Sunday, September 30, 2012

Dixville Notch Half Marathon Race Report

The Dixville Notch Half Marathon is a small race far enough North in New Hampshire to have a "Canadian" division. Traditionally it starts in Dixville Notch (fancy that), but this year it started at a camp-ground in Coleman State Park, north of Rt. 26 along a small and very scenic road that also incidentally gains lots of elevation as it climbs up to the start. The route is fairly straightforward: run the long, 6 mile descent down to Rt. 26, then run along Rt. 26 to the town of Colebrook; a few more turns in Colebrook to finish at the rec center. 

The temps were in the low 50s, with occasional misting rain during the race. I walked around the camp a bit to loosen up while waiting for my friends Tim and Giuliana to show up (they were running the relay with two more of Giuliana's friends). Once they arrived, we said our hellos, and I was able to hand off my sweatshirt to make its way to the finish via Tim's folks' car. 

There were about a hundred people on the start line, with the majority being single runners, and the rest the opening-leg relay runners for their respective two and four person teams. The RD gave us the signal to start, and the field plunged forward--and almost immediately messed up, by missing the left turn that was supposed to take us on a quick loop around the campground. Fortunately the frantic shouts of some of the volunteers corrected us, and amid calls of "I was just following you!" "But I was following you!" we bombed down a grassy embankment XC style to get back on course. 

At around the 1/2 mile mark, I had started the descent in earnest and substantially gapped the field. I thought briefly that I might just run away with the whole thing, but then footsteps behind me disabused me of that notion. I was soon pulled in by a wiry guy in a T-Shirt and baseball cap, with a beard that had a few patches of grey in it. 

We ran shoulder-to-shoulder for most of the descent down to Rt. 26, occasionally trading the lead, but never opening any significant distance between each other. The first mile was ~5:28, mile 4 passed in 21:50-something. The downhill pace was pounding hell out of my calves, and I was nervous about how they'd hold up late in the race. But I figured, this is a little test leading up to the big test of my marathon, so I might as well go for it and see what I learn. 

Some nice cheers from Tim and G at the mile 4.1 relay transition; from cheers directed at my opponent, I was able to learn his name was Jeff. 

We reached the comparatively flat terrain on Rt. 26, and I finally started to pull away a bit from my competition. We were right around the half-way point--was he done?

All along the highway a cruiser from the sheriff's office drove ahead of us with its flashers going, directing oncoming traffic to slow down. It was sort of like being in the lead of a major race, chasing down the pace car, and great fun the whole time.

By mile 8 I could feel the burning in my calves starting to hamper me. I started alternating running on the dirt shoulder with running on the road. I didn't slow down a lot, but it was enough that around mile 9, I heard footsteps again. Damn. He passed my decisively, and there was no holding on to the pace he was setting. I thought he still might falter, though, so I gamely stuck to my best pace, trying to keep contact with him as long as possible. 

Mile 10 passed in 56:54. One of my running goals, which ought to be a pretty doable goal if the right circumstances ever come up, is to run a 10-mile race in under an hour; this doesn't count, obviously, because it's a super-cheaty downhill race, but it will do until the real thing comes along. 

My calves were hurting pretty bad at that point, but I had come psychologically prepared to hurt a bit at the end, and I found that keeping going wasn't as hard as I had feared. I reached the mile 12 sign heading into Colebrook with great relief. At last I reached Main St; the police officer directing traffic at the intersection said "cross over", and I darted across to Bridge St for the final kick.

Lots of pedestrians were making their way back up Bridge St, probably relay runners from earlier legs who had gotten dropped off by the shuttle and were making their way back up the course to watch their teammates come in. I knew I must be close; I leaned on the gas, pushing hard. 

Where's the damn finish? I thought This final 0.2 is taking forever!

At some point a pedestrian called out to me: "Hey, uh, where are you running to?"

"The finish!" I answered brilliantly.

"The finish is back up Main St," he answered, pointing back the way I had come.

Holy. Fucking. Shit.

I am rather proud of the fact that I did not stop, just orbited around and started running back the way I had come, though my "finishing kick" had been reduced to more of a shuffle. I couldn't quite process what I had just done, but I knew I'd be happiest if I still finished the best I could. I got back to Main  St, calling out plaintively a few times "hey, does anyone know where the finish is?" Fortunately a spectator on Main St reassured me I was heading in the right direction (because, I realized, I had no idea which way on Main St I was supposed to go). Not far after that, I saw the actual left turn to the actual finish, with an actual race volunteer pointing home. I turned in and tried to muster a little spurt at the finish, though there was no one close to me.

Tim's mom was waiting at the finish with my sweatshirt (which was awesome, by the way! Thank you!) Once I passed through the chute I went up to stand in the trees and process what had just happened. Mainly I was thinking, thank goodness I wasn't actually in the lead when that happened. I've been racing for 17 years, and never made such a simple, preventable blunder like that. If I had only reviewed the race map online and walked it over in my head ahead of time, I would have known exactly what to do. How could I have messed it up that bad? Damn damn damnity damn.

