Saturday, June 6, 2009

Rambling in the Afterglow . . . and a Time Trial Report

Well, it's been almost three weeks since Sugarloaf, and - as might be expected - the prosaic forces of work obligations and personal responsibilities have done their best to snap me out of my nearly-romantic fog and bring me back down to earth, with mixed success. I am still basking in the sense of personal accomplishment of having qualified for Boston, and have tempered my zeal with being both smart about recovery and sensitive to the very precarious family schedule at the moment.

This week I learned that I did not get into the 2009 New York City marathon, which is actually a blessing. I will now almost certainly not run a fall marathon, and will get the chance to qualify into NYC, either with a sub-1:30 half-marathon or sub-3:10 full. That sub-1:30 will be my fall goal.

In the nearer future, my sights are set on running the best possible time I can on August 1st at Beach to Beacon. It's a great race by any standard, with a gorgeous setting, a real mix of elite and recreational runners (with some legends of the sport thrown in for good measure) and where I have some serious redemption on tap, given that I ran it 5 minutes slower last year than I did in 2007. My 10K PR is from the 2007 race, and it's time to lower it. Sub-40:00 is my current goal, but if some shorter-distance-focused training takes root, I'll make an assault on sub-39:00. That would be a delicious result after last year's 48:00+ and 1000-somethingth finish.

Since Sugarloaf, I have mostly not told every single person I meet that I've recently qualified for Boston. I never told anyone from my running club directly, but thanks to Facebook and some folks' own curiosity, everyone seemed to know by the time I saw them again. The sense of validation in the eyes of all runners, from slow and not-so-serious to competitive, is palpable. It's like I've earned my way into a prestigious club, where my membership was justifiably in doubt for a long time. I'm liking it so far.

My first week post-Sugarloaf was a mess, in terms of having a crushing workload, visiting family, my son's birthday, and additional work commitments on my wife's end, too. I ran about 16 easy miles total, though I felt like I could certainly have run more than that.

Last week was a bit better, and I ran about 35 miles, with one track session in preparation for this past Tuesday's two-mile time trial with the running club.


The time-trial is a twice-a-year affair, with one in the spring and another in the fall, so that we may all ostensibly see how much we've improved. The club founder owns a successful race-timing company, and he provides professional timing and age-graded results.

Goal-setting proved challenging, but it was nothing compared to executing my strategy successfully. After some deliberation, I decided that I would like to shoot for a time between 11:30 and 11:45. I had it in my head that the splits should be along the lines of 5:50/5:45. This is much faster than I've ever run before, so we're talking uncharted territory for me.

The Thursday before, I did 4x800 at the track, and I was able to do all 4 repeats at 6:00 or better pace. My legs felt mostly recovered from the marathon. When Tuesday rolled around, though, I never got into a good rhythm. I ran about a 1.5-mile warm-up, then ended up in a holding pattern as the first two heats did their thing. The 3 heats were (1) 8:00+/mile runners, (2) 7:00-8:00, and (3) sub-7:00. We all acted as spotters, to give the timers the one-mile splits. That meant not being able to warm up very well, as I was watching one of my club mates as she ran in the second heat.

When that group finished, I did a few sprints on the grassy infield, and lined up with the fast folks, some of whom I've known for a while, others of whom are new to the club. We were off, and I found myself in the third position within 200 meters. I elected not to look at my watch. That was a mistake. I had wanted to hit each lap split in about 86 seconds. The first one was around 80 seconds, and the guys who I knew would #1 and #2 were way closer to me than they should have been. I tried to make myself slow down, but the second lap was not a whole lot better, and with six more round-&-rounds left, I knew it would not be pretty. I could tell that I was slowing to a 6:00-ish minute pace, and my mouth was as dry as I ever remember it feeling (which affected my breathing and made me even more uncomfortable overall).

I ran the first mile in 5:40, but I went into survival mode after that. I thought of the next mile one lap, then half a lap, then a quarter lap at a time. I tried to hold off the one person I could sense behind. I thought of how my Gatorade, despite simmering in the warm late afternoon sun, would taste when I was done. So, I continued to put one foot in front of the other, until the misery ended exactly 11 minutes and 42 seconds after it started, for second disappointing mile of 6:02. My follower passed me with less than 200 meters to go. I might have given chase, but I was mentally checked out of race mode by then.

Still, that's nearly 30 seconds better than the last time I raced a 2-miler, and it's not bad for having done very little fast-paced running in recent months. Marathon training allowed me to hang on to salvage the overall time, but it was a lousy way to get there. I need to learn how to go out at 6:00 pace in a 5K (perhaps 6:20 in a 10K) if I'm going to make my shorter distance goals this summer. As with all things running, we'll have to wait and see.