running 7 minute miles at Hyannis. I stuck ruthlessly to this plan for the first league.At that point I was feeling so fantastic that I dropped my pace to 6:30s. I can't reconstruct what I was thinking exactly; in retrospect it doesn't make any sense. I was racing way farther than I ever had before and I knew it would pay to be conservative. But somehow all that reasoning went right out the window when I was in the thick of it. Just goes to show you can have the best pacing tools in the world and still be an idiot.

Around mile 8 I caught up to the female lead and one other guy, and we ran together for a while. Our group swept up Don somewhere around mile 11 or 12, after we had turned onto the bike path and begun our return trip northwards. I didn't look back to see if he was sticking with us.

I should mention that at around this time my race plan had me eating my hour-1 energy bar, but it seemed like too much trouble at the time. I abstained.

Passed the half-marathon point, still feeling fairly strong, but with more burning in my legs than I expected. First prickle of alarm.

Somewhere in mile 15, form deteriorated. Almost fell on ice due to careless foot plant. Heard Don call from behind to "watch out!". He surged by not long after.

Mile 17, walked for the first time. It's a dubious point of pride to say that this no longer brought me to the point of despair. Maybe I've just hit that point enough now where instead I just felt like alright, here I am again. Let's try to make it more run-walk than walk-run.

People streaming by me at this point. Fairly long stretch walking on sidewalk. Girl in hot-pink jog bra. Yow! I feel over-dressed, not to mention slow.

Manage most of the last 3/4 mile running, if you can call it that. Cross finish line with a theatrical grimace on my face.

And that was the disappointing end of my race. I'll get to the 'lessons learned' in a moment. The organizers put on a good spread at the high school, with hot soup and bagels and cookies. A newlywed couple had run in "Just Married" shirts; very cute. Also they had cake for everybody(!) We got to hang out a bit with Mo and DaveR, and some of their running friends. I had more or less gotten over my disappointment by now but was feeling a little peaky, as I sometimes do after a hard run. Trace, Mel and I took the 3:45 ferry back to Woods Hole, and that finished up my first visit to Martha's Vineyard.

Finish: 61st, 10th AG
Time: 2:26:46 (7:20 pace) (or 20.12 miles / 7:17 pace, by Garmin).

That chart pretty much says it all.

Lessons learned for Hyannis:
  • Plan physically and psychologically to run 26.4. Much better to get this into my head beforehand rather than have to confront it mid-race.
  • Pick a conservative pace and plan to run even splits. If I am trying to hit a certain time, my instinct is to run a bit faster than necessary to build up a "buffer". Unfortunately, if the time I am trying to hit as at all ambitious for me, this is a misleading impulse. It will take less energy to run even splits; if the pace is really too conservative then sure, I can drop the hammer in the last 5k. But the alternative is to risk a bonk, and if that happens it's all over. I need to run 7:11s to cover 26.4 in 3:10. Consequently I'm going to try to run 7:06s, allowing for some hills later in the course.
  • Eat gels during the race. I realize this is accepted wisdom, but sometimes accepted wisdom puts me in a contrarian mode that makes me do occasionally stupid things to prove out the idea for myself. Mel and Trace gave me a bit of a hard time when they asked how many gels I had taken and I told them "none". I couldn't really defend myself either, since what I did clearly didn't work. Ah well. Today I'll go and buy a variety. There must be one reasonably palatable flavor I can find.

...just as well I didn't tell them about my pre-race dinner of bacon and eggs??

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Long Run, Saturday January 30th

It's 12:38pm, and I am sitting, warm and comfortable, at my computer desk. A hot shower has rinsed away the last of my coldness, and a belly full of pancakes has ballasted out the high-energy but unsatisfying grub I downed during my run. I am feeling moderately pleased. Since you're already reading this, you're probably curious how things went. Well, let's go back to 4:30 this morning. I will sum up.

I wake up at 4:30, 5 minutes before my alarm. I am feeling just dandy, no pain anywhere. 30 minutes later, I am kitted out. My equipment load-out looks like this:
* the ordinary nylon pants, tech shirt, vest and hat.
* brand new mittens, with a chemical hand warmer in each one
* Petroleum Jelly, slathered over my nose and cheeks, as well as a few other spots.
* quart of gatorade in a 50oz bladder
* 3 energy bars, one already in my stomach
* bag full of gumdrops (poor man's gu)
* GPS watch.
* the Frees on my feet.

