Sunday, November 14, 2010

"Feelin' All Right, Oh Yeah": Post-Manchester Week #1

Having survived the Manchester pacing experience despite the inauspicious buildup, a funny thing seems to have happened.  I feel like I've "come out the other side" of the weirdness of the past few weeks, at least in terms of the that hard-to-define physical feeling of simply being a bit "off".  While things aren't 100% normal (whatever that may mean), it's as if my system needed a long run - say, 26.2 miles at about 8:23/mile pace - to find its equilibrium.

Here's how the week looked:
  • Monday - 30 mins recumbent bike, very little resistance
  • Tuesday - 30 mins recumbent bike; light weights, stretching and core
  • Wednesday - 4.9 miles easy
  • Thursday - 5.2 miles on trails
  • Friday - 5.9 miles
  • Saturday - 5.25 miles on trails
  • Sunday - 12.25 miles, with about 5 on trails
All my mileage was "easy", with an average pace for the week of about 9:00/mile.  That's actually pretty good considering the trail mileage.  Most importantly (to me) is that I feel good overall.  I've vowed to get my base mileage back up to ~60 miles per week, but will not run anything fast unless and until all residual soreness is gone.  I paid dearly for pushing the pace on that 10-mile run on October 24th, and do not plan to make that mistake again.

This week, I expect to be around 50 miles, though it's already shaping up to be a busy one.  Aren't they all, though?

There's some personal stuff that's really gnawing at me, and I'm going to need to deal with it.  Details are not really appropriate for the blog, but I will share that I've been doing a lot of soul-searching, about religion/spirituality, priorities, connection, meaning, love, etc.  Of course, such reflection generates multitudinous questions but precious few answers, at least early on in the search.  So, once again, the lessons of running are instructive: patience, discipline, hard work . . . .  Knowing when to push and when to back off, though, may be the key to figuring out what twists and turns my life will take going forward.

Thanks for reading. -ESG/Ron

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Five Down, None to Go - A Manchester City Marathon Pacing Report

“Adopt the pace of nature; her secret is patience.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Today's post title refers to the fact that on November 7, 2010, I ran my fifth marathon of the year, and that I blissfully have no more such races on my schedule until April 18, 2011.  I raced twice (Boston and Chicago), paced twice (Burlington, VT and Manchester) and ran one fundraising/beautiful course/two-marathons-in-six-days-for-the-heck-of-it (Big Sur).  Manchester 2010 also marked my tenth official marathon, so it was nice to move into double-digits on that front.

The lead-up to this year's pacing effort was inauspicious.  Initially, it seemed that my Chicago recovery was going very well, until I ran a 10-miler too fast on October 24th, feeling "off" ever since.  I'd had a simple easy 8-miler where I almost passed out at Mile 6 or so, and have had stomach issues, a chronically elevated heart rate and swollen lymph nodes.  So, I guess I've been fighting something, but let's just say that I was not feeling particularly strong or confident about leading the 3:40 pace group this year.  The good news in that regard, though, is that my friend Joe from Maine agreed to pace with me (officially), and my friend Pete - the author of the acclaimed Runblogger site - fresh off his first BQ, also agreed to keep me company for the duration.

Joe came up on Saturday.  We hung out, drank lots of water, ate a nice pasta dinner and just got into a pretty mellow zone.  As both a dedicated runner and avid gardener, he was an excellent guest, able to swing between conversations of interest to me and to my wife.  After a quiet evening, we retired pretty early, while relishing the fact that we would gain an hour's sleep thanks to the end of Daylight Savings Time.

As usual, I slept pretty fitfully, especially since I wasn't entirely sure that the clocks which should adjust from EDT to EST automatically would in fact come through.  So I ended up waking up early and cross-referencing several clocks.  The ones which were supposed to auto-update did, and by 5:15, I was making coffee in anticipation of an 8:50 marathon start.

Joe and I took separate cars to Manchester, and I swung by to pick up my friend Nate, who was looking to drop down from ultramarathons to a "shorter" race and get himself a Boston Qualifier.

It was a brisk morning, with temps just above freezing early on.  The wind was calm early, but that wouldn't last.  Figuring out how to dress, and what layers to drop when was challenging.  I realized that most of my marathons have been on warm to hot days.

I had to do some fast talking to get Joe and Nate into the YMCA as "guests of the Marathon organizers", but managed to do so.  After chilling out at the Y, Joe, Nate and I headed to the start area at about 8:30.  I wished Nate good luck and Joe and I sought out the 3:40 pace signs and found our way to the proper area of the start corral.  Pete joined us in short order, and a small group formed in our general vicinity.  I yelled, "Get your 3:40 here!  Guaranteed Boston qualifiers for women under 35!" to drum up interest.  Not sure it was especially effective.

I removed my hat for the national anthem, watched a passenger jet fly over downtown Manchester, and felt that final spike of adrenaline as the announcer counted down.  As with so many races, though, despite being completely primed for it, the actual start caught me slightly off guard.