When I walked back out to Main St to watch Giuliana finish, the race volunteer told me he had had his money on me--I told him "sorry, hope you didn't lose too much." He assured me it wasn't a bet. 

My final result was 84:36, good for 3rd place (and good enough to still beat all the relay teams, hehe).  Based on google maps, I estimate I ran about an extra 0.8 miles. I think I would have run 77:30 or so without my huge blunder. (The course, as you might have gathered, is substantial net-drop). 

Thanks to the Galluses for making their car available to me to warm up when I started turning blue after the finish, and for driving me back to Coleman (and for buying us all lunch!) That was awesome. I am all kinds of sore today, but my spirits are recovered, and I'm happy to take Dixville as just another learning experience on my way to Baystate (lesson #1: don't take random detours!)

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Long Run, 9-22-12

This Saturday marked my 4th, and probably 2nd-to-last, long run for this marathon training cycle. I was running by time, with a goal of 2 hours, 40 minutes. My last long run, if all goes well, will last 3 hours. 

It went well. Conditions were nearly ideal: overcast, cool and damp. The food I brought (two energy bars--one for 60 minutes, one for 120 minutes--and a bag of gumdrops) went down pretty easily, and at no point did I have an upset stomach. 

I ran steadily through six towns: Wellesley, S. Natick, Sherborn, Medfield, Dover, and Needham, and ultimately hit my goal: 2 hours, 40 minutes; a total distance of 21 miles, averaging 7:36 pace. The nutrition must have worked as I didn't bonk, but things got difficult around 2:30, all the same. This time it was my calves that ultimately slowed me down. It seems once I solve one problem I'm on to the next one. 

Been wrestling with some annoying cross-talk between the ears as I progress through this training cycle. Part of me looks at the difficulties I've had coming to grips with longer runs and wants to conclude that I'm not suited--that at 170lbs I'm just too big, or my muscle type is incompatible, or some other reason. Another part of me thinks that those words taste like excuses, that it's hard for everyone, not just me.

I'm thinking these thoughts now because I couldn't have run another 5 miles today, not in the "oh, that would be really hard," sense, but in the "I thought I could do 10 pullups--I've done 12--I really can't do a 13th" sense. My calves were just cooked. This was familiar--it was a substantial part of the reason why I had to stop at Keybank. Now I'm thinking about the last two marathons, and the 3rd one rapidly approaching, and the doubts are piling on. 

Nothing new there. Faith vs Doubt, just like the song says. So it seems I have to do something which I am temperamentally unsuited to do: believe, in the face of some fairly compelling contrary evidence, that this time it's going to be different, that this time I'm going to put all the pieces together.

Believe, and buy a jump-rope. 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

training update

I just counted up the weeks on the little training calendar I wrote and stuck on the refrigerator door, and found that I just finished week 6 (out of 12). So I'm half way there! Progress is going; not perfectly, but it is going. To recap the last week: I ran 17M on Saturday in ~2:10, bonked, rallied to run the Walpole 10K on Monday, then did mostly low-key mid-week runs T-F. I was excited to try another long run on Saturday, despite the general feeling of flatness and depletion that hadn't quite gone away since Walpole. In my previous marathon training cycles, I discovered that I needed to allow two weeks between long (2+ hour) training runs in order to absorb them successfully. I'm not quite sure why I ignored that wisdom; sometimes I need to relearn these things, it seems..! In any case, I set out Saturday morning for another crack at 2 hours, 40 minutes.

Conditions were sunny, with an occasionally stiff breeze from the South. In the spirit of Science I brought enough runner candy (gels and shot blocks) to support about 300 cal/hour. With no particular plan in mind, I loped down into Dedham, then took a left on 109 and ran up into West Roxbury, where I picked up the VFW. My legs still felt pretty flat, but I held out hope they would loosen up as the run continued.

Physically speaking, the stretch along the VFW (mile 8-10) may have been the high point. I turned around and wended my way into Millenium Park, planning to make my way home on the Blue Heron. To pick up the Blue Heron you have to run circumferentially around the big hill that sits in the middle of the park; to my left, the hill's flank rose up steeply, covered in clover, wildflowers, and long-tailed grasses. Brilliantly illuminated by the sun, the sweet-smelling greenery made a sharp contrast to the march of forest on the right, overhanging the brook that parallels the path; and, sitting above them both, a blue sky streaked with fast-moving clouds. 

I mention this scene because, as I passed through it, I experienced one of those almost-painful moments of euphoria that sometimes happen on long runs, when the mind has been jogged loose from ordinary concerns and the radiant beauty of the world is laid momentarily bare. I turned with some regret to cross the footbridge over the stream and head into the shadows of the forest. 

Things started to get rocky around 1hr, 40 minutes. I even indulged in a brief, unsuccessful rummage for wild grapes around mile 13, seeing some crushed specimens on the trail. I had been keeping up with my nutrition plan for the first 90 minutes, but tapered that off at this point, my stomach growing queasy. I ended up looping the reservoir in Cutler Park twice, pace slowing to a crawl. I didn't exactly bonk, but I puttered to a stop around 2:20, having finished the alphabet in the game of What has Johnny got in his Pocket that I had been playing against myself. 