My nutrition plan will be to eat energy bars at hour intervals, starting at hour 0. I estimate it takes between 60 and 90 minutes for one of those bars to start kicking in, so it makes sense to start with one going. In particular, the bar at hour 1 will be crucial, because it should hit right around the 2.5 hour mark--where I got into trouble last week. The gumdrops and gatorade will be sprinkled in at various intervals as needed.

I step out the door. What a morning! The temperature and the hour are commensurate. The full moon is a stunning orb in the inky clarity of the sky, the snow-cover (no more than a dusting now), lit up with an ethereal brilliance. And cold, yes. Cold as advertised. Talk of your cold! Through the parka's fold it stabbed like a driven nail. / If our eyes we'd close then the lashes froze, 'til sometimes we couldn't see. Cold enough to make me think of Robert Service, but only in a theatrical light, for the wind was low, and it would take that to transform this chilly day into a brutal one.

Feeling light and easy, I settle into my pace. It seems hardly any time has passed before I am approaching the hour mark. I try my gatorade. Despite running the straw down inside my shirt with the tip pressed against my abdomen, it has still managed to freeze with ice. Damn. My hands are doing all right--better than last week, despite the conditions--but I still don't think I can fumble out my hour-1 energy bar and eat it. Double-damn. At around 80 minutes I fumble out some gum-drops and have a few.

I have long since passed through Dover center where I exchange Walpole street for Dedham street. Now I am starting up the Summer Street hill, and it feels grand. I gust up it like a leaf. I've been running for an hour and a half and at last the sun is coming up. Birds start singing, the hardy fellows. I wonder at the dumb tenacity that lets them live through nights like this. Amazing what you can do when you don't have any alternative.

I reach the Vellos parking lot around 6:50, and head out for a short out-and-back, in which I run into Jeff W and a pack of other GNRCers (sorry I didn't know you right away Jeff, my eyes were really blurry!). Alas they are just finishing. I return to the shopping plaza and orbit it a few times, but head out again around 7:02. Ah well.

I have gone 13 miles by now, and decide to do another Westwood/Dover lap. If I was worried about doing a long run in 2 laps I needn't have; everything is different this time and it's not the least boring. Back at the shopping plaza I had managed a few more gumdrops, but had to slip off my left mitten to manage it. I really struggled getting it back on and decided I wasn't going to do that again. Too bad. I have had my last food for the run.

My vision starts to get pretty swimmy at this point. I'm not low on calories--it's the cold. My corneas have stiffened up, and then to top things off I feel like I've got standing tears in each eye. Eh, I can see the road and cars, at least.

I hit Dover center for the 2nd time around mile 18. Feeling great.

Around mile 20 I take right off Dedham street onto Summer Street. Hill time. I am starting to feel the miles, but this is exactly what I came out here for today. I find I am anticipating what is to come.

I do not float up the hill this time. This time I have to think about it. It's resistance, but it's strictly with a lower-case 'r'; nothing like the devastating enervation that capped my run last week. I think of breakfast. A hot shower, then pancakes with syrup. It surprises me how viscerally I can imagine putting a warm slice of pancake into my mouth. I finish off the hill at mile 22, and try to coax myself into loosening up again and finding some kind of flow.

Back to the shopping plaza for the third time, at mile 23. At this point I had entertained some heroic notion of doing an extra out-and-back, making this into a marathon. But I'm pretty close to home by now, and that thought dominates all my other intentions. All right, then. 1 more mile. Make this another distance PR.

There's some stiffer resistance this time, on the last of the last legs. I can't say if it's my brain, knowing I'm almost done and trying to trick me into stopping a little early, or the declined energy bars at hour 1 and hour 2. I think, if the chips were down I could do another two miles, but not today. A warm house and a good meal are too near.

The final score:
distance: 24.2 miles (d.PR)
pace: 8:06 min/mile.