Miles 1-5
 1 - 8:27
 2 - 8:33
 3 - 8:16
 4 - 8:28
 5 - 8:22

As with every marathon, there's a settling-in process when pacing.  I tried to find a rhythm, make a few wisecracks, and generally get into the right zone for the task ahead.  Less than half a mile into the race, I saw that my watch displayed an average  pace of 8:23 (aka, the correct overall pace for a 3:40 marathon) and I loudly declared that I had done my job and would be dropping out shortly, since the group now knew what 8:23/mile pace felt like. That brought some mild guffaws.  Since no one believed me, we forged on.

At about Mile 2, I saw TJ Stevens, the Manchester Police officer who accompanied me during my 40 at 40 mile run in December 2008.  I sped up to greet him, but let him take off when it was clear that he was running too fast for the pace group.

The wind was moderate, but carrying a large, light sign was pretty challenging.  Pete took the sign from me after the first mile, and I debated about whether and when to ditch my long-sleeve shirt.  Somewhere in Mile 3, the shirt came off, leaving me resplendent in my god-awful goldenrod pacer's singlet and Moeben bamboo fiber arm sleeves.

I was trying to keep things light, but few runners were close enough to engage in any meaningful dialogue.  One woman and I started chatting, as she asked me about prior pacing experience, while not-so-subtly questioning whether I was taking the group out to fast.  As the conversation unfolded, I learned that she had run the Vermont-100 this year, and we both wanted to hear about the other's experience.  That lasted a little while, and she dropped back.

As the splits above indicate, the first few miles have some ups and downs.  I was trying to stay steady on effort, and was pleased that despite all my recent physical woes, I felt relatively smooth and relaxed.

Miles 6-10
 6 - 8:18
 7 - 9:18 [pit stop]
 8 - 7:19 [catching up]
 9 - 8:11
10 - 8:16

This part of the race was fun (except for an unceremonious pit stop just after the 10K timing mat).  My stomach did it's unfortunate "thing" and I had to use a port-a-potty.  After being scolded by a race volunteer for veering off the course (it's not my fault that's where they put the damned bathroom), I waited in a short line, did what I had to do, and ran nearly 2 miles at under 7:00 pace to catch up to Joe and Pete.

I saw many familiar faces, both running and spectating, and it was great to be part of the local running community.  Several runners questioned why the 3:40 pacer was tearing through the field, so I kept having to yell, "Catching up", or "Made a pit stop" so that no one would be confused about what the heck was happening.  I also passed a pair of gents running in Boston race shirts and kilts.  I said hello in a poor Scottish accent and saw Joe and Pete in the distance.

Seeing Joe's ugly singlet and Pete's neon orange Saucony arm sleeves was a sight for sore eyes, as the brisk pace was a bit of a shock to my system.  It also seemed that the two of them had pushed the pace a bit in my absence, and were well ahead of the target split when we hit the 8-mile mark.  We settled back into a nice rhythm and were on our way.  Joe seemed to have identified a couple of attractive young women who were seeking their Boston qualifying standard, and he seemed intent to go "the extra mile" to see that they would get it.  I sought to stay close to the customized splits as calculated by the brilliant Greg Maclin, available at his Web site,

Miles 11-15
11 - 8:13
12 - 8:35
13 - 7:55
14 - 8:23
15 - 8:30

More rolling terrain, punctuated by the course's longest downhill from 12-13 that's a wonderful treat for the half-marathoners. A couple of half-marathoners asked how far to the finish; I told them, and they took off.  I steeled myself for the difficulty of turning right for an additional 13.2 miles just as the half-marathoners turned left for their last 0.1 mile.  The Manchester course loses much of its charm in the second half.  Few runners remain; traffic abounds; the crowds thin to almost nothing.  It's an enhanced mental test.

Early in the second half, I was chatting with an older guy from Wichita, Kansas, seeking an it's-a-small-world moment by asking if he knows my friend Meredith.  He doesn't, but wouldn't that have been something?  Another older guy names Francis asks whether I'm going to get him to Boston.  I told him it's really up to him, but I'd be glad to keep company en route to his sub-3:40.

At this point, the kilted runners are holding steady, a nice young guy from Cleveland was with me stride-for-stride and a few more folks seem to be holding together loosely as an ad hoc 3:40 entourage. The second half was off to a decent start.

Miles 16-20

16 - 8:19
17+18 - 16:57
19 - 8:28
20 - 8:24

These miles are always challenging in a marathon, and Sunday was no exception.  The temps never rose much, the wind picked up and swirled around, and my hands got - and stayed - cold.  At about Mile 16, I spilled some water down my front, and the wet singlet made me shiver. 

Mile 17 takes runner onto Louis Street.  Last year I thought of my then ailing father, Louis Abramson, during that stretch.  This year, I dedicated that part to his memory.  A lot can happen in a year, or maybe just one thing that changes a lot of others.

