Monday, August 31, 2009

A New Running Love . . .

As my faithful 1.5 readers know, I run trails regularly. I use them for recovery, and I enjoy being in the woods amidst the birds, the trees, and the occasional four-legged creature whose home turf I'm invading. I know the trails right near my home intimately, but with intimacy all-too-often comes monotony. So, with an eye towards shaking up my running, I signed up for my first long trail race. Figuring that perhaps some semblance of race-specific training might be a good idea, this past weekend I took my longest-ever trail training run.

On a gloriously cool and cloudy Sunday morning (after receiving the remnants of Tropical Storm Danny), I ran with a local friend-of-a-friend, an ultrarunner who's currently training for a 50-mile race. His plan called for 28 miles. I wanted to do 12 or so. We arranged to meet up, and he showed up at my place, about 5 miles into his run, and led me up to an area across the main road from where I live (and from where "my" trails are). Ducking in behind a local church, we picked up a seemingly endless system of trails, needing only one or two road crossings in order to keep going further into what seemed like unspoiled wilderness. We did not do anything overly technical, but we did climb (according to my Garmin, which I think was wrong) about 6,000 feet. At one point, we descended into what resembled a small gorge, with a beautiful stream flowing strongly, crossed a small wooden bridge, and climbed up the other side. It was a true hidden gem in our town.

Of course, my running companion - a veteran of the Wapack Trail race - did assure me that what we did was nowhere near as challenging as what we will face next Sunday. "Great . . .," I thought to myself. Of course, with the wet terrain, I managed one nice wipeout, not due to the usual trail hazard of roots or rocks, but on a soft, muddy patch of earth which gave way when I took a turn a bit too sharply. I sort of tucked and rolled a bit, popping right back up and getting back into a groove very quickly. Other than that and a few leg scrapes from pushing through a brambly thicket, I had little trouble navigating the route, which included hurdling fallen trees, crossing a lot of streams, and dashing down a few steep descents. The combination of the new setting and the company made it one of the best training runs I can remember, and - though I knew I had to avoid overdoing it - I did not want it to end.

The total for the run (including some on-road mileage) was 14 miles in 2:26, or about 10:27 overall pace. Hopefully, I won't run much more than an hour longer than that next weekend, but - honestly, I have NO IDEA what to expect. Not getting hurt and finishing with a shred of my wits about me would be a very good day. Right now, the weather forecast looks ideal, so that's a major plus.

So, last week worked out like this:
  • Monday - XT, weights and core
  • Tuesday - 2.5M warm-up, 5K XC race, 2M cool-down
  • Wednesday - 6M+, easy (trails)
  • Thursday - 6M+, easy
  • Friday - 9.75M (including 1 mile barefoot on grass)
  • Saturday - 7.5M (on the trails, in a downpour - fun!)
  • Sunday - 14M (mostly trails)

Total was about 52 miles for the week, with the race being my only real "quality" workout.

Deciding how to structure this week is proving challenging. I'll likely run on Monday (usual off-day) in order to take Friday off and get a little extra rest before the race. I received my Salomon XT Wings, in which I plan to race on Sunday. I've worn many Salomon trail shoes, and love them. I will of course break these in with a shorter trail run, but I don't anticipate any problems.

Also, I would like (in case anyone actually reads this) to recognize a couple of excellent race performances this weekend from fellow RWOL Sub-3:20 Forumites. My friend screaminzab smoked a 10K, running 39:07 and showing that he is in prime BQ (sub-3:10 in his case) shape. RunThruIt posted an amazing HM PR of 1:27:57, despite (or because of?) running with a non-functioning watch. It was inspiring to see them both reach new heights of performance, and I'm that much more motivated about my imminent return to higher mileage and longer-distance racing. Thanks for that gift, guys.


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Racer . . . or just a Runner?

Last night I ran a local 5K XC race, forking over a small registration fee to benefit a local high school's cross-country team. As I posted previously, I'd run 23:38 there last year, on the way back from injury. Based upon comparing faster 5K runners' road times, the course is about 2 minutes slow. I had thought that running around 21:00 would be a good showing. About that, I was right, as it would have been good for 3rd place overall. I ended up running 21:59 gun time (about 2-3 seconds faster net time), which put me at 8th overall and 4th in my age group. Though objectively that's not a bad showing at all, I was quite disappointed with how I ran.

