Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Partner Up

It's a mystery how and why certain people come in and out of our lives.  I'm a firm believer in the notion that things happen for a reason.  Last Monday, during a bout of point-to-point Yasso 800s in my neighborhood, I kept leap frogging another runner on the main drag.  Immediately recognizing that he had some zip in his step, my first thought was to size this guy up.  Imagine my surprise when my legs started turning over a little faster and the pop that seemed to be sucked out by the oncoming humidity was suddenly snappy.

Perhaps deeming each other worthy adversaries, we finally stopped one another and began chatting, and it turns out we have a similar racing history, and more importantly, times.  We swapped e-mails, vowing to "give it a try," it being a training run here and there.  I mentioned earlier this week that I turned him down for a 10-miler this past Sunday, not wanting to rise early and slog through a double digit run after grinding out Saturday night's 5K.  Of course, I ended up getting out with my wife, but that's neither here nor there.  

What transpired was a Tuesday morning meet up at *gasp* 5:30 a.m.  The night before, feeling the strain of Monday night's interval workout, a small pit grew in my stomach.  Was it work?  Was it simply anxiety?  No.  I was actually nervous meeting up with him.  I had that back to school feeling in my stomach.  Sort of a nervous excitement.

I've put off joining a running group for some time.  For the last few years, I've used running as my own outlet, a way to burn off steam after work, or simply retreat into my head and have some "me time."  Even when I've tried to go out on group runs, I've gotten strung out, trapped between two paces, and end up running alone.  My dad has offered the racing advice of settling in with a group and letting them carry me along.  The only time I've pulled this off successfully was for about 10 miles during the Vermont City Marathon.  But, ultimately, I end up running solo.

Questions flooded my head while I laid out clothes for the morning (still running with the back to school theme here).  What pace will we run?  Is he going to run me into the ground?  What if I have an off day and have to walk?  At long last, I set the alarm for the dreadful time of 5:20 and let the exhaustion from the day wash over me and take me to sleep.

Until 1:30 a.m.  Then 2:30.  Then 3:45.  Then 4:50.  And finally, at 5:19, I decided that extra minute of sleep wasn't worth it.  So I slung my legs out of bed, popped in my contacts, pulled on my running shorts, and trotted out to meet my new running buddy.

The sun had just started to break.  It was still too dark for sunglasses, and somehow the air was still a little thick.  I rounded the corner and saw a figure leaned up against the lamppost in the classic calf stretch position.

We shook hands.  "Ready?" he said.
"Sure." (beat) "You thinking 5?"
"Five sounds good."
"Cool.  You got a route or you want to do one of mine?"
"Let's do yours.  I'm bored with mine."

We set out up the hill and onto the main road to face the armada of garbage trucks together.  The pace came easy and we fell into an even cadence.  The conversation flowed like our strides did.  And the funny part was, there are patches of the route I can't even remember.  In fact, five miles has never past so quickly.  We chatted the entire time about our running, about jobs, family, upcoming races, and finally, what time to meet up the next morning.

When we got together today, the conversation continued to flow; however, I felt I was having a so-called off day.  Combining long days at work with less sleep is not my kind of recipe for a good run.  But as we ticked off the miles today, I finally got what my dad had been talking about.  I simply fell in with my partner and let him carry me the final mile-and-a-half.

I huffed to the finish then wished him luck on his 10K this weekend.  

"We've gotta race together," he said.
"It could be dangerous," I said.  "If we're pacing each other, that's some serious age group damage."  
He laughed.
"We'll just start running races and cleaning up the prizes.  We're in different groups right?  I'm 30."
"I'm 29 until next March."

And so, we broke there.  For now.  He continued down the main street and disappeared over a hill, while I turned left to head back to our townhouse.  

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Revisiting Boston

Last night, I pulled into my parking space right behind my wife.  She returning from a long day and commute at work.  Me, a glowing yet exhausted smile after ripping off 20x200m at the track.  We both gave each other a tired kiss and while I gingerly walked up the stairs to our place -- slow steps to appease quivering hamstrings on the verge of cramps -- she walked down to our mailbox.  
I sipped on some gatorade and heard the mail flop down on the table.  That's when I saw it.  Those big block white letters that read "Boston Marathon."  My results book and finisher's certificate had arrived.  I tore open the plastic and turned it over and over in my hands.  You would have thought it was a brand new Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action 200 Shot Range Model Air Rifle.  I peeled the finisher's certificate off, examined it and made sure all the info was right on it (it was, unlike others).  Then I flipped through the guide to find my name.  I remember reading that the guide would be coming in the middle of the summer.  But back in April, July seemed like a lifetime away.  

