Monday, October 21, 2013

Reflections on Racing

"...Because the question rarely resolves itself in material terms, running was pointless to many people. Others, far more fortunate, recognized intuitively that the very pointlessness of running was its greatest strength. That pointlessness meant that no spectator could ever entirely know what was going on as he watched a distance being run. The casual spectator might have a single clue: he had what he saw. The better informed spectator might have additional clues, by knowing what performances had been rendered in the past by the particular athlete…In sum, when running was pointless, running was fascinating because running had very little to do with running. It had to do with people and why they act the way they do.”

-Excerpt from "A Cold Clear Day" by Frank Murphy

A few months back, my brother turned me on to the book I just quoted - it's about American Buddy Edelen who is a little-known name in American distance running lore, but was nevertheless one of the greatest American runners of all-time. He once held the Marathon World Record in 1963 (2:14:28) and at a time when Europeans dominated the world of distance running, Buddy Edelen was one of the only Americans who could keep up. Anyway - it's a quick, easy read and it definitely gives the reader an appreciation for a time in the sport of Running where the athletes ran because they loved it and not because there was a lot of money (or fame) involved.

What a week (and a half) it has been! I ran races on back-to-back Saturdays; the Prairie State Half Marathon on October 12th and the Flint Hills Forte 5K on October 19th. For both races we had nearly perfect running conditions and in both races, my body cooperated and allowed me to run at maximum effort. Let's start with the Prairie State Half.

I wrote about this on DailyMile, but for whatever reason I had serious doubts heading into this race. I wondered if my goals were too lofty - I wondered if the training I had been able to do had adequately prepared me to PR in a half marathon - I wondered how I would feel at the end of the race and if I would have what it took to gut it out. I don't really know why I doubted myself because I'm not usually one to do that - usually I feel like I know what I'm capable of. I think part of it was that I had built this race up in my mind over the past few months. This was the "A-Race" for me and the one I had been training for all summer. I had run other races in the past few months, but they didn't mean nearly as much to me as this one did. I knew that if I didn't achieve my goals, the disappointment would have been substantial.

Fortunately, I slept well the night before. This was huge. I felt good when I woke up on race morning and there were no detectable aches or pains. Being 100% healthy at the start-line is an achievement in and of itself...all you runners know what I'm talking about. After packing up the kiddo and everything else, we made the 45-minute drive from our house to the Independence Grove Forest Preserve in Libertyville, IL. After picking up the race packet and a quick 1-mile warm-up, it was time to go.

I would go through the whole race, mile by mile, but I did that on DailyMile and you can read about it here if you're into that sort of thing. The end result was that I ran the Half in 1:25:56 which was my personal best by almost two-and-a-half minutes and was good enough for 11th place out of 892 runners and 2nd in the 25-29 age group. I was so happy with the result - I was ecstatic after the race and was so happy to see my wife and daughter. I don't think I could have run the race even 5 seconds faster than I did - I pushed it to the absolute limit and surprised even myself because going into the race, my "I'll be surprised if I do it" goal was 1:26:30.

The days following the race were predictable - I'm usually sore in my calves after longer races and though the soreness wasn't terrible, my legs were definitely telling me that they were tired and needed rest...I had some pretty gnarly blisters too. I took a couple of days of complete rest and then on Tuesday I opted for some pool running which is a nice change-of-pace and is a very low-impact workout. On Wednesday I tried actual running again and it was painful. I had what felt like achilles tendinitis in my lower left leg and my quads still felt wrecked. I knew I had another race coming up in a few days so I opted for rest. On Thursday I did another session of pool running and then on Friday I took another day of complete rest. In the evenings I did a lot of icing and compression and by Friday evening my left leg was feeling a lot better. In retrospect, I think it was my soleus muscle that was just really sore and made it feel like tendinitis.