After Sunday's hilly 15-miler, I cross-trained, lifted weights and did core exercises on Monday. Then, I played in my office's season-finale softball game. Yesterday at work, I felt sore in my hips, upper back, neck and shoulders.

I arrived at the race about 32 minutes before the start, signed up and went for a 2-mile warm-up run with a couple of strides. Immediately, I felt lousy, stiff and my gait was "off". My HR was too high and I figured it wouldn't be my day. When it comes to racing, though, there seems to be a fine line between realistic self-assessment and defeatist thinking, and I must have come down on the wrong side of that line yesterday. I was one of the last runners to reach the start, since I had to go back to the gear area to change shoes. However, the start was delayed just long enough that my Garmin reset itself, and I only noticed it when the RD yelled "Go". I found myself in a pack, fiddled with the watch and got it working about 15-20 seconds into the race. Then I just tried to settle into a rhythm for the first mile. Here's how it played out:
  • Mile 1 - Hit the split at 6:23 (according the HS kid calling out the time), and was in 5th place overall; probably too fast, but I felt okay on the straight (if somewhat soft and hilly) part of the course. Had awful cottonmouth (as usual in short races, and despite drinking a lot during the day), but relieved it at a water stop at around the mile marker
  • Mile 2 - All of this mile (plus some of the next one) is on a gorgeous yet brutal single-track woods trail; it curves and rises and falls the entire time, with probably no more than 20 straight yards at any given time; I pushed it pretty hard early, but felt someone nipping at my heels; it was a guy I really like from my running club, and I told him to pass me; he held off and finally went by me; I was really hurting on every twist, turn, climb and descent, and started checking out as I sensed someone else approaching me; it was the eventual female winner, and I finally gave her space to pass me, too; hardly a racer's killer instinct, but it seemed like an honorable gesture given the nature of the trail at that point; the Garmin measured this mile short, but I'd say I was running an 8:00-ish pace
  • Mile 3+ - With about 0.75 mile to go, we come out of the woods and I realize I'm going to live; I push the pace and see the display get back into the 6:00 range, and then low-6:00, then 5:xx; I was running towards the east, pushing it hard along a long dirt road in the midst of a tall grassy field, until I saw a shadow approach me; it was another running club member, and as he went by, I tried to keep pace with him; I saw the woman who passed me up ahead, and made a last-ditch effort to surge, but ended up a couple of seconds back from the two of them, determined not to let the clock hit 22:00 before I crossed the finish line; at least I managed that feat for a small consolation

The winner ran 18:45, about 1:30+ slower than his usual road time; second place was just under 20 minutes, and he usually runs around 18:00. The next 5 of us ran 21:xx, so it was pretty close in that sense. My disappointment stems not so much from my time or placement, but in how I ran, feeling (yet again) like I was not very strong mentally. It seems like I have not had a truly solid race since Sugarloaf. And, while there may be a few discrete reasons for yesterday's sub-par performance (fatigue, hip soreness, heat), I'm wondering whether I've somehow unwittingly "converted" myself into a longer distance runner, able to hold easier paces for a long time, but no longer willing to endure the acute pain that comes with shorter distance racing.

Well, as tempting as it is to run another 5K this weekend (flat course; cool weather forecast), it's time to focus on Wapack and being to stay on my feet for 3.5 hours going up and down some major hills.


Monday, August 24, 2009

Too Much of a Good Thing?

I love to run on trails. When the ground is snow-free, I do 2 trail runs almost every week, mostly at a slow pace, enjoying the scenery, looking and listening for wildlife and trying not to twist an ankle or break my neck. I've wanted to do a longer trail race for some time, having done a couple of off-road 5Ks. So, I've taken a bit of a leap, and have signed up for the Wapack Trail Race, a rugged 17.5-mile out-&-back race which climbs several small mountains and which - according to veterans of the event - should take about the same amount of time as a fast road marathon. Although my overall weekly mileage has been consistently in the mid-50's, I have done only a few runs of over two hours since May. So, with that in mind, I'm planning to go out "easy" during Wapack, probably power-hike the steepest uphills and try to run the return stretch a little faster than the going out. I'm just hoping that once I'm done, my love for trail running remains, and that the experience doesn't break me.