As I flipped through that book, I unconsciously started rubbing my quads.  Could have been from the intervals, could have been the body remembering.  But it did set me on a quick trip back to April.  Simply put, it was a different time. 

I'd say the timing couldn't have been more perfect.  Enough time had lapsed for the excitement of Boston to wear off, and the subsequent scars of those punishing hills to fade away.  And, yes, even the lingering thoughts of "Why the hell would I want to do this again?" vanished to the point where, indeed, I will be toeing the line in Hopkinton again in 2011.An easy week was in the low 50s mileage-wise.  The weather was brisk and unpredictable.  One day I was in tights and gloves.  The next in shorts and a sleeveless.  I avoided anyone who looked like they might even have the potential to get a cold like, well, like they could potentially give me that phantom cold.  Long runs started at 16 miles, and a 12 miler was just called Tuesday.  
Here in July, it's about staying cool, considering any run that starts with double digits a victory, and topping out 35 miles a high week.
While I remembered those times, I brought them forward to the present with me to remember just exactly why I was out in triple digit temps running hill strides, why I've risen at 5:30 in the morning to sneak in a workout because I had plans after work, or why I've circled the track interminably with the sun setting around me.  
I guess sometimes, mired in the day-to-day, riding out the the middle weeks of our training programs like a miler rides out the third lap, it can be hard to remember why you're putting yourself through it.  Other times the motivation is simply waiting for you in the mail.  I'm sure that I'll get a similar dose when the air chills and I can pull out my Boston jacket.
Suddenly, getting up at 5:20 this morning didn't seem like such a chore.  April 2011 is quite some time away, but now I can turn to that book or look up at the certificate and remember how I earned it and what it's going to take to get there again.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Water Jockey

"And Brad played the part of 'water boy'," my wife told our friends on Sunday afternoon.  At least, that's how she concluded the story of her first long run in preparation for the Philadelphia Marathon.

"Ah, excuse me?" I broke in.  Everyone turned.  "We prefer the term 'water jockey.'"

"Oh, well, how about 'water man'," she rebutted.

"Also acceptable."

Satisfied, I sat back in my chair and let the rest of the conversation play out.  

The night before, right around the time I polished off my second beer (that's a lot these days) and shoveled the last forkful of enchilada in, the conversation from our sweaty, post-hell-100 degree-5K group turned, as it always seems to, back to running.  The question that brought everyone back was, "What are you doing in the morning?"

The morning is now a given because no one in their right mind would run in the afternoon, and the afternoon now starts at 9:00 a.m.  My wife and I found this out the hard way a week ago.  I actually turned down a 10-mile run with my new running partner, thinking that the 5K exertion and subsequent celebration would be too much for a long run the next morning.  Had it been winter, or even fall, I'd be all in.  But not Saturday night.

"I'd be up for eight," one of my friends offered.

"Eight?" Her fiancee said.  "Ugh, really?"

"I've just been putting it off too long."

And truth be told, perhaps we all have.  Especially me.  In my speed development program, I have a 90 minute run schedule for every Saturday.  I'm five weeks in and have hit it twice.  My plan this past weekend was to squeeze in an early morning 5-7 miler to tune up for the race.  Then I slept in too late and drank a glass of wine too many the night before to celebrate my lady friend's birthday.  Sadly, the 5K was all I could handle.

Then, my wife turned to me.  "I have to do 8 in the morning...and I'm dreading it."  I admired the dedication.  I truly did.  But I braced for the question I knew was coming.  "Want to come with?"  And there it was.  Laid out for me on the table like the sopapillas I wasn't front of everyone.  My eyes shifted from seat to seat (a la The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly).  I thought of all the times during my Vermont Marathon training that she cameled for me, in the cold no less.  Finally I met hers and couldn't believe the words coming out of my mouth, "Yes.  Yes, I'll go with you."

"You will?"

"I will."

"To run?"

"No.  I'll bike with you and carry your water."

