Monday, February 16, 2009

A Man, No Plan, A Half-Marathon . . .

Today's post's title is a rip-off of the classic palindrome, "A man, a plan, a canal, Panama". For those who don't know, a palindrome is a word or phrase which reads the same backwards as forward (e.g., "Hannah" or "Madam, I'm Adam").

In this case, I'm trying to convey that I ran a half-marathon yesterday without having specifically trained for it. I've only hit 40 miles in a week once since the year's inception, and I'm dealing with a nagging groin strain which I sustained about 6 weeks ago during a pick-up soccer game. I made no race plan; set no time goal; printed no pace band. This is very much out of character for this mildly OCD runner.

Instead, I told myself that I would go out at around a 7:30 mile pace, see how I felt, and decide what sort of day it would be. I knew the course to be among the flattest in the area (a coastal loop with a couple of rolling hills, but peaking only at about 100 feet above sea level), and the weather looked to be decent. However, I felt under-trained, groin-strained, with my sinuses undrained [insert groan here].

It's relevant to note here that I ran one of the most disappointing races of my running "career" at the same place last year, when I "trained through" a high mileage week, did not pace well early, had a fueling catastrophe at around mile 6 (couldn't get the Sport Beans out of their package) and got to run through a nice little snowstorm during the final miles. So, while I had no plan, per se, redemption was on my mind.

Deciding how to dress for a potentially blustery New England winter day was a bit challenging, but I decided that less is more when it comes to racing. I drove to the race with two friends who dressed like they might be racing the Iditarod, with heavy hats, gloves, and pants. I went with my new short-sleeved Mountain HardWear windstopper top (with a half-zipper), arm warmers (goofy-looking, but effective; one guy I know said he liked the "Spider Man" look) and Race Ready shorts (with Sugoi wind briefs underneath - THE key article of clothing for the day). I wore my Saucony Grid Tangent lightweight trainers, but - having learned my lesson during a Thanksgiving Day 4-miler, I wore mid-weight SmartWool socks. I added light fleece gloves which come off easily and a light fleece hat. As it turned out, I was dressed perfectly. I never felt cold, and during the sunny stretches where the wind calmed down, I was able to take off my gloves, adjust my hat and unzip my shirt to remain comfortable throughout.

I saw two acquaintances at the starting line. One I know to be faster than me who wanted to see about running 7:15-ish pace. The other whose fitness I knew nothing about, who said he wanted to shoot for 7:30 pace. The faster guy and I started together for a mile or so, with the slower guy ahead of us. The faster guy left me (he ran a 7:02 overall pace), and I ran with the slower guy for about a half-mile, when I left him behind (he petered out late and ran a 7:59 average pace).

My HR got to 168-170 pretty quickly, and I was running between 7:05 and 7:15 per mile, fighting the wind and trying to draft off of other runners. The wind was a total bastard for the first 4-5 miles, until we turned into a shielded residential area. At each mile marker, I'd calculate what a 7:30 average mile would be, and then realized I was getting well ahead of that pace. Before I knew it, I realized that I was on track for a new PR, and the actual math got complicated, so I just focused on staying in the low 7:00 range . . . one mile at a time.

I drank a little bit of water at mile 3, took a Gu Roctane gel at mile 6, slowing to drink as much of 2 small cups of water as I could, and then skipped the remaining aid stations. Not sure whether that was good choice, but I didn't want to lose my momentum in the final stretch.

Having battled the wind on the northward part of the course, I looked forward to getting a nice strong tailwind coming back along the coast for the final 4.5 or so miles. Of course, turns out that the running gods were a bit bored, and the headwind was equally fierce coming back. While I'd had visions of running sub-7:00 pace for the final 4 miles, I had to work hard just to keep it at 7:10. I just could not find an extra gear.

The final miles involved seeing a few people whom I'd seen earlier on the course, along with a couple of sandbaggers who passed me at around mile 11 as if I'd been standing still. I caught up to a woman whom I'd seen along the course. She had passed me a few miles earlier, and she pulled away from me again at around mile 12. I was struggling to stay smooth and relaxed, and she seemed to stay about 10 meters ahead of me, whether I accelerated or not. When I finally could see the 13-mile marker and the finish line just behind it. I tried to kick it in. I was probably 0.25 miles from the finish, and this time I found the extra gear. The groin cooperated, and I passed the woman in that last tenth of a mile. The Garmin said I averaged about 6:20 pace for the last quarter-mile. I beat her by 4 seconds, with a new half-marathon PR: 1:34:08 (the race offered only gun time, which was about 10 seconds slower). I was ecstatic, especially given that I simply did not expect it going in. That's a 7:10 pace, and an almost two-minute improvement over November's effort (on a less hilly course, granted).

I came in 71st out of about 860 people (last year, I was 180-somethingth). With my new, more competitive age group, though, I was a humbling 14th. The guys who rode with me sandwiched me with their times: the faster one was 21st overall in about 1:26 (8 minutes faster) and the other finished in around 1:42 (8 minutes slower). Each was disappointed - for different reasons - with his time.

Now it's time for me to focus on a 13-week, Hudson-influenced training plan. I hope to line up at Sugarloaf healthy and in even better shape than I'm in now. If I keep my wits about me and get decent weather, I hope to get to enjoy the spoils of my hard work over the course of a full marathon. I think I hear Boston 2010 calling my name, and this time it really means it.

Thanks for reading, ESG


Progman2000 said...

Wow, congrats on the PR. Very anxious to see how you do at Sugarloaf (that gotta be a beautiful course, very jealous).

Billy said...

Holy schnapp - talk about sandbagging!

Awesome new PR Ron...that's a blistering time. Congratulations man!