Last week was a pretty straightforward running week, as follows:
  • Monday - XT, strength (heavier weights than usual), core & stretching
  • Tuesday - 8M at noontime at about 8:25 average pace on one of the hottest days of the year (good run, considering)
  • Wednesday - A little under 7 miles, with a track workout of 2x800, 4x400 and 3x200 (ran out of time to do more); had a little trouble hitting goal paces early on (it was an early-AM run), but settled in after a bit; my HR monitor died, and does not appear to be coming back to life
  • Thursday - 7 miles easy, including a couple of trail miles & a barefoot mile on a grassy field
  • Friday - 10.3 miles at a steady pace, averaging about 8:30/mile
  • Saturday - 6.2 trail miles, very sloppy & slippery (and thus quite fun) thanks to heavy rains
  • Sunday - 15 hot & hilly miles, 8:35 average pace

Total was a bit under 55 miles, with which I'm pretty happy. Despite feeling like I'm "undertraining" in terms of marathon preparation, I've never before had as long a period of 50+-mile weeks as I have since recovering from my spring marathon. It should make ratcheting up the mileage in advance of the pacing/ultra-run gig relatively manageable, especially as I lengthen my Sunday runs again. Add in the cooler temps which will inevitably arrive, and fall training should be productive.

One notable incident from Sunday's long run was the extremely disturbing graffiti painted on a bike path/foot bridge over a local pod, which I encountered at about mile 13 of my run. Scrawled cross the ground in blood red spray paint, the first image I saw was large swastika. Along with several vulgar statements, it contained not-so-veiled politically-oriented threats, such as "There will be blood" and "Live Free or Die, M'fer" (a slight variation on our poetic state motto). Amazingly, as I approached that bridge, I was listening to a segment from Bill Maher's show about the vitriol of Health Care Reform debate and the disconnect between people who have health insurance (and thus have been vociferously expressing their contempt for any type of reform) and those who queue up for 8 hours to get free attention from mobile health units. The latter group is peaceful and hopeful. The former group has somehow conflated health care reform efforts with Nazism, fueled in part by a shameful campaign of misinformation, and somehow have turned Presidential town-hall-type meetings into referenda on the validity of the Second Amendment. I can't do anything about the bigger issues, but I did call in to report the graffiti to the local police.

I will be racing a XC 5K to benefit a local high school XC team on Tuesday night. Last year, I ran that race for the first time, coming off my back injury/sciatica, in around 23:30. I hope to be near 21:00 minutes this year, and contend for an age-group award.

Finally, on a happier note, I recorded and watched a fair amount of the World Track & Field Championships. There were some stellar and inspirational performances, the usual share of controversy, the excitement which is Usain Bolt and the inevitable disappointments (such as the US 4x100 relay teams' continuing inability pass the baton successfully during qualifying heats). It was extremely enjoyable to have a week's worth of running to watch, even if the Versus network's coverage is mediocre, and the overarching focus on US performances result in minimizing (or omitting completely) other worthwhile stories.


Monday, August 17, 2009

Vacation's All I Ever Wanted

There's nothing like a change of scene to help those of us immersed in the hecticness of modern American life recharge our batteries and brighten our disposition. I am lucky enough to have found a special place to which I get to return every summer for a week of disconnecting from my overcharged existence. During that week, I somehow survive without a television, computer or - mostly - mobile phone. I spend a lot of time reading, thinking, staring at the ocean, listening to birds, playing with my kids and - yes - running.

That week was August 9-16 this year, and - as usual - it went by way too quickly. Still, we all managed to have a wonderful time.

I started the vacation with a nasty head cold and sore throat, which I "ran through" on Friday and Saturday before we hit the road. I was feeling lousy and run down, and ended up seeing little point to trying to do a long run on Sunday, especially in light of our needing to get to the vacation house, unpack, set up, get groceries, etc. So, for the 4th time in 2009, I did no formal exercise that day. I decided I would ease back into running as the week went on, so here's how the week played out:

  • Monday - 6 miles easy

  • Tuesday - 8 miles (awful run; I was reminded that donuts do not make a good pre-run breakfast for me)

  • Wednesday - 6+ miles, with 3 x 12 second hill sprints

  • Thursday - 10.5 miles, with the last 2.5 "hard" (7:28/7:15/6:30 paces)

  • Friday - 6 miles easy

  • Saturday - 14 miles (hot & hilly, with an interesting water stop which I'll describe below)

  • Sunday - 5 miles on the trails after we got home (still blazing hot)

Total for the week was 57 and I felt pretty good at the end of it. I took Monday as a non-running day, and - thanks to an Outside magazine article about overall fitness - did heavier weights than usual. I'm finishing this post on Thursday, and my chest and shoulders are still a bit sore.