Thoughts from the run:
* The LLBean hand-warmers really do work (I found they were still quite warm 7 hours after opening them, just as advertised). Next time I will put them straight in my mittens, and not in the warmer pockets on the outside. I think I can manage this without burning myself, and it should much increase their efficacy.
* I need to make a checklist for these early morning starts. Things like: pre-shuck energy bars; and, bring money! (with those long runs, you never know).
* I clearly still haven't figured out the whole trick for eating on long runs, at least runs this cold. I'm thinking of peeling my energy bars ahead of time and then keeping them loose in my outer vest pocket, instead of my zipper trowser pocket. This means I'll be able to get at them with my mittens, but it also means they'll be brick-solid, like eating them out of the freezer. If I break pieces off and hold them in my mouth for a bit, maybe it will work.
* The gumdrops are *almost* a great energy food--nice and discrete, easier to eat and more palatable than gu, and (I suspect), just as a fast a glucose delivery mechanism. But they do have one little problem:

Can you tell which ones ran 24 miles with me? All that jostling does something interesting. It transforms the outer crusting of sugar into something resembling confectioner's sugar, light and powdery, messy, and easy to choke on. I feel there is some clever culinary solution to this problem. Deep-fried gumdrops, maybe?

Friday, January 29, 2010

Bracing for tomorrow

I'm bracing for another try at that 10K. You know the one...the one you have to run 20 miles to get to. Rather than running in fear of the opposing force--let's call it The Resistance--I'm going to go out looking for it. The goal will be to run until I find the Resistance (or, all right, mile 24), and then run another two miles, right into its teeth. My hope is to gain some insight into whether there is anything on the other side. Even if I don't find out, I'll be able to walk away with pride if I can wrestle the old bastard for two miles.

It's supposed to be about 5 degrees out when I start tomorrow morning. I'm going to try to pick up some chemical hand warmers tonight if possible, since that's the only part I really worry about. It's especially bad on a run since once my hands have gotten too cold it's tough to feed myself. For similar reasons I am a bit undecided about my route. I would love another crack at the loop I failed at last week, but another walk back from Walpole in single-digit temps would be brutal. Now that I think about it I'll probably keep it local and swing by Vello's at 7. Maybe see some GNRCers for a change!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Long Run, Sunday January 24th

6:15am: I am standing outside my front door, waiting for my watch to finish sync with the gps constellation. It is cold and dark; the moon has set; only a few stars peek out from behind the invisible banks of cloud. I am starting just early enough to fulfill my own rule: that any run measured in hours rather than minutes ought to be started in darkness.

Last night I worked out this route (endpoints somewhat obfuscated):

View Larger Map

Allowing for the extra distance to my house, it is tolerably close to a marathon. I stand up on tip-toe and feel the uncomfortable flair run up along the outer edge of my foot between my pinky-toe and ankle bone. But it is not sharp. I don't think I'm going to face another melt-down like last week.

I am kitted out; a bladder of gatorade rests between my shoulder-blades inside my vest. Two energy bars ride in my right pocket. I'm as ready as I'll be.

6:24: I check my watch; a slow start, but I have a way to go. This will be the last time I check my progress for the duration of the run.

6:30?: I am settling in, now, moving along in a tranquil rocking motion, smooth as I can make it. My foot feels OK and I am relieved.

6:40?: On Hartford St I look to the left and see the mackeral-striped clouds suddenly illumined in purple hues, hovering magically over the tenebrous snow-fields. Though these early runs have made this sight almost a common-place, it nonetheless never fails to move me.

7:00?: Early dawn has broken over me. I am on 109 now, and the cars are still driving with headlights, but they can see me and I can see them. Soon I pass through Medway. It is too early for pedestrians; Lords' red neon sign is lit, but the sidewalk outside is deserted. Minutes later I am past it, and onto the mostly deserted stretch of road that will take me to Millis.

7:20?: A few more miles. The sun is fully risen now, but it has yet to warm the chilly air. I am in Millis, just passing by 115. I will run a little further than turn around and double back on Spring Street, running by Tangerinis farm where in warmer days we go to buy our produce. Almost at my end-point on 109, I pass another runner, the first other pedestrian I've seen.

7:26?: Spring Street. I have caught up to a runner, and it turns out to be the same one I passed minutes ago. This time we exchange pleasantries. "You doubled back", she says. "Yeah," I answer, and then add inanely: "I'm going to Norfolk." "I thought you looked familiar..." she replies, and that seems so strange to me that I realize that the run has started to pull me into a weird mental space. I'm not sure how far I've gone, but I'm sure it's not all that far.

7:??: 115 South. Hitherto I have been in familiar territory, but this road is unknown to me. Telephone pole after pole after pole glide by me, webbed together with ribbons of sunlight. Everything feels a little strange. I know somewhere ahead there is a traffic circle, and I am supposed to turn left. Everything else is uncertain.