On Saturday morning I felt ready to go. A quick 1.5-mile warm-up confirmed that my legs were feeling good. This 5K was in Channahon so it had been a bit of a early morning because of the drive to get there, but the race director is one of my business clients and it's a very enjoyable family-friendly race. It's called the "Flint Hills Resources Forte 5K" and it benefits the local Channahon Music Boosters Club which is a cause I don't mind supporting. The guy who organizes the race, Jim Mason, is a really good guy and is a runner himself. This was the 2nd annual race (I ran in the inaugural race last year) and the course is very scenic and flat which makes for good racing.

Right out of the gate, some guy in a red shirt took off and got out to a healthy lead - but after about a quarter of a mile, I could tell he was drifting back to the pack. About 1/2 a mile into the race, I passed him and for perhaps the first time in my life, I was leading a race. I thought to myself..."huh, this is kinda fun, I could get used to this!" It was just me and the guide-biker in front of me and for the next 2.5 miles or so it was like this. At the 1 and 2 mile markers I peeked behind me to see how far ahead I was and at mile 2 I figured I had about a 5 second lead. I really started laboring in the 3rd mile...I kept thinking about what it would be like to win a race...but also what it would be like to lead a race for this long and not win. I was too tired to peek behind me and it was taking all of my effort simply to keep the pace up. With the finish line in sight (about 1/10th of a mile to go) I got passed up...and I mean, it wasn't like this guy was struggling to pass me, he blew by me. I said something like, "nice running" as he passed me and tired to turn on the jets to re-take 1st, but I didn't have enough to overtake him. I finished in 2nd place by 1.3 seconds.

Do I wish I could have won? Surely. It would have been sweet to win a 5K. Isn't that every serious runner's dream? I mean, how many of us can say they've won a race? Even though it was a small race (200 finishers) it still would have been cool to win. Am I bummed that I did not win? No, not really. Considering I ran a PR half marathon 7 days earlier and considering I was unsure of how much of an effort I was going to be able to give only 48 hours prior to the race...I'm happy. And I got a 5K only 3 seconds, but hey, a PR is a PR right? This race is so awesome - they give out really nice fleece blankets to 1st, 2nd and 3rd place so I'm the proud owner of a new fleece blanket that has the logo of the 5K and "2nd Place" embroidered into it. Totes awesome.

All things considered it was a pretty damn good week in terms of running. Two PRs, a 2nd place AG finish and a 2nd place Overall finish? Not bad, I'll take that all day long. So, what's next? Hmm - after reading a bunch of awesome Chicago Marathon race recaps I have marathon fever like never before. I'm thinking maybe the 2014 Chicago Marathon or perhaps a different one (Milwaukee? Naperville?). I know I want to run one next fall and give sub-3:00:00 a serious go. I feel like I've learned a ton since running Chicago in 2012 and I feel like there is a ton of room for improvement.

For now I will probably take it easy. I may run another race around Thanksgiving but more than anything, my body needs some rest. I'm thinking maybe 20-30 mpw through the rest of the year. I'm going to work on incorporating some weight training into my regimen - I've gotten away from that and I think could probably use some strengthening.

I cannot reiterate enough how thankful I am for the support of the running community through DailyMile. If you're not on there - join us (!) - it's a great community for support and encouragement, no matter your speed. I'm also thankful to my wife - she's left holding the kid when I go off and do all my running and she's the one who's there at the finish line cheering me on. I'm so thankful for all of that. Thank you Leslie!!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Fall Goals Check-In and Race Preview

I feel like I say this all the time, but time is freaking flying by these days. It seems like just yesterday that our daughter Addison was she's almost 6 months old. Anyway, I digress, talking about time flying makes me feel old. I thought I would do a Fall goals check-in and a race preview of the upcoming Prairie State Half Marathon coming up for me on Saturday. Let's start with goals.

At the beginning of the summer, I stated four goals:
1) Run at least 3 more races this summer
2) Train well for the Prairie State Half-Marathon
3) Continue with regular weekly mileage -- minimum of 25/week but ideally working up to ~40-45 miles/week.
4) Get involved with some sort of team

Hmm - well, I guess I can say that I achieved 2 of those goals. I only ended up running two races this summer - a 10K on August 3rd and a 5K on September 2nd. Both of the races were PRs but I just couldn't find time for that third race. Oh well, all-in-all it's not that big of a deal.