After running along a sidewalk parallel to a big road, we turned and embarked upon the toughest climb of the course, a long, steady grind up towards to St. Anselm's College (where Pete, incidentally, teaches).  Much like last year, this stretch claimed its fair share of marathoners.

At around Mile 19, I came up again on TJ and his flag.  We chatted for a minute, noting that the 40-mile run seemed to have been about a hundred years ago, not less than two.  He was slowing down, and I needed to hold pace, so I said goodbye.  Shortly after that, my friend Dan (the awesome guy who ran 10 post-marathon miles with me as I did 38 miles last year) came by on his bike.  He's always so positive, that it gave me a nice boost to see him, even if only briefly.

Miles 21-26.2

21 - 8:10
22 - 8:23
23 - 8:57
24 - 9:15 [mile marker off]
25+26 - 15:31
0.2 2:20

Matt from Cleveland started hurting somewhere in the 21st mile, complaining of his knee "locking up".  It was tough to let him fall back, but a pacer does not have the luxury of tending to the marathon wounded.  Whatever  group we had had thinned by this point, with the Kilt Brothers holding steady, and occasional runners trying to stay with us as we approached and passed them.  At this point, my quads were speaking up, not in an acute way, but enough so that the steep downhills coming out of St. Anselm's were rather unpleasant.  Pete was hurting, too, having realized that his Brooks racing flats were too little shoes for Manchester's hilly course.

The last few miles in Manchester are not especially hilly, but they bring multiple turns through sparsely spectated neighborhoods.  I asked one guy who magically appeared by my side at around Mile 22 how he was doing.  He replied breathlessly, "I've been trying to catch you for miles," and held steady for the rest of race.  He had quite a fan club in the final miles, and it was energizing to see that development so late in the race.  That said, it was still a slog to get from Mile 22 or so to Mile 24+, where the course takes runners over a pedestrian bridge spanning the Merrimack River and into range of the finish.  The 24-mile marker was off by a good 0.10 mile, which is torture at that late stage.  I was monitoring my average pace to make sure that I did not drift off the pace at a critical time.  Coming off the bridge, runners have to negotiate the worst marathon course feature I've yet to encounter, a corkscrew-shaped/hairpin turn which needs to be re-routed yesterday.  Joe, not one to complain about much, yelled, "This is bullshit!" as he made the awful change of direction, to the left, then the right, then the left again.  I cannot imagine how the fast runners managed it at 6:00+/- pace.

Having circled behind the baseball stadium (where , we took the last uphill, able to see and hear the finish line, but knowing that we had one more loop of about a mile left in order to be done.  we passed more struggling runners, as the finish neared.  One major goal of this marathon for me was to get as close as possible to the 3:40 goal without going over.  Joe, Pete and the kilts were a little ways ahead.  I looked at my watch, mindful of keeping it close.  I slowed, then accelerated, and when I turned left onto Elm Street, with about 0.1 to go, I started jogging.  I eyeballed the finish, looked at my watch, and picked up the pace again.  A guy on my left seemed shocked, and started sprinting to pass me.  I surged and then slowed down, trying to time it just right.  The guy went ahead, and I crossed the line while stopping my watch, which read 3:39:59.  The long-frozen grimace on my face turned into a satisfied smile, though I was cold, tired and hungry.  My official time was one second faster, darn it all.

I also learned that Nate had smashed his BQ time, with a 3:15:xx time, good for 31st place overall.  Kudos to him.


After the race, Joe, Pete and I went in search of food.  There was hot soup, and Joe the Vegetarian enjoyed some tomato bisque, while I downed some lukewarm chicken noodle.  We lingered around for a bit, covered in Mylar blankets.  Thanks to my rubbery legs, I nearly tripped on a root in Veterans Park, and a race volunteer and I had a good-natured laugh about that.  Joe and I received a warm thanks from a woman who'd fallen off and finished in about 3:45.  We said good-by to Pete and headed back to the Y for a hot shower, as Joe had to hit the road to get back to Maine for his daughter's high school play.

I was extremely chilled, to the point that I toweled off in the sauna in order to get warm.  That helped.  We had some mini-drama when Joe misplaced his car key, but after 15 minutes of intense searching, we found it.  He was on his way, and I headed home to have some down time, as my wife and the kids were all off in different directions.  I took a nice long Endurasoak bath, ate some salty food, and drank an Arrogant Bastard Ale.

As usual, pacing was a rewarding experience, and it is with mixed feelings that I continue to realize that I may be better-suited to this task than to running quality races for myself.  After the concerns and weirdness of the weeks in between Chicago and Manchester, I was glad to get this race done, and finish on target.  I'm looking forward to some running/racing down time, and am applying to join the Manchester City Marathon organizing committee/board to do what I can to help make the race even better.

Thanks, as always, for reading.