I watched the clock move just past 12:30 when we got home and groaned at the thought of getting up even earlier than I do for work.  As if no time had gone by, the alarm went off.  We both collected ourselves out of bed, she to the bathroom, me to walk the dog.  When I returned, we still hadn't acknowledged one another.  I could smell the english muffin browning.  I walked by and continued out the sliding glass door to pump up the tires on the bike I'd neglected for just over a year now.  Almost sensing my exhaustion, it groaned and squeaked, as I wheeled it onto our deck.

Another thing you need to know about my wife and I (love you, babe), is that I tend to move a bit faster than her in the morning.  Though we got up at 6:30, we actually didn't leave the house until closer to 7:45.  I'm leaving it here.

And so, we set out for our 8 miler.  I felt life returning to me as I pedaled behind her up and down the hills.  I handed off the water to her every mile or simply when it looked like she needed it.  The air was still cool and the sun lighting the sky but not quite overhead.  She turned to me at one point and said, "This is really nice."  And it was.  

A stray runner went by here and there on either side of the street, but largely, it felt like we had the world to ourselves.  We chatted on the flat parts, making plans for the rest of the day, the week, the year, our entire life.  Other points, we just strolled along in silence  and took in the chorus of insects coming alive in the woods.

So, what did we do in the morning?  We stayed out for just over 80 minutes.  Our moods warmed with the day and by the time we got home, the nap we swore we'd take seemed out of the question.  Instead, we made breakfast, had our coffee, and read through the Sunday Post.  The beauty of it was, the whole day was ahead of us to enjoy.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Crystal City Twilight 5K Redux

When I visited France a couple years ago as a chaperone for a high school boys French class, I boarded with a couple who taught English.  We spent those two weeks testing out different phrases on one another, really trying to delve into the true dialect beyond the stuff you get from textbooks; i.e. they had never heard of the term "cold cuts" and turned perplexed faces at me the first time I muttered it in passing.  Anyhow, on one particularly hot and humid day in the Lyon countryside, Bernard stooped into the kitchen and mopping his brow after an afternoon in the garden and said, "This is what you would call the 'dog days of summer,' no?"  If he were referring to the climate at last night's 5K, I would actually call it the precipice of hell.

Last night, my wife and I and a couple friends toed the line at the Crystal City Twilight 5K.  We monitored all day.  But even the hourly forecast couldn't keep up with the rising mercury.  Ninety-two was the forecast.  It may as well have said "die in a fire."  This was no day for PRs.

On the way over to the race, we eased any pre-race jitters by making light of it, or rather heaping more drama onto it to make any sort of finish an epic conquest.  Then we wondered how runners like Michael Wardian could endure temps much hotter than this for days at a time while running across the Sahara.  Surely our 5K could be just as triumphant as his Marathon Dos Sables trek.

Once parked, we sipped from ice cold powerades that my friend pulled from a cooler.  We lingered near the start waiting for one more to join us.  The sun descended behind the buildings casting a hazy apocalyptic pall over the route.  We barely moved, only shifting slightly from foot to foot, and of course the obligatory porta potty stop, and even still, sweat glistened off all areas of exposed skin.

The ten minute call went up.  Our group filed into the starting shoot.  I sifted my way toward the front, but not before exchanging high-fives with my wife and friends.  A race official closed the metal grating to prevent anyone else from slipping in and it felt like the closing of a dungeon door.  In winter races, I've come to enjoy the sudden and welcomed warmth brought on in the starting chute by hundreds of bodies huddled together.  Last night, I thought I might suffocate.  I stood shoulder to shoulder with 1,800 sticky, stinky, moist strangers.  Those final ten minutes ticked by in agony, when finally, the race director walked everyone up to the starting line.  You could feel the mass of humanity breathe as the stifled air was finally released from our group.

Despite telling myself that a PR was not the wise goal to shoot for today, to just go and have fun, find a rhythm and just let it flow, I still felt the surge of adrenaline shoot through me.  That chill starts from the top of my skull and trickles down until it reaches my toes.  I try anyway I can to harness and channel that nervous energy.

Before the gun went off, they made sure to announce that the starting temperature was...100 degrees!  A collective groan moved through the crowd, then *Bang* we were off.

I tried to pick my way through the herd.  I had not gotten as close to the start as I wanted and paid for it by getting boxed in behind some eager children and more...casual runners.  Finally free after about a quarter mile in, my legs started to fall into a smooth turnover.  

