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

2 comments:

Progman2000 said...

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

Burger said...

Holy schnapp - talk about sandbagging!

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