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!!


  1. I am so incredibly proud of you, not only how far you've come since last year and finishing the Chicago marathon in good fashion, but in your unwavering discipline to run. I never hear you say "Ugh, I don't' want to go out today" though I'm sure you have those days (dear God, tell me you have those days!). Nothing gives me greater joy than to see you happy and ecstatic when you reach your goals you've worked so hard for. We love you!

  2. I love everything about this, including that LK responded first :) You've had a kickass year already, and man, what a week you've had!! Seriously though, revel in the accomplishment, and get ready for some awesome running next year, too. It has been such a blast to follow your training on DM over the past ~year. You are such a strong runner and an equally impressive supporter of all of us who do this crazy stuff that you do (albeit perhaps a tad more slowly...) :) YEA, ADAM!!

    ps- Loved that quote. Big time. Totally gets it.

  3. Great write-up Adam! Had some similar thoughts in my head in one of my races this year too. Great stuff. Someday we'll win that race! Awesome job in the half and the 5K, you really cranked em out and kept it smart at the same time. Great job.