Monday, August 16, 2010

Back on Track?

Last week, I ran my 4th or 5th Cigna 5K in Manchester, NH.  I had to skip the race last year because we were on vacation, and - after my so-so Beach to Beacon effort - I did not have particularly high expectations for this year's event (though I did expect to improve on my 20:3x course PR).

Cigna is definitely an "event" race in New Hampshire.  It's the state's largest road race.  The prize money - including time and CR bonuses - draws a deep field, including stateside Kenyans who come year-after-year in order to put a few dollars in their pocket as they do a summer road-racing tour.

The overall strength of the field means little to me, as I simply wanted to run a decent race, with no real notion of what that might mean at this point in my training.  And so it was that I approached last Thursday's race with no real plan or expectations.

I'd had a miserably tough 8-mile run on Tuesday, feeling every one of the 31 miles I'd run the prior weekend.  Wednesday's 5-miler with a couple of pickups felt marginally better.

On Thursday, I got to the Y early and met up with my friend Steve.  We set out for an easy warm-up along most of the course, before changing into our racing shoes and setting out on our own for some strides and final warm-up.  I timed my final stretch so that I'd finish about 10 minutes before the gun went off, forcing me to work my way through the assembled masses in order to find a spot a few rows behind the fastest runners.  I saw some friends, chatted about goals (i.e., made my excuses) and waited for the gun (fired with no warning, a racing-related pet peeve).

I tried to settle into pace to hit the first mile split in about 6:10, with the idea that I'd see how my legs felt and adjust accordingly.  Early in the race, I saw a former colleague (an accomplished lifelong endurance athlete) turn and say, "Do NOT let me beat you!"  I told him to stay out of my head, and focused on running my race.  I was feeling pretty good before the one-mile mark, and my split was 6:12.  A good start.

Not long after the mile mark, the race takes a hard left turn.  I took a swig of water at the aid station, which helps alleviate the awful cottonmouth I get in every 5K, likely the result of the adrenaline burst when I take off at the start.  While Mile 1 is a slight uphill, Mile 2 gives the climb back with a couple of gentle downhill sections.  I tried to take advantage of them by quickening my turnover, and I found myself moving up through field.  Second mile split was 6:04.

Somewhere in the second mile, my watch got wet, and the screen toggled itself to the Heart Rate screen.  I could only see the display showing my HR at 177-180, and decided to let it be rather than fiddle with it to get it back to the usual display of elapsed time/distance/lap pace.  One young guy yelled from behind me, "Sir, time?"  I shrugged my shoulders and he offered a sarcastic "Thanks."  I explained the HR screen and sped up. 

My former colleague remained just ahead and to my right, and thought about when and how to make a move on him.  I knew if he noticed me, he'd respond, so I tried to stay tucked in with other runners, but the little group's pace did not pick up quickly enough for my purposes.  I tried to surge, but didn't seem to gain any measurable ground.  I passed a very fit-looking woman, and tried to encourage her to push harder.  She appeared to be running out of steam.  At this point, my only focus was to keep the old guy in sight and try to make a move close to the finish.

The race takes a hard left with about 0.25-mile to go, up a short, steep hill (which I've dubbed "Mount Vomit" thanks to 2 consecutive years of seeing evidence of such on the side of the road there), where the 3-mile mark awaits just past the top, with a straight shot to the finish.  I made the left turn, started cranking the legs for all I was worth, and passed a few people on the hill.  The former colleague - always a strong climber - stayed the same distance ahead.  I saw the clock at Mile 3 reading 18:3x (not knowing exactly how far back I'd started in terms of my chip time) and for the first time realized that I might break 19 minutes for the second time in my running life.  I pushed it and saw the finish clock turn past 19:00, still unaware of the net difference in my time. 

I crossed the line, stopped my watch and worked my way to the finish area.  My watch read 19:03, with a final mile of 6:08 and a 5:07 (!) pace for the final 0.1+-mile.  Official time was actually 19:02, and though I bemoaned the lousy 3 seconds I needed to get an 18:xx time, I could not complain about a surprisingly fast finish, 90-second course PR and a sign that I may be back on track in terms of training and racing.

For his part, the older colleague ran 18:58.  My friend Steve hung in for his first post-collegiate sub-17:00, clocking a 16:54 and finishing in the Top 50 of this very competitive race.