I hit the bend near the first mile marker and came through the water station.  Normally for 5Ks, I push straight through, but tonight I took no chances.  I grabbed the first cup I could get to, but rather than throwing it down my gullet, I closed my eyes, ready to feel the sweet relief of the cold water move down the back of my neck.  Imagine my disappointment when the water was luke warm and rather than feeling refreshed, I only felt soggy.  No time to lament.  Had to push on.

The first mile marker came.  Perceived effort was high.  I've been training at 5:20 pace to ride at 5:45s in a 5K.  Imagine my disappointment when I saw 6:05.  So, rather than beat myself up, I took a deep breath and finally accepted that truly tonight was not the night for a PR.  

We looped back past the start/finish line.  I tossed a wave to my wife who called out to me.  We exchanged smiles and that carried me for another quarter mile or so.  You know, until I started yearning for the two mile marker.  Yes, the deal-making officially began.  

I came through mile 2 at 12:17, slightly slower, but purely battling for survival at this point.  Then the leaders came through, and, man, this dude was smokin'.  I thought that the turnaround must be getting somewhat close, but every turn we came around, the more runners I saw dipping around another building ahead of me.  "Where the hell is the turnaround!?" I screamed in my head.  (I later learned that the winner crossed in 14:03, which would explain why I had so much farther to go)

Another water station, another luke warm cup of water down my back.  Then the misting station.  I couldn't tell if my feet were wet from all the water dumping on to me or if it was sweat.

Finally the turnaround.  I chuffed around it and as we came around, I felt a renewed sense of vigor.  I wasn't going to do die, and in fact, I'd do more than survive.  So I turned the screws up some and fell into a nice rhythm.  I tossed another wave to my wife and to our friends.  Then the sweet noise of the loudspeaker, and, oh, yes, the blessed balloon arch marking the finish line.  

I swooped through mile 3 and turned whatever kick was left on and came through in 19:21 (63rd/1,808).  I grabbed my knees for a moment, sucking in the hot air, and thanking whatever saint of a volunteer who came over and poured cold water on my head.

I slowly walked back toward the finish line, stripping my wet singlet off and flinging it over my shoulder to give my body as much help as I could to cool down.  I cheered for my wife and friends to cross the line as moisture dripped off me.

As we congregated and each told our own war stories from the night, the next mission became to find the beer garden.  And while we sipped the best cup of Bud Light I'd ever drank, I noticed at a table not too far away, 2008 Olympian Brian Sell chatting with some runners and signing autographs.  I implored my friends, "Please guys, can you wait just 10 more minutes so I can get him to sign my race bib?"  And they did.

So, giddy like a school girl, I waited in line for Brian Sell, much the same as I did for Ryan Hall last year.  Similar to Ryan, he could not have been a nicer, more laid back person.  We shot the bull for a couple minutes, talking about his upcoming plans for school and the potential for him to still run competitively.  If there was a redeemer for this race, that was certainly it.

Autograph in hand, I took some gentle ribbing from everyone, before we set off for the most important part of the evening, the salvation if you will: the post-race meal.

Five baskets of greasy, salty tortilla chips, two enchiladas, and two more beers later, I felt replenished and ready to lay down and dream the fever dreams of overheated runners.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

A Real Scorcher

In running, in life for that matter, things rarely go according to plan.  Leading up to Boston, I had IT issues during my taper week.  For the trail half marathon in June, higher than normal humidity.  And for tonight's Crystal City Twilighter 5K: record high temps, including a 92 degree start time despite the gun going off at 8:00 p.m.

What to make of this.  I was hoping to test out my new legs after five weeks of strong speed development workouts, but I'll be shelving any PR aspirations tonight.  Instead, I'll just be running for survival.  Dramatic?  Perhaps a little.  

I still have three weeks of 5K training left before transitioning into my Army 10-miler program, so that leaves plenty more opportunity to build.

Tonight, it'll simply be about enjoying being out with friends and racing for the first time this summer.  And what's more, more than a quarter of our Ragnar Relay team will be out running tonight...we'll call it a team building exercise.

So, tonight's race plan is about going out, having fun, and just letting it flow.  Who knows, sometimes when the pressure's off, we surprise ourselves.