On the other hand, I feel as though I have trained very well for the Half Marathon coming up this weekend. In June, July, August and September I logged 125, 140, 140, and 130 miles respectively and I mixed in a good amount of speed-work with 8 runs of 10 miles or longer. The races I did do showed that the speedwork has definitely paid dividends and my training paces have gotten gradually faster as well. On top of that, my body feels good and mentally I feel prepared for this race.

Weekly-mileage wise, I have stepped it up from the 25/week I was at in June. Through the summer months my weekly mileage was steadily in the mid-30s/week - I haven't hit the mid-40s like I'd hoped, but honestly, I've run just about as much as I can in the time that I had this summer so I'll take it.

Utter fail on Goal #4. I talked to Kevin Granato earlier in the summer about joining Granato Racing and I briefly considered joining the Glen Ellyn Running Club, but the bottomline reason I didn't pull the trigger on either is that I simply don't have weekend mornings or weekday nights open, at this point, to make joining a team worth it. If and when I join a team, I want to be a full participant, not just someone who shows up occasionally and doesn't really know anyone. It's still a strong desire of mine, but at least for this summer anyway, it wasn't in the cards.

So let's talk about this race on Saturday....

I'm really excited. After watching my brother smash his marathon PR yesterday at the Twin Cities Marathon, I'm inspired. Not only that, I feel like running-wise, I'm in as good of shape as I've ever been in my entire life. Unlike in last year's marathon training, I've incorporated some very specific speed-work and it seems to be paying off. My last 5K was evidence of that and I think that I've even gotten quicker since that race. In the 3 months leading up to my last half marathon, I ran a total of ~320 miles and in the past 3 months leading up to this half marathon I've run ~440 miles so from even just a sheer mileage standpoint, I'm even more prepared for this race than I was for the last half marathon I ran.

Goals-wise, I'm going to take Erin's approach and have a couple of different goals. My "I definitely think I can do it" goal is to get a new half marathon PR in this race. My fastest Half so far is 1:28:20 and I think I'm in better shape now. My "If all of the stars align" goal is 1:26:30. I imagine my ultimate time with be somewhere in between those two numbers...would love to surprise myself (in a good way) though. The weather looks like it's going to cooperate...temps should be in the low-to-mid-50s and for now there is no rain forecast for Saturday morning. The race starts at 8:00am so it won't be a terribly early morning. I looked at the results from last year, over 800 people ran in the half marathon and there were about 300 in the marathon so it's not a tiny race, but it's not very large either. which has both pluses and minuses. On the plus side, there won't be any dodging or weaving. The downside is that in the latter part of the race, it's likely to be pretty spread out so I can't count on having anyone to run with or near to help pull me along when the fatigue starts to set in. I don't know if they'll have pace groups, I imagine this is probably too small of a race for that...but we'll see.

Strategy-wise, I'm going to start out by trying to run 6:40-6:45s for the first three miles. During the last half marathon, I really got into that groove early on and it helped a lot in the latter stages of the race. After 3, I will gradually increase the pace (ideally) through the end of mile 9. Starting at mile 10, I'll spend whatever I have left. I would like to be at ~40:30 (6:41 average) through the 10M mark and at about 1:06:30  (6:39 average) through 10 miles.

So now it's just a matter of tapering and waiting. Today is a rest day, I'll probably do easy runs on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. I'm really excited to see how all of my DailyMile friends do in their respective marathons coming up, particularly the Chicago Marathon this weekend. I know a few others who are running either the Naperville Marathon or the NYC Marathon in November. I've gotten hit hard lately with the marathon itch again so hopefully next year I'll be running in the Chicago Marathon again. Good luck to all you racers out there - do your best and leave it all out there!