I remember thinking earlier how my foot hurt, only now that thought seems hilariously strange. Why say "my foot hurts", the way you'd say "my dog is acting up on me". What does it mean? I am all of a piece.

I pass a dead squirrel.

I clench my hands inside my gloves. They are cold, and that's the realest thing about this run right now.

7:55?: Norfolk. There is a traffic circle, and I know just what to do, which is to turn left. By this circle there is a Citgo station, and the Citgo station Has Diesel. This idea resounds in my mind like a bell.

8:20?: I am on Main St now, heading toward Walpole. Minutes ago I ate an energy bar, and the run's surreality is starting to fade (a moment of chagrin when I realized that I had forgotten to rip open the fail wrappers ahead of time, but fortunately my teeth did the trick). I am passing under and over and beside one of the commuter rail tracks, running straight as a ruler in the same general direction I am going.

8:40?: Walpole center, and 1A. I have started to think about finishing. When I get home it will be bacon and eggs for breakfast, I think. This road is not beautiful, but it has a good sidewalk. I think back regretfully on the quiet stretch of 115, eery otherworld though it seemed to me at the time. I am feeling a little spent, but basically all right.

9:00: More 1A. I run up a hill, and feel my muscles working, the first mild hint of complaint. I run down the other side, and everything loosens up again. Here is the next hill. I start up it, just a mild incline really, legs pulling me along and...wait...what? I am gasping. I feel like I've been teleported to 15,000 feet above sea level. My legs are suddenly leaden. My running form breaks apart like a tea cup dropped from a third story window. I fix on a red sign. Make it there, and I'll check my watch.

9:05: Only 20.15 miles?? Shit! Another 5-6 miles, at least! I battle momentarily with despair and then the despair wins. I am in Walpole, and it's going to be a bit of a hike home. But the thought of running suddenly seems unappetizing (Later, I will desultorily mix in some jogging, mainly to get home the quicker, but it does little to salvage the run). This is not the ending I anticipated.

That concluded my second attempt to run an approximate marathon distance, and while it went better than last week (3 miles, whee!), it left some things to be desired. It also left me with these thoughts:

* I like the single-loop format. It has disadvantages (in particular, it almost certainly means I need to do it solo), but it means there's a real cost of failure, and it also means I got to range farther afield than I usually do.

* My strategy of ignoring my watch was deliberate. Two weeks ago, when I ran 23, the miles were downright easy until the watch-check at 18. Then all of a sudden they started to get gradually harder, culminating in the last mile, which was really hard. I theorized that it was my brain that was making this so difficult--that if I didn't know where in the run I was, I wouldn't "know" to feel tired. Apparently my body is smarter than that. There appears to be a real physiological reaction around 20 miles. Not checking my watch had the disadvantage that I was completely unprepared for it, and it hit me that much harder.

It is trite to think of this as a "wall", but I do think of it as kind of resistance. There is something between me and mile 24 and it is pretty formidable. What I have yet to learn is: if I hit this thing head-on, grind against it for 1, 2 miles (and that is my optimistic estimate for how long I can fight against it), is there anything past it? Will it get better?

* In continuation of the previous thought: when I got to within a mile of my house, I decided hell with it and started running again. It was pretty jerky, but it surprised me by how not-horrorshow it was. What am I to make of that? Why did my body react so strongly earlier if it wasn't really played out? Maybe I gave up too quick? (answer, yes).

* I am feeling anticipation at the prospect of trying this same run again next week.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

We botched it

This is a politics rant. You might want to stop reading now.

What can I say besides the title? We botched it. We messed it up. It's not, by itself, that we lost. It's that we lost with such a crummy turnout! Less than 50%! I don't care if it's a special election. 50% is rubbish. No, excuse me, it's shit. Now Mr. Brown is going off to Washington, prating about how he represents the will of the Massachusetts people, and his signature campaign issue to kill health care reform. The "will of the people" who moved to universalize health care in their own state, and who have the highest health insurance subscription percentage in the union. Bitter irony.

I feel like we could have done more. I feel like I could have done more. Truth to tell I, just like the Coakley campaign, was prey to the same complacency. I didn't think Mr. Brown could pull it off. I voted twice, once in the primary and once yesterday, and I told myself that was enough. Clearly I voted for somebody who wasn't much of a campaigner. Whether she would have been a good legislator is something we won't get to find out.

