Sunday, November 2, 2008

A Little Something for My Troubles

Sunday, November 2, 2008 - With the early morning temperatures in the high-20's and the winds blowing, I drove to my local half-marathon for my second annual post-Chicago Redemption Run (that's not the official name of the race, of course). I had not felt great during the week. I've been feeling somewhat lethargic, not super motivated to run (post-marathon recovery has been a good excuse), and my left hip has been bothering me some.

I had trouble falling asleep last night, was not super-enthusiastic about waking up, and fretted about what the heck to wear. So, I ended up being casual about the pre-race prep, doing less than I have for many a long training run. I ate my breakfast, saw the kids, packed my bag (almost forgetting my Garmin) and taking off wearing layers to keep the cold at bay.

Traffic was light getting into town, and I parked in the same garage as I do every weekday morning. I drank 12 ounces of Accelerade and made my way over to the start. I saw many friendly faces, folks from my running club, colleagues, other people I know from around. I chatted with two guys from Vermont in the bathroom line who were looking to place 1-2 in the half-marathon (there's also a full). They thought 1:18 might do it; they were wrong (by over 10 minutes).

A rather newbie runner whom I've known for a long time asked me a few questions about how warmly to dress and how to approach the hills. It strikes me as funny that anyone would ask me questions about running, but despite my times remaining pretty mediocre, I have become a student of the sport. I know what to do (mostly), even if I don't (or can't) always do it. Deciding to use the throwaway fleece I'd bought at Goodwill with Chicago in mind, I wore a singlet, shorts, gloves, headband and - drum roll - arm warmers. I realized that I've never regretted shedding layers in a race, but have wished I hadn't worn a long-sleeved shirt.

Waiting until the last possible minute, I did a 1.25-mile warm-up loop as close to the race start as possible. I didn't feel great, and worried that my heart rate was too high. I got to the starting area and lined up in the second "wave" of runners. I spotted my marathon coach-to-be, who lined up a ways ahead of me. I said hey and wished him well.

Going into this race, I had three goals: 1:35, 1:37 or 1:39. In any event, I wanted - no I needed - a new PR (personal record). One of my RWOL forum-mates kindly made me a pacing chart to account for the hills in terms of coming up with custom mile splits. I studied it during the week, and was able to approximate it from memory by Friday.

I used the 1:37:00 goal chart. Here is the list of target pace (T) versus actual (A):

-T- -A-
1 7:10 / 6:58

2 7:48 / 7:40

3 7:34 / 7:40

4 7:33 / 7:34

5 7:49 / 7:50

6 6:56 / 6:58

7 7:44 / 7:29

8 7:30 / 7:15

9 7:14 / 7:06

10 7:22 / 7:14

11 7:13 / 7:01

12 7:34 / 7:26

13 6:50 / 6:37

13.1 0:43 / 1:06 (Garmin registered 0.19 mile/6:10 pace)

Finish = 1:35:58 and a new PR (the race had only gun time, so I'm going by my numbers; deal with it!)

When I hit the first mile too fast, I thought I might be in trouble. It was a downhill start, with the pack taking off fast and the old mill buildings creating an all-too-shady wind tunnel. My HR quickly climbed to 170 and beyond, and was at 175 by the middle of the first climb during mile 2. I started to feel like I wasn't about to blow up, and really focused on keeping even effort on each subsequent hill through mile 5. I ditched my fleece at mile 3 (a very good decision) and took a single cup of Gatorade. I stayed smooth and steady on the biggest hill, early in mile 4, and then gulped a gel too quickly before the aid station at mile 5. I gagged a bit, walked for a second and was passed by a friend who should not have been running that fast that early (he finished in little over 1:40).

All this time, I was on very familiar terrain, since I take most of my lunchtime runs on parts of the course. We had a nice half-mile stretch by a lake through a park and were back on some less serious hills in another residential neighborhood. I took one more Gatorade at mile 7 and then bore down on the task at hand: holding this effort as long as I could.

During this stretch, there were some people who passed me, but they always seemed to come back. I chatted a bit when I'd settle next to someone, ask if he/she was doing the half or the full marathon, and then usually pull ahead. One gent who was not very talkative ended up finishing the full marathon in about 3:15. He ran like a metronome, and I was a wee bit envious as I saw him get his BQ time.

At around mile 8, I saw a guy walking. Turns out, I'd seen him in the running store a week or so ago, and he was totally pumped about running his first marathon, said he'd run every inch of the course and was shooting for 3:30. Given that I ran a half-marathon at what would be a 3:12 full pace, he may have gone out a tad too fast. I patted him on the shoulder, told him to re-group and that he could still "do it". Don't know his name, so I can't check his results.

Miles 9-12 were odd in that they seemed to present a duality in time. The mile markers seemed both too close and too far together. It's a tough thing to explain.

After crossing the 11-mile mark, I knew a new PR was well within reach. The last couple of hills were tough, and though it seemed like I was slowing, I still covered the mile at a good clip. Turns out I just had to work harder to keep it going. A fit-looking guy in trail shoes passed me, and I tried to go with him. For the first time on that day, my quads spoke up. As soon as that happened, I started feeling all the little things, like the exaggerated hardness of my left foot pounding the ground, the first-ever race-day chafing I suffered under my right arm (must have missed a spot with the lube), the raw area on my right calf where my left foot rubs when I get tired. Things got harder, but I knew that I could manage until the top of the final hill, just before the 12-mile mark.

After cresting the hill I'd run dozens of times, I saw the "skyline" of our little city, marked most notably by my own office building. I had enough sense to be conscious of trying to run the best possible tangent for a mile, before making the final turn, that terrible fork where the full marathoners bear right, while we half-ers turn left and sprint for the finish. I went downhill as fast as I could reasonably turn my legs over and reached the turn feeling like I had very little left. That feeling made me smile slightly, as that was the goal of the race, to run hard enough that I would not be left with much by way of reserves at the end.

Sadly, there was no one too close to me as I finished, neither ahead or behind, so I looked at my watch and ran as hard as I could to get under 1:36.

I took a space blanket and walked around, seeing some faster friends who'd already finished. They served chili and hot soup, which really hit the spot. I saw more and more friends, stretched, talked about the race, Chicago, the 40-mile fundraiser, etc.

Then I waited to see the marathoners finish, before heading up to the kids' swim meet an hour or so away. For not having had much faith in how things would go, I wouldn't change a thing. Is there a lesson to be learned there?



Progman2000 said...

Great race report, congrats on the PR.

Bert said...

Very well run race, congratulations on the PR! Is there a lesson to be learnt? Maybe to wish for temperatures in the 20's or 30's for every race...

Billy said...

Great job Ron - it's nice to have some redemption in the form of a PR after Chicago.

I think this reinforces what you should have known all along - that you are clearly in the fitness range of a 3:20 marathon. Chicago's (yet again) unseasonably warm weather did many folks in.

I understand why you chose not to do another marathon right away though, so rest up and get ready for that 40!