The story on Saturday's run is that I left at around 8:30 am, and the temperatures were already rising quickly. Any semblance of a cooling ocean breeze is gone within a half-mile of leaving our place, and I left with my 4 8-ounce Fuel Belt bottles full (2 with Gatorade, 2 with water). I also brought a gel with me for the first time in ages. I didn't think that 32 ounces would be enough, but I counted on seeing someone somewhere along the route who would let me refill off their garden hose.

From the point on where we stay, there are two main roads, and all runs are "out-&-back" runs. I chose to head up on Route 97, then turn right towards an historic home known as the Olson House, famous for serving as the background in one of Andrew Wyeth's most notable works, "Christina's World".

The run went fine, but it was even hotter than I had expected, and the hills kept coming and coming. I started rationing my water, but at about the 6.5 mile mark, I noticed a man setting up for some sort of gathering in the barn behind a local historical society building. I passed by and ran along one of Maine's millions of coastal roads until I passed the 7-mile mark, and I headed back from whence I came. I got back to the barn, walked up and said hello, asking if they had any water which they could spare. An attractive woman in an electric turquoise tank top and white Capri pants - who could have been anywhere from 8 or so years younger to older than I am - greeted me very warmly. I stood outside, as we were separated by the mosquito netting draped across the barn's opening. There was an art exhibit set up inside, and this woman brought me a pitcher of water to refill my bottles. I was shirtless, completely and totally soaking with sweat, to the point that the brim of my hat had a rhythmic drip coming from it. The woman insisted that I come in, told me she'd seen me go by earlier and hoped that I'd pop in. To borrow a recurring phrase from a book I'm currently reading: "Flirtatious" may not be the right word, but it's the first word that comes to mind. Of course, I was sure that I had dried snot and spittle on my face, and was more than a tad self-conscious about my low-culture appearance at this higher-culture event.

When I asked what the show was about, the woman said, "These are my paintings." The works were mostly New England images done in extremely vibrant colors. I'm hardly an art expert, but it was like viewing quaint coastal scenes painted by LeRoy Neiman. We even got to talking about a particular work which was a bit more subtle than the others. She explained to me that it was about her husband being at a crossroads in his life. At this point, it seemed that the conversation was on the brink of getting overly personal, and I was just a guy out for a long run, looking for some extra water. The painter all-but-forced me to promise to consider coming back later. There was one painting I would have considered buying, but opted instead to allocate that money to replacing my cracked flat-screen television. Talk about low-brow.

It's been quite hot (finally!) for the past week or so, but I've managed to stick to my improvised schedule despite the weather. Here's how this week looks:

  • Monday - elliptical, lifting, stretching & core
  • Tuesday - 8 miles at "moderate" effort (8:25/mile average pace) at noon on the hottest day of the year so far, but staying well-hydrated made it bearable
  • Wednesday - early AM track session, with 2x800m (3:08/3:03), 4x400m (1:27/1:28/1:30/1:27) and 3x200m (0:39/:42/:40) for just under 7 miles total (my HR monitor strap died mid-run, which beats the alternative, I suppose)
  • Thursday - 7 miles easy, with 1 mile of barefoot running on grass and track
  • Friday - 10 or so miles easy, possibly with an online running friend who'll be in town
  • Saturday - 6+ miles on trails
  • Sunday - 12+ miles, depending on whether and how my legs feel

I'm planning to do an off-road 5K on Tuesday, where I ran 23:38 last year, having just come back from injury. Given the nature of the course, anything around 21:00 would be very good, and could net me an age-group placing.

The other event I have my eye on is the Wapack Trail Race on September 6th, a challenging 17.5 mile out and back climbing and descending over 4 mountains. I'm not in any kind of shape to "race" it and don't have any real experience with that kind of running, which is what makes it liberating. I would assume I could cover the distance in about 3:30, power-hiking the uphills and running moderately hard wherever the terrain and slopes allow. We'll see if it fits into the family schedule and take it from there.

Thanks for reading. Happy running. -ESG

Monday, August 3, 2009

Beach "Too" Beacon

Too hot. Too tired. Too much time in the car. Too late. Too much of a wuss.