Crystal City Twilighter Redux to come tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Morning Shift

I started slow to let my legs loosen up and shake the sleep out of them.  I made the turn out of my neighborhood and took in the empty sidewalks, the dim streets, and the orange sliver of daylight breaking across the clouds.  It was almost euphoric.  And as I settled into a steady rhythm, I thought just maybe I could do this each morning.  Then I heard it.  The cacophonous growl far off...and getting closer.  I came over the ridge and there it was: the caravan of garbage trucks setting out for their morning collection.  I took deep breaths and as the leader came even with me, I held my breath.  The first past, then the second, a third, and by the fourth, I had to exhale.  With each truck that went by it brought a rush of hot air.  I could stand no more and had to inhale.  There it was, that sick sour smell of garbage.  And it followed me for the first half mile as I ran into the trail of trucks.  The morning is a cruel time to run.  

For two days, I’ve taken my wife, coworkers, and friends along a rollercoaster ride of moods.  From the energetic highs, to the don’t even look at me lows, and everywhere in between.  Since Tuesday (good God, that was only yesterday), I’ve been rising at 5:30 to squeeze my run in before heading off to work and eventually some post-work function.
I’ve read blogs and articles from others who have been driven to run in the wee hours of the morning, for various reasons (kids, work, etc.).  I just don’t get it.  Nor do I feel like I’m very good at it.  The workout is fine, it’s the living through the rest of the day without falling asleep or biting someone’s head off that I struggle with.  
I am a creature of habit. As my wife can attest, when the alarm goes off in the morning during a work week, I say little until I’ve had my shower.  In fact, the first 15 minutes of my morning closely resemble Groundhog Day.  It goes a little something like this: Alarm. Swing legs out of bed.  Put on shirt.  Dawdle downstairs. Attach dog to leash.  Stumble through “poop loop.”  Feed dog. Walk upstairs.  Shower.  Feel life return.
Ah, but sometimes real life and running collide.  And measures must be taken to, as Bruce Denton would say, “not let the mileage suffer too much.”  While I’m not talking about getting a run in through airport terminals between flights, I am talking about getting out of bed to run before work.
I’ve tried this before.  Two summers ago, because of the unrelenting Virginia humidity, I tried getting up at 5:20 to put in seven miles before heading off to work.  Sure, it went fine for a day, maybe two.  But ultimately, I found myself faced with a bad case of “heavy eyelids” around 11 a.m.  Evenings?  Forget about it.  Late afternoons could best be described as hazy.  I still remember sitting at the dinner table doing the head bob, you know, when you’re so tired that your head falls forward only to wake you up and have it snap back in place.  I’m disoriented, wondering, “Hey, wha’ happen?” 
I got a harsh dose of reality this past week.  Running intervals proved easy.  It was the long, sustained runs that my body took issue with. Even simple four and five milers run at easy and recovery paces became death marches through the Sahara.  My uncle would call it “Africa hot.”  And it was.
Saturday morning, my wife and I set out at 9:00 at Manassas Battlefield. Nine o’clock to, you know, beat the heat.  We should have been out there three hours beforehand.  By 9:00, it was already 87 degrees, and felt worse because of he humidity.  A little over two miles in, the trees took on electric white halos in the gaps between branches.  I thought it might be the sun filtering through; however, when my eyes darted from side to side, the halo became brighter.  Something was not quite right.  So, I slowed the pace to get my wits about me.  Relaying this story to a co-worker Monday morning, she shook her head and said, “Of course you didn’t stop.  You’re stupid.”  She may have a point.
My two-loop, 11 mile run, turned into a single loop, 5.5 mile run.  It was not pretty.
Sitting in my cubicle Monday, I watched my calendar fill up both at lunch and after work, leaving me no room to run late at night or dash out in the middle of the day.  I’ve slowly come around to the fact that in order to get my mileage in this week, I’m going to have to *gasp* get up and run in the morning.
I tried these words out on my wife on the phone.  They formed reluctantly and I said, “So, I think I’m going to get up and run in the morning.”  It was like a bitter taste.  “Wow.  That’s dedication,” she replied.  And suddenly it didn’t seem nearly as bad.  Yes.  I am dedicated.  I’m committing to this. 
So for the last two mornings, I've risen at 5:30, pulled on my shorts in the semi-darkness and laced ‘em up to trot through easy 5-7 milers.  What keeps me going is the PR I'm seeking this Saturday night, in hopes of obtaining some affirmation that, half way through my speed development program, it's actually working.  