We let it be about health care reform, but we let our opponents define what that meant. We let it be about scary CBO finance estimates and the ugliness of the legislative process in DC. We stopped speaking in the language of social justice. Is that so scary? Right and wrong aren't always abstract concepts. Often they're very concrete. Providing health care for our elderly population is expensive and hard. But it's also right. The same rightness applies to extending coverage to other vulnerable groups. The health care bills are both ugly ducklings, no question about that. But it's a dangerous kind of nihilism to reject a bill that isn't all you had hoped--isn't what would have written if only you had the power--just because it falls short of your aspirations. No bill is ever going to be what you wanted. Sometimes you still have to recognize a bill is better than no bill--especially this one--because make no mistake, if we kill this health care reform effort it will not be taken up again for a whole generation.

I am writing so much about the health care legislation because I see Coakley vs Brown as a referendum on Obama's domestic agenda. You may not agree.

So we lost. But what a miserable way to lose! 50%! Where's the passion, Massachusetts?

(edit: but you really shouldn't have called Schilling a Yankee's fan, Martha. That was kind of a blunder).

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Derry sold out? Damn!

That's what I get for waiting. For some reason when I looked at the site I fooled myself into thinking there was race-day registration, which usually implies a race that doesn't sell out. (for the non-local readers, this is apropos of the 16 mile road race in Derry, 10 days hence). I'm bummed about that--was absolutely planning on racing it--well, at least running it. I don't know if 7 minute miles (aka Marathon GP) would have felt like racing. I checked around for other similar-length races in the same time frame, but the New England racing calendar is actually a bit bare at this time of year (can't imagine why).

If anyone out there knows of a good 10-16 mile race in the next three weeks (and within a 100 miles or so of Boston, natch), post in comments. Otherwise I'll have to content myself with a long tempo run on my lonesome.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

resuming trajectory

Every training cycle I have ever embarked on eventually hits a patch of doldrums, where the estimated mileage I had scrawled out so nonchalantly in the beginning looms large, and my spirit for hitting those arbitrary numbers flickers. This is always the period to revise the end-target down to something reasonable--rather like with any project, you begin with grand hopes, but by half-way you can see the finish line well enough to adjust your expectations. For example, I had hopes of getting at least 2-3 good medium distance (aka 8-10 mile) runs in during each week. Instead it's been more like 1. It's easy to imagine racking up those runs in early October, when the trails are still open and the weather good. But in January my perspective changes. Part of it is needing to nail those 5am starts. "Rush hour" (if it can be plausibly called that), starts here at around 6am, so if I start an 8 mile run at 5:30 I'm going to be exposed at least to the rising edge of it. And morning commuters in the middle of winter are no joke. There's something about the way they drive--about the way they hug the shoulders, accelerate out of their right turns (usually while looking left for oncoming traffic), and tailgate their fellow-drivers that screams that they have other things to worry about than some runner by the side of the road. They've got kids to drop off, or a 7am meeting with a client, or a boss who's going to look over and see an empty seat and tut disapprovingly.

I have a somewhat antagonistic relationship with these people. I imagine them seeing me, and--if they think of me at all, which is not terribly likely, for all my visibility gear--thinking, why is that wacko running in the dark, in the middle of winter? Doesn't he know it's 20 degrees out? Go get a job and support a family like a responsible adult, ya hippy!

To which I answer, maybe if you stepped out of that car and felt the cold wind in your face you wouldn't need that coffee. Maybe if you stopped and turned your lights off and looked at Orion gleaming down at you, or turned your head and saw the snow-fields effulgent under the light of the moon, you wouldn't feel so depressed about where you're going this morning, wage slave!

Things usually deteriorate from there.

That was a long-winded way of saying that I don't always have the gumption to spar with traffic in the morning, or get up so early that I don't have to. On the bright side though, my long runs are progressing nicely. Two weeks ago I was supposed to run 22. I ran only 20.5 (albeit over a rather hilly route). Last week I got up early to see the snow and hear the plows grinding by, and found I didn't have it in me. I ended up cross-country skiing for an hour instead. But this weekend I was really looking forward to my long run. I got up early and went for a 3-part run, the first two legs with different GNRC-ers, the third solo. Until I actually looked at my watch to confirm I had hit mile 18, I didn't feel tired at all. (Indeed I half-way suspect that my suddenly heavy legs were a psychological reaction to knowing how far I had actually gone). In any event I toughed out to mile 23, pushing out my d.PR by another 2.5 miles.

25 miles next week? I think so!