My summer goal race at Beach to Beacon was a flop, with my sub-40:00 goal out of reach before I hit the 3-mile marker. Official time was 42:04, a minute-plus personal record, but a significant disappointment no matter much may try to salvage some "good" from the whole ordeal. I'll note up front that on balance, it turned out to be a good day, but all of the "good" happened after the race. I'll explain down below.

As with every missed goal in running (and - ideally - in life), I've been mulling over what happened. There are a number of possible explanations, which are not mutually exclusive. Did I overestimate my fitness level? Did I fail to peak at the right time? Did my training miss key elements necessary for performing well at the 10K distance? Was my strategy ill-advised? Did I execute poorly? Were there circumstances beyond my control which adversely affected my performance?

So, like a parade of miniature show ponies, let me trot out the reasons (at least as I see them, though you may feel free to call them excuses) for what I consider to be one of my worst races to date:
  • Fatigue/Exhaustion (cumulative and acute) - In the 3 nights before the race, I slept 5, 5 and 4+ hours; I'd also run 51 days in a row, and apparently one day off and couple of days of reduced mileage was not enough to refresh my legs for this race
  • Poor Race-Day Planning - Because of a family visit, I awoke at about 4:40 on Saturday morning to drive to Cape Elizabeth, instead of heading up the night before; I'd made arrangements with a virtual running friend (thanks YankeeRunner!) to pick up my bib & race chip; I left my house at 5:15 for what should have been a 1:45 drive; I got to the Casco Bay Bridge (about 7 miles from the start) at about 7:00 am, for an 8:05 race start; traffic was nearly a complete standstill, inching forward ever-so-slowly; I managed to change my shirt, apply Body Glide and put on my racing shoes in the car; I eventually started to believe that I would not make it to the start; I ended up taking a different route to the starting area, parking my car on the side of the road and running the mile or so to the start; I miraculously found my bib & chip (stashing my race t-shirt under a rock behind a bush), which YankeeRunner smartly left with some volunteers; stood in a bathroom line and headed for the start with less than 10 minutes to spare, exhaling when I heard the announcer say that the race start would be delayed by a few minutes due to traffic issues; as a result of sitting in the car for that long, I was not physically or mentally warmed up enough; I ran the first mile on pace, but it did not feel smooth; my hips felt and stayed tight and I struggled mightily up even the slightest uphills (not usually a problem for me); next year, I will again stay with out friends in Portland (if they'll have me) and make sure that my pre-race routine is much more relaxed
  • Heat - While I expected high humidity, I did not expect temps to be in the high-70's/low-80's, with almost no wind; after the awful summer we've had weather-wise, Saturday turned out to be one of the most summery days of the year; it was a gorgeous day for just about anything, except for running one's best 10K
  • A Stupid Non-Running Injury - On Friday night, I bent over to pick up my daughter's blanket, but failed to realize that I was bending down over one of the iron posts on her bed; I bruised one of my ribs right under my right pectoralis muscle; objectively, it was not a big deal, but it hurt just enough to nag me when other things starting going wrong
  • GI Distress - Because I had to leave so early, I ended up deviating from my usual race-day breakfast; for the sake of convenience, I brought a peanut butter sandwich with me to eat about 2 hours before the race; It did not sit well, and I felt it for much of the race (and afterwards)

The Ugly Tale of the Splits

So, I lined up a little ways behind the 6:00/mile pace sign. I made sure my watch was working properly and crossed the line about 6 or so seconds after the gun went off. Here's the slow-by-blow, mile-by-mile.

Mile 1 - 6:23 Things started out OK, if not great. I changed the display on my watch so that I could see my "instant pace", trying to avoid repeating recent early pacing errors which might prove fatal in a 10K; I wanted to run as close to a 6:20/mile pace as I could, and to do so as evenly as possible; I was satisfied with the split at Mile 1

Mile 2 - 6:42 By the end of this mile, I was struggling, because my hips felt tight and I knew I was working too hard to sustain the pace for the rest of the race; I tried butt kicks and altering my stride to loosen things up, but it was not working; the feeling of working hard so early coupled with the realization that I'd fallen off pace already sent my mind reeling; rather than HTFU and take control of the situation, I went straight to a place of inconsolable resignation; this race had been all about sub-40:00, and around 13 minutes into it, I knew sub-40:00 was not happening; it is a running moment of which I am not at all proud