Sleeping at night is certainly no problem.  And when I leave in the mornings, the heat is still there.  The humidity is still thick.  And the morning is still a cruel time to run.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Storm That Left No Trace

There's a storm coming.  The air is humid and limp and hangs off you.  When I left work, I thought I had the storms beat.  One last check of revealed a pretty uneventful afternoon.  I changed into interval attire, leashed up the dog, and out we went for our afternoon loop.  We pushed through the dense air, barely going 100m before Mattie's tongue flopped from the side of her mouth.  "It's going to be brutal," I thought to myself, considering the looming workout (8x800m, 4x200m).  But a menacing breeze stirred and carried with it a surge of electricity. 

To the east, a clear cloudless sky. To the west, something far darker and sinister.  Now there's a quickness in our steps.  Mattie feels it too.  We exchange looks.  She remembers last night's storm, when I called her downstairs to let her out one last time and the lightning flashed around us.  She looked at me as if to say, "Seriously?"

The treetops blow wildly now as a gray armada gathers.  The thunder's low grumbling, buried somewhere deep in the clouds, bellows like the guns of encroaching war ships.  I return Mattie to the house and watch her take her place under the coffee table.  

I begin my warmup, snatching glimpses of the sky out the window and turning up the music in my headphones to drown out the thunder.  I take one last pause to listen and step outside again.

This time the breeze has decidedly turned into a strong wind and it carries the smell of summer rain.  A neighbor scurries by with his dog and tosses me the "are you crazy look" as I break into a trot to complete my dynamic warmup.  "Lookin' pretty bad," he finally says.  "Brutal," I say, and carry on past him.  

I'm in the circle now, going through my A skips and B skips.  I can see the gray fleet pulling over the sky like an iron curtain.  Hands on hips, I snicker to myself.  I could start the workout and stop it when the storm starts.  At worst I'd be only 800m from the house.  Of course, I could get struck by lightning.  As though someone was listening, a dramatic crackle echoes through the clouds and I have my answer.  I jog back to the house.

The charged air induces panic, like I should be running, really running for my life, to gather anything I can from the outside to bring in, slam the shutters closed, and throw the door shut just before the storm breaks through.  

Once inside, I waited.  And waited.  And waited.  I considered the storm potentially passing until the light pecking of raindrops turned into a full deluge of water.  Satisfied, I went to the basement, put on my McMillan Core Routine DVD, and proceeded to get an ab workout in while the world came to an end outside.

Twenty minutes later, the sun shone outside the window.  I came back upstairs, gave the dog a quick pat, and started my workout.  A light rain still fell.  The sky looked apocalyptic.  A yellow haze where the sun blazed through a thin veil of clouds, purple clouds blooming to the east, and patches of pure blue.  I set out for my first 800 and felt the humidity returning even stronger now.  Without a warmup, I felt slow and when I clicked my watch, I looked down and snorted in disgust.  It felt slow because it was.  But the sun seemed to draw the runners out because as I gasped for air after that first 800, my body still in shock from the effort, a lithe, taut, runner zipped by me.  

I've taken to running my 800s in the neighborhood, getting the benefit of combining intervals and hill workouts.  So as I returned, the same runner passed by me in the opposite direction.  We gave each other the quick wave and continued on.

Somewhere around the 5th 800, we came upon one another again and this time he slowed to a jog and then a stop.  "Rohan," he said, extending his hand.  "Brad," I replied, still taxed from the middle interval.  We proceeded to chat about racing, training, and that God forsaken Virginia humidity.  Sweat dripped off both of us as we talked the talk of runners: splits, training schedules, race times.  Turns out, we've entered similar  races and recorded nearly identical times.  

This of course led to an invitation, and now my new friend and I have tentatively planned to tackle some weekend 12-milers together.  This works out on a couple levels.  One, I've been toying with the idea of joining a training group.  Last week I went on a group run and in the middle of the route found myself strung out from everyone and where I always end up: running alone.  Second, it's nice to have someone to hold you accountable for those early morning runs when the heat is tolerable rather than insufferable.  Had I tried to squeeze the workout in before the storm, we may have never run into one another (so to speak).  

So now I have someone with a similar pace and parallel running goals.  We exchanged e-mails then went off on our way: me to finish up three more 800s and tackle those 200s, and he to finish his 5 mile hill run.