At this point, I'm looking to get the weekly mileage back up into the 70's (after hovering around 60 for the past few weeks), with a focus on LT/tempo runs.  We'll see how this all plays out when it matters, on 10/10/10 in my third stab at the Chicago Marathon.

Thanks for reading. -ESG/Ron

Monday, August 9, 2010

That Wasn't Such a Beach, After All

As befits the duality of time, last year's Beach to Beacon disappointment seems simultaneously recent yet long ago.  The feeling of knowing that the 2009 race failed to reflect my own perceived fitness and progress as a runner was probably the most significant low in an otherwise very positive running year.  Coming into B2B 2010, my personal running landscape looked very different.

2009 was a breakout year for me, with the coveted BQ in May preceding PRs at every distance.  The 1:30 half-marathon fell in October.  The 19:00 5K fell in December.  I did another fundraiser and paced a marathon group along the way.

2010 has turned out quite differently so far, starting with what seemed like a stellar training cycle (72+ mpw for 13 weeks pre-Boston) yielding an unexpectedly poor Boston performance and my first non-PR marathon since taking up the pursuit in 2007. Then came the fun which was Big Sur, along with pacing at Burlington and a couple of underwhelming 5Ks thrown in for good measure.  The undisputed highlight of the year was the Vermont 100 pacing experience, but my own racing has been lackluster at best.

Fast forward to goal-setting for this year's B2B.  Despite maintaining decent base mileage, I have run precious little "quality" (aka, speed work) since I started tapering for Boston in early April.  So, even after what seemed like an encouraging recent uptick in my ability to log some faster running (fueled by a decent track session - 6 x 800m at about an average pace of 6:20/mile - last Tuesday), I scaled back my realistic goals for what has turned out to be my only annual 10K.  So, the goals for the day became to break 41:00 or, at the very least, get a new PR for the 10K distance.

The pre-race preparations were the polar opposite of last year.  The family and I arrived in Portland early Friday evening, staying with wonderful friends who live just a few miles from Cape Elizabeth.  I picked up my bib and shirt, had a wonderful meal and got to bed at a reasonable hour.  I left the house at 6:20 am on Saturday, and still had to negotiate traffic, an elevated drawbridge, race-related logistics and a couple of wrong turns.  Yet, I found the parking area I wanted and met my friend Joe to do a couple of warm-up miles.  The bathroom lines moved quickly, and I found myself lining up between the 6:00 and 7:00 pace signs.

At 8:10 am, we were off and running.  My running coach Kevin calls B2B a "sinusoidal" course, and in terms of my splits year-after-year, it appears that he's right.  I started the initial downhill stretch fast, too fast really, and dialed it back.  By the half-mile mark, though, I knew that holding a sub-6:30 pace was simply not going to work on this day, so I switched from focusing on time/pace to focusing on effort.  It was an uncharacteristically smart and disciplined move on my part, and paid off.  The splits looked like this:
  1. 6:38
  2. 6:56
  3. 6:33
  4. 6:50
  5. 6:33
  6. 6:48 + 1:13 for final 0.2+
Final chip time = 41:33, for exactly a 30-second improvement from last year.  Given the state of my hips these days, it was probably about as good a race as I could have run, given the rolling course which requires regular "gear shifting".  My friend Joe deserves a hearty congratulations for 1+-minute PR, coming in at 39:54 and getting the 40-minute monkey off his back.  He's a bona fide threat to break 3 hours at his fall marathon.

The best part of this year's race was that our wonderful hostess - a Cape Elizabeth native - brought my family to the race, and I heard my son screaming as we turned into Fort Williams, with about 0.4 miles (and one final hill) to go.  I gave him a fist pump and my wife snapped this photo (my daughter took a better one, but we can't seem to get it off her camera):

I'm actually wearing the brand new Endurasoak singlet, as provided by my friends and business associates Amy & Bryan Lane.  Also, I wore the Mizuno Wave Mushas with my orthotics, but ended up with blisters on both arches, making the post-race cool-down not very fun.

After the race, Joe and I ran a couple of easy miles, looked for my family, and then ran most of the course in reverse back to the start area parking.  It was a gorgeous summer day, with a new PR, a total of about 15 miles, family time and the company of a good guy and runner.  Can't ask for much more than that.

I added 16 easy miles on Sunday, and feel like I may be back on track in terms of my marathon training for Chicago, though the time goal will be scaled back from 3 hours to 3:10.  The next few weeks will determine how realistic that goal turns out to be.

Thanks, as always, for reading.

Cheers, ESG/Ron