Mile 3 - 6:34 Frankly, I'm surprised this mile was as fast as this, since though I was working hard, I was actually thinking about dropping out; just after the half-way point at Mile 3.1, I stopped for a moment to "stretch" my hips, but was really just thinking about the practical implications and logistics of quitting then and there; I decided that quitting was absurd, and that if I just kept running, maybe, somehow, miraculously, things would turn around and I may hit my stride; I also couldn't think of how I'd face my family and friends if I dropped for no good reason

Mile 4 - 6:59 - It's clear to me that things are not improving, so I start doing the PR math and decide that if I can stay under 7:00 pace, I can salvage something from the day; the uphills are killing me, and I just don't feel smooth, from my shoulders, to my slightly aching bruised rib to my tight hips and sore calves; I was the sole guest at my own personal pity party, and I just wanted to be "done"

Mile 5 - 6:52 Just slogging through at this point; somewhat satisfied to see that I'm on sub-7:00 pace, but still bummed and befuddled at how hard it all feels; sensing every little discomfort as if viewing it through a magnifying glass; my eyes started darting around looking for a port-a-potty to quell the stomach distress that was bubbling up; I wondered why the water stations were suddenly so far apart

Mile 6 - 7:09 The race's toughest mile, I had nothing for the uphills; it was hot; it felt like my legs had lead weights surgically attached to my thighs, and that all my hips muscles and ligaments had been shortened so that they required extra effort to propel my legs forward; mentally, I was telling myself to speed up; my legs just didn't respond

Mile 6.2 - 1:13 (5:34/mile) One turns into Fort Williams with maybe 03.-04 mile to go, and the crowd is loud and boisterous; as I crested the last climb, I just let it rip; I thought I heard someone call out my last name (first names are printed on the race bibs); I couldn't believe the feeling as I accelerated, blowing past maybe a couple dozen people in the last stretch; I now thought sub-42:00 was possible, but there was just enough traffic in the finishing area that I couldn't find a clear line to run through; I watched the clock pass 42:00, not knowing how many seconds back I'd started; I pushed it, hoped, wondered and then screwed up hitting the button on my watch, adding about 20-30 seconds to my actual time; I pulled off to the side, got shooed along by a volunteer and tried to find YankeeRunner; I never did, but another virtual running friend, joewmaine, did find me


After the race, Joe and I ran about a mile together, but I needed to peel off to find a bathroom. After I left him, I fell into a brisk cool-down pace with a woman wearing the singlet of a prestigious Massachusetts-based running club. Turns out she's one of New Hampshire's top female runners, and we chatted about our race, marathons and running in general. After about a half-mile she found her boyfriend/husband and I searched for a bathroom. I milled about in the food area, and a volunteer directed me all the way back the hill towards the bathrooms at the finish (I later saw a bathroom about 100 yards from where I was standing). I ran into my friend Jim, who'd run a nice PR, and we discussed the race. Then, I started asking around about the shortest way to get back to where I parked. I had heard that there was a direct route that would come out to about 4 miles, but was unable to nail it down. I decided I could figure it out, and - being in the mood to punish myself for having performed so poorly against my expectations - I started off in search of my car.

A couple of people gave me some directions. I stopped and asked a 275+-lb. police officer how to go. It may have been unnecessary to approach him by saying, "Hi, you look like a fellow runner . . . ", but his colleagues were hooting and hollering, and I told him that I had very little oxygen reaching my brain, so I could not be responsible for what I was saying. He smiled, but barely. Whether sincere or not, he said he knew no other way to get back towards the start other than retracing the course. If he was yanking my chain, then I probably deserved it.

At this point, there were still people (runners & walkers) on the course, and I tried to say something encouraging to everyone who appeared to still be running. This included the 80-something year-old man, several very large people and a single-leg amputee running with her daughter. For her, I stopped and just clapped as she went by. Amazing!

It was getting warmer and warmer as the sun moved up in the sky. I had not worn a hat, had not applied sunscreen and had not brought anything to drink. I was carrying a banana (which must have looked a little weird), and was looking for the magical shortcut to my car. I asked another police officer (more politely this time) how to get there, and he said to retrace the course. I passed a gas station, then turned around to use the bathroom (again). A couple of cars yelled things at me, possibly congratulations, though one car full of teenaged boys yelled out: "Why you still running, loser?" How did they know my time was so bad? ;-)

Well, before I knew it, I was not finding any shortcuts, but was instead running back along the course down Route 77. It looked very different without all the runners and in reverse, but the miles started ticking off. In another moment of positivity, I passed a shopping center parking lot where a couple of attractive young women were handing out free samples some new sports-drink/Vitamin Water knock-off. I rubbed my eyes and asked if they were a mirage. They gave me a cold bottle of red stuff, and it was exactly what I needed.

