Monday, April 21, 2008

From Trials to Trails

It's one thing to get up at 5:00 a.m. on a weekend to get one's own run in, but - as my wife thinks - it's another to do so to watch other people run, even if those people are aspiring Olympians. Yet Sunday was a day I will remember for a long time. A friend and I headed down to Boston to watch the U.S. Women's Olympic Marathon Trials. It was a phenomenally exciting, rewarding experience, on a beautiful spring day.

Not knowing exactly where we were - though we had a sense of where we wanted to be - my friend and I navigated by feel until we ended up in Cambridge at the MIT campus. We parked about two blocks from one of the the optimal viewing sites, near the Mass Ave. bridge, where we could watch the women come by anywhere from 6 to 12 times. A cool breeze blew off the Charles River, the sun shone brilliantly and rowing sculls passed by every so often. The crowd thickened as the morning went on, and the noise level grew as the race took shape with each passing lap. The red-clad Saucony ladies handed out cow bells to enhance the cheering experience.

While the first lap saw the field spaced pretty close together, the contenders separated themselves pretty quickly. In a bit of a surprise to virtually all of us who follow elite women's marathoning, pre-race favorite Deena Kastor (below) did not blaze out to an unchallenged lead. In fact, at one point, early leader Magdalena Lewy Boulet (right) had a two-minute lead on Deena, who stayed with the chase pack before making her move in the final stages of the race. Deena, however, is the undisputed Queen of U.S. long-distance running, and she trusted her training and experience enough to make her move, pass Magdalena, and run alone to the finish line, down Boylston Street through throngs of screaming fans.

During the race, I saw many "familiar" faces, women I'd seen in other races (where I ran, but much slower) and profiled in Runner's World or Running Times. It was great to watch Elva Dryer, Kate O'Neil (who apparently dropped out around mile 21), Desiree Ficker, Mary Akor, and many others. I would note that one glaring oversight by Trials organizers was that they did NOT print the runners' names on their race bibs. While we may have known the well-publicized elites, it would have been great to cheer for the lesser-known runners by name. Many races do this, including most top-level competitions. Still, it was fascinating to see all the different shapes and sizes, the weathered veterans and the budding youngsters, and to note the variety of running styles and forms. Of course, perhaps the most transcendent story of the day developed far behind the leaders. Hunched forward, right leg kicking out awkwardly, elbows seeming to be knocking invisible rivals out of the way, 50-year old Joan Benoit Samuelson, an undisputed running legend who won the Gold Medal at the inaugural Women's Olympic Marathon in 1984, ran her final competitive marathon, setting a U.S. age-group record for women aged 50-54, finishing in 2:49:08. Her pre-race goal: to run sub-2:50 at age 50. Amazing.

One of my most cherished moments was when Emily LeVan, the top Maine finisher at last year's Beach to Beacon 10K gave me a big smile as I cheered her by name. Though she finished in the bottom half of the pack, she should be extremely proud to have gotten to the starting line. You may read Runner's World's coverage of her story here. Also, please check out her Maine Children's Cancer Program fundraising site at Rarely has a simple domain name managed to capture the essence of one family's major life challenges in the broader context of an issue that cannot be overemphasized. Her story will simultaneously dishearten and inspire you.

Okay, okay . . . since this blog does not pretend to be anything resembling actual journalism, I'll stop now and let you read more about the women's marathon trials here.

After watching the first 10 or so finishers, my friend and I navigated the closed roads and huge crowds so that he could pick up his Boston Marathon race packet. He qualified with a 2:55 in Philadelphia, but a foot injury stopped his training cold and he decided to defer running Boston until he could train properly. He thinks he could run under 2:45 if he trains well. His wife and soon-to-be-born first child may have something to say about that.

At the Expo, things went from exciting to overwhelming rather quickly, as thousands crowded into the Hynes Convention Center. The Expo was okay, though everything was expensive, the lines to pay were long, and the whole thing was anti-climactic for me since I have not yet qualified to run Boston myself. I turn 40 this year, and hope to run Boston in 2009, the lucky 113th running of the world's greatest road race.

My Status Report

This is the day's secondary running story (at least for me). Although my hip is still pretty sore, I decided to run once I got back from Boston. The inspiration and motivation from watching the Trials simply overpowered me. I slipped on my waterproof Salomon XCR trail runners, did a five-mile road loop, then headed into the woods for another five miles for the first time this year. The temperature felt perfect, with a warm sun accompanied by a cool breeze. I stopped to stretch a couple of times, and managed the 10 miles without too much pain, though I could feel the ache with nearly every step. It was worth it, though, to get back on the trails, which help to restore my running soul. I ran through inches of dried leaves, into mud and on a foot or more of lingering snow. It didn't matter, since it was wonderful to be off the road, running free (if slow) and knowing that many more such days lie ahead.

As I write this, my left hip feels better, but my right hip is a little more sore. I'm going to keep up the easy running, icing and stretching this week, but will try to stick with my plan's mileage, which calls for the following:
  • Monday - XT/core/stretch
  • Tuesday - 8M, with 5x600 at 5K pace (will skip and maybe do a tempo run instead)
  • Wednesday - 11M
  • Thursday - XT/core/stretch
  • Friday - 4-5M
  • Saturday - 8K-15-K race (will likely just run 8+ miles easy)
  • Sunday - 17M, but if I'm healthy, I'll try to the 14M MP run here, since it's critical for judging my pre-race fitness

Thanks for reading, and happy running to all.


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