So, the lesson here is: I need two weeks before doing another long run. I was very, very flat on today's easy 8 miler. I'm going to make this week a "down" mileage week (keeping it around 45m, compared to 60+ for an "up" week). Then next week (week 8), I'll try, try again. The nutrition helped, but I think I'm going to go back to the candy+energy bar scheme I was using on my 1st marathon; that seemed to work a little better for me, and it was an excuse to eat gum-drops. 

Since I know you like data (a safe bet for anyone reading this blog), here are pacing graphs for my 1st three long runs. Note how, in terms of finishing pace, I've basically gotten consistently worse. That's me alright--training myself into a hole in the ground.

(click for better view)

Monday, September 3, 2012

Walpole 10K Race Report

Short and sweet, as there's not a lot to say. I felt a bit heavy-legged on my warmup, which, accompanied by a few garlicky burps from the ciabatta bread I ate this morning, didn't necessarily augur for a fast day. My goal anyway was to go out in a pretty-conservative ~6 minute pace and practice what I hope to do at Baystate: slow start, steady progression, strong finish.

I usually use the Lap Pace setting on my garmin because the reading is more stable, but today, since I was using it as an upper-bound limiter I set it to show instantaneous pace. Shortly after the start I remembered why that setting is annoying (7:26! 5:18! 6:29! omg!), but it did more or less serve its purpose. After reeling in a few enthusiasts over the first 1/2 mile, I settled in behind Bob Ruel of HFC and ran with him for the first two miles (though I didn't recognize him as he was out of singlet).

I started to split from Bob around the rolling hills that go by the golf course, and from then on I was on my own. I'd see the blue singlet of the eventual 3rd-place finisher bobbing ahead of me on some of the long straights, but he was well out of my reach. I did succeed in accelerating in the back half, and felt consistently strong throughout. I was laboring a bit on the last hill, but not really suffering--honestly, I flogged myself harder on last week's track workout (which, perhaps not coincidentally, was 5x2K at 6min pace).

I feel like if I had been 100% in racing head-space and not two days of a failed 20 miler I might have contended for 3rd place (or at least given him a scare), but as it was I glided to an uncontested 4th, in 38:06.

Served its purpose as an early tune-up for Baystate, but otherwise unremarkable performance.

Saturday, September 1, 2012


Well, on the heels of Thursday's great tempo, I had a rather disappointing failure of a long run today. The goal was 2:40, but bonked pretty hard around 2 hours and made it only as long as 2:10. This made it almost identical in distance and time to the long run I did on August 18th, except for the end: on the earlier run I never bonked; in fact I felt strong at the end and was pretty sure I could have done another 15-20 minutes without too much difficulty.

Here's a summary of the two runs:

August 18th, successful long run

Distance:         16.78 mi
Time: 2:15:02
Avg Pace:         8:03 min/mi
Elevation Gain: 1,367 ft

split       time                     dist.      pace
1      35:27.1 4.33      8:11
2      57:32.7 7.02      8:12
3      27:01.9 3.44      7:51
4      15:00.0 1.99      7:33

Weather: Cool, cloudy, intermittent rain, probably in the 60s.
Terrain: Varied, but substantial flat sections along the Charles River. Roughly 2/3rds trail.
Nutrition: 3x shot blocks (i.e. 1/2 package) and water, my usual.

September 1st, unsuccessful long run

Distance:         16.88 mi
Time: 2:10:01
Avg Pace:         7:42 min/mi
Elevation Gain: 690 ft

split     time               dist.     pace

1    1:00:07.8 7.77    7:44
2    59:53.6 7.89    7:35
3    9:59.4 1.21    8:14  *bonk*

Weather: felt like 70s, sunny, with a cool breeze.
Terrain: 100% road; mostly rolling hills (I'm shocked this route had less elevation gain than the other)
Nutrition: 3x shot blocks and water, +1 salt tab.

So why the big difference? Let's see...
Nutrition: pretty much identical. I know some would suggest eating more, but I honestly don't think that's it.
Terrain: The lengthy trail sections probably helped save my legs, but I'm unsure how much.
Weather: Today's weather felt gorgeous. But I think it might have been easy to underestimate the affect of the sun, which is still quite potent. Likely contributing factor.
Pace: yeah...I'm dreading that this is the main factor. The 30s /mile difference, stacked over 12-13 miles, is perhaps wearing me down?

I have two more long runs scheduled. I have been running with my Garmin showing only chrono, because I didn't want to get distracted by pace, but I think next time I'm going to reverse that and forceably limit myself to 8 minute miles. Discouraging--it almost feels like the long tempos are pointless, since they don't seem to make a whit of difference in when I crack--but for now I guess I'm just going to try to keep the optimism that somehow endurance and speed are going to come together in time for the race.

(Feeling pretty sore now, but I'm signed up for Walpole 10K on Monday. We'll see how it goes).