Trudging along, I saw a woman in the distance up ahead, running on the other side of the road. I slowly gained on her, and caught up when she stopped to talk to a car which had pulled over to ask her something. I asked her how far the start was, and she said maybe 1.5-2 miles. Her name was Jennifer, she had also raced B2B and was getting in extra mileage by running back to her car, too. I asked her if she wanted to run in together, and she said she was afraid she'd be too slow. I told her that her pace was fine, and we talked about running, kids, fundraising and life. Turns out she's also a converted soccer player, has 3 kids (her oldest has Down's Syndrome) and she leads a Team in Training group. She said it was her first B2B in a while where she wasn't pregnant. I replied that that's one excuse I've never been able to make work for me. Well, having someone with whom to run made that last hot, hilly stretch pass more quickly. We thanked each other for the company and I went to get the shirt which I'd stashed. It was gone. Yet another blemish on this already cruddy day.

I then stood at an intersection, trying to remember where the heck I'd left my car. I could not remember which way I'd come in, but I guessed - correctly, it turned out - and I made my way the final mile or so to my car. again, things did not look familiar, but then I reached a place that looked like where I'd parked. My car was not there, though, so I had visions of it having been towed or stolen . . . the cherry on top of the day's crap sundae. Well, it was about a 1/4-mile further down, for a total of 9-post-race miles. Hard to call that a "cool-down", especially as temps went into the high 80's. With the warm-up mile, that made a total of 16 on the day, the most I've run since my last marathon.

At the car, I toweled off, change behind some bushes and cranked up the AC. I called home to explain why I was so behind schedule.

I got some Gatorade and cold water in Portland, and ate the banana I'd been carrying along with a Clif Bar I'd brought along. I found I-295 and headed home to see my sister, brother-in-law, niece and nephew. Along the way, I heard Adele's great song, "Chasing Pavements", but the refrain really got inside my head:

Should I give up / Or should I just keep chasing pavements? / Even if it leads nowhere / Or would it be a waste? / Even If I knew my place should I leave it there? / Should I give up / Or should I just keep chasing pavements? / Even if it leads nowhere

Of course, the song is not about running, but those lyrics penetrated my weakened defenses and ended up making me justify to myself why I love the sport so much, and how I intend to keep trying to push and test myself. Of course, about 10 songs later, I heard Beck's "Loser" (I'm a loser babyyyyyy, so why don't you kill me . . . .). Was the DJ trying to tell me something? ;-)


Okay, okay, this was just one race. A 10K, which I could run again this weekend or the week after that. It's not the end of the world, and it's pretty lame and self-centered to feel like this is an epic failure which should result in questioning myself, my running fitness and my suitability for the sport. With some time to reflect, I have realized that running up to one's potential requires everything to line up (like it did for me at Sugarloaf). If one or more key things is not working in one's favor, it's very hard to achieve that aspirational benchmark.

So, I'll relish my new 10K PR, and that I moved up about 900 spots in the B2B standings from 2008, when I ran it hurt. I'll also keep my eyes open for another 10K, smaller, cooler, flatter, where I can see if I'm closer to sub-40:00 than this past Saturday indicates. And, perhaps most importantly, I'll try to develop and nourish in myself a new racing mindset that allows for "B" goals, even if that goal is simply to do the best I could possibly do on that day, regardless of whether the "A" goal is or is not meant to be. The sad reality about Saturday for me is that I did not do that, and while maybe sub-40:00 was simply not happening, I certainly could have run a better time than I did.

Now it's time to firm up the late-summer and fall running schedule, and focus on the type of training that's most likely to yield positive results at various distances, from the next 5K where I hope to break 19 minutes, to another 10K, to the NYC qualifying half-marathon which I hope to run, and - finally - with pacing the 3:50 group on November 1st before adding the extra miles for a 38-mile fundraising run.

The pity party is over. Hopefully, there will not be another one, and none of you is invited.

Thanks for reading. -ESG