Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Joyous Movement

Perhaps the Olympic tide lifts all athletic boats, or cooler weather makes things easier all-around, or my injuries have finally healed . . . but whatever the reason, I feel like I have definitely turned a corner in the past couple of weeks.

After the only slightly disappointing 5K on August 14th, I ran another race on August 19th. It was a small cross-country 5K with about 100 participants, many of whom are local HS XC runners. I ran it in just over 23 minutes (not an all-out effort), which is in line with the time I ran at the other 5K, since everyone ran about 2 minutes slower than they would on a "fair" course. I crossed the first mile, which had a little bit of up & down on a mostly-packed gravel path in just over 7 minutes, and we entered the woods shortly after that. That stretch was beautiful, though dark, hilly and twisty. It was the first time I'd raced in such a setting, and thus had to hang back behind some other runners before finding a space to pass; it was satisfying to pass 5 or 6 folks along the way. Between that and the dark unfamiliarity of the trail (the organizers put pink sashes along the course, but they weren't always that visible), the second mile took me over 8 minutes. Once I was out of the woods (literally, though it felt that way figuratively, too), there was less than a mile to go. I felt good and strong, but disappointed that I was running alone. With maybe a half-mile to go, I saw a skinny young kid a couple of hundred yards ahead, and decided I'd try to catch him. I closed the distance, and - just 100 or so yards from the finish - the kid started walking. He saw his dad and teared up. I felt badly for him, yet lamented the fact that my catching him wasn't especially gratifying given his blowing up at the end.

I finished 22nd overall and 3rd in my age group. I know I could have run faster, but am happy that I didn't, and that I remain injury-free (lots of wood-knocking and finger-crossing).

After the 5K, I shuffled my "schedule" around a bit, and did 5 miles very easy on Wednesday, 6 at a moderate pace with my fast Philly friend on Thursday at lunch and about 10.5 on Friday, feeling pretty strong towards the end. I then did 5 more easy miles on Saturday, meeting my family and visiting mother at the local farmer's market, before gearing up for Sunday's 17-miler, the longest distance I've run since my last marathon.

My mother left at around 9:30 Sunday morning, and I was out the door not long after, unfortunately having missed the coolest part of the morning. Despite temps rising on what turned out to be a beautiful day, I had perhaps the best long run I've had this year. I started out easy enough, stopping to refill my Fuel Belt at about mile 7.5. From there, I picked it up, and before I knew it, I was clicking off 8:40+/- miles without my heart rate climbing too much. I felt great for about 7-8 miles, then slowed down for the final (mostly uphill) mile home.

Sunday's run put me in a great mood, especially since I stretched, ate and ice-bathed properly afterwards, and concluded a 50+-mile week on 6 days of running. I believe that by checking my ego and learning how to run my recovery miles slow (the 10:00 mile is now my friend), I can log more miles and beat myself up much less.

This week would have involved a VO2 Max workout of 10 miles with 5x1000m at 5K pace. However, in order to avoid tempting fate and in light of my two recent races, I'm going to do 10 miles with 4 at tempo pace. The dilemma now is whether to get up at 4:15 or so in order to get this run done in time to get the kids ready for school (just started back up today) or take an extra long lunch hour and do it then. I doubt I can run a great tempo run that early, but I fear feeling rushed at lunch and thus pushing the pace during the key miles and then cutting the cooldown short in order to save time. I may decide based on how I sleep tonight and what the weather forecast says for mid-day temps tomorrow.

In terms of the timing, assuming I don't do anything stupid and end up hurt again, at least things are improving at an opportune moment. I have a few weeks until the Reach the Beach relay, 7 or so weeks until Chicago and then about 8 weeks to to recover and build up to the 40-mile birthday run, which is starting to take shape.


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