I gutted out the last of those 800s, wringing in sweat when I returned to the house.  The sky had cleared and patches of dry asphalt became more prevalent.  The sun still blazed.  Ten minutes later, you couldn't tell that it had even rained.  Not a trace.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Back on Track

Since crossing the finish line of my first Boston Marathon, I’ve enjoyed the freedom of simply running on a whim, however far or fast my body felt like taking me that day.  The bumps and milestones have balanced themselves out in the nearly three months that have gone by: a trip to the ortho for what turned out to be a phantom issue in my right knee; running purely on marathon fitness, I recorded a new 5K PR (18:24) three weeks after Boston in a race my wife and I have competed in for the past four years, my first trail race, summiting Mt. Battie on a last second decision to "run up a mountain," and others.

First, that pesky half marathon trail race that kept staring me in the face each time I looked at the calendar.  When my cabin-fever was at its peak during Snowpocalypse 2010, I found myself wandering the internet to different race sites looking for races in May and June to, who knows, siphon the heat from those months.  Never had the thought of running outside in the heat, in shorts and a singlet, seemed like such a luxury…of course I’m eating those words now that the mercury has climbed to over 100 three days in a row here in VA, and *gasp* it’s only July. 

Anyway, I mocked up a quick 3-4 week training plan that included some easy runs of no more than 7 miles and a long run that I believe topped out at 9.  I missed a run here and there but felt fit enough to cover the distance but not racing sharp.  I planned to run for the experience and enjoy the scenery through my first trail run. 

It was a fair success.  Though I ran my slowest half marathon time to date (1:51:00), I placed 13th overall out of nearly 500 racers. I also learned that trail running pace is MUCH slower than road race pace.  Plus, I took home a few racing badges: sustained my first bee sting with five miles to go, brushed through a patch of nettles that left the right side of my body tingling until the next morning, saw two snakes (one alive, one dead), and slogged through a creek (twice). My favorite part of the race, though, other than finishing, was reaching the halfway point of this out and back course.  It was a man sitting in a folding chair holding a marker.  You had to stop, let him “x” your bib to prove you’d gotten out there, then turnaround and head back to the start.  Very official.  I'm glad I got to check this race off because I've been eyeing the North Face Endurance Challenge for a couple years now but have always managed to miss it.  I do believe it will be on my calendar again in 2011.

Beyond that race, I’ve run to the top of a mountain in Camden Harbor, ME, quads quivering and lungs searing. And my wife and I spent a week in Acadia National Park racking up more than 30 miles hiking up and down mountains and exhausting our intrepid dog.

But, now it’s time to get back to work, on the bus if you will.  I’ve been keeping up with Ryan Hall’s preparation for Chicago, and several blog posts and articles talked about his return to the track for some good ‘ol fashioned 5K/10K workouts.  It’s with this in mind that I rifled through my running magazines, my dad’s old training log the year he earned his scholarship to UF, and picked the brain of my uncle to put together an 8 week pure speed development program. Coupled with this, I've been steadily doing the General Core Strength videos from the Running Times Web site to strengthen my hips and hopefully put an end to my ITB Anxiety.

Nearly three weeks in, I’ve been on a steady diet of 200 and 400 meter intervals on the track…much less combative now that school is out.  I’m blending that with some sort of fartlek/tempo run later in the week and 90 minute long run each weekend to ensure I hold on to the distance component. 

I have the middle of August circled on my calendar to hopefully blaze a new 5K PR that starts with a 17.  Once I’ve completed this program, I’ll transition to a more traditional half marathon plan to get ready for this year’s Army Ten-Miler, with the hope of getting as close to 60 as possible and maybe even a second or two under.

What’s surprised me thus far is how quickly the body remembers how to run fast.  I feel like I’ve slipped back easily into these workouts. That whole thing about rest seems to be a good thing.  Knock on wood, I’m not sidelined by nagging IT band issues as I was this time last year after finishing the Vermont City Marathon.

In a year that I vowed to take on new running adventures, I'd say I've done pretty well at this halfway juncture.  And still much more to come, including captaining team Got the Runs in the Washington D.C. Ragnar Relay Race in September, and cheering my wife and father-in-law on in November's Philadelphia Marathon.

Back on track. Back on the blog.  Back on the bus. 

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