It’s been an interesting and rewarding few days of running. I set a new 5K PR, solidified some race goals, had some unexpected training rewards, and I think I’ve even nailed down what I’m going to give up for Lent.
This past Saturday was the Fitness, Family, and Friendship 5K in North Cabarrus Park (Concord, NC). The counselor at my elementary school and her husband—who happens to coach Cross Country at the High School—organized the event. I had run at the park before, and I was looking forward to racing on hard-packed gravel instead of asphalt. My intention was to get up super early and log my long mileage for the weekend before going to the 10 o’clock race, but my sensible wife and the cold weather convinced me to bag it and get a couple of extra hours of sleep in a warm, comfy bed.
The extra rest paid off. I went to the part charged and itching to race. I ran the course as a warm-up at my projected marathon pace to loosen the legs. I shed my jacket, donned my racing singlet and arm sleeves, and downed my traditional double espresso gel. I toed the line next to Carly, a college student I had seen at a few other middle distance races over the past few months. Carly was faster than me, but I had been working on my speed quite a bit lately. I would keep an eye on her. Also present were several members of the High School’s Cross Country team, including Jose, on whom I had my money to win. The rest of the pack included amateur racers like me and a lot of Kannapolis City School District staff.
For 5K, the course was a workout both mentally and physically. Turnarounds and switchbacks led us to climb the few hills along the gravel greenway a couple of times, and we had to be on the lookout for faint, spray-painted directional markings to keep us on course. More than once, I shouted ahead to others who had missed a turn, and I only knew the way because I ran the course once already for my warm-up. I lost the high-school athletes after half a mile, but I kept Carly in and 3 other runners in range. My 1st mile split was 6:28, almost exactly on pace for a 20 minute finish. Not bad, considering the terrain. By the end of the second mile, the pack in front of me had drifted back. I made my move and passed all of them but Carly. She kept a good 25 yards on me. Mile 2 was 6:23, which was good to maintain a 20 minute finish, but it left practically no breathing room. Pun intended; I was gassed! Mile 3 was more of chasing Carly and keeping us both on the modestly marked course. After a quick dip into some rooted woods, we broke out on the greenway for 200 meters of sprint to the finish. Carly beat me by 3 seconds, but she and 4 high school track athletes were the only people to finish ahead of me. Jose won the race with a near sub-17 minute time. My finishing time and PR was 19:48, so I actually had quickened my pace a tiny bit during the last 1.1 miles. I was satisfied.
The following day, I decided to get my long mileage in with a bunch of other DART members. I planned on 10 miles at a very gingerly pace, not wanting to injure myself before the upcoming Umstead Trail Marathon. 11 miles later, we were headed up South Street, which was 1200 meters of straight climb. My running buddies Mike and Sam had cajoled me in to negative splitting the last hill. We maintained a sub-7 minute pace for the last mile, and crested the hill at my 5K pace, which is not a workout one typically welcomes at the end of long run. I finished feeling good though, and I enjoyed some well-deserved coffee at Summit afterwards.
During our post-run coffee, Sam and Dave Munger really convinced me to examine my marathon goals. Up until now, I would have been pleased to match my Thunder Road pace at upcoming Umstead. Now, I will be disappointed if I don’t demolish it. Sam, Dave, Mike, and several other experienced marathoners have been keeping track of my progress over the past few months, and they all agree I could run a 3:30 road marathon right now if I wanted. Given the zone in which I have been training, I must say that I agree with them. Umstead is different, though. 21+ miles of bridle trail plus a good 5 miles of single-track is a different beast than 26.2 miles of smooth asphalt. Sure, the surface will be softer, but the pace will be slower as well. The terrain will be very hilly too. So, I’ve been including hilly trail runs into my regimen as much as I can in order to cut down on my road/trail pace differential. I’m going to PR this beast, with you the readers as my witnesses!
After Sunday long runs, I like to take Monday as my rest day, or maybe squeeze in some light strength training. With this past Monday being Presidents’ Day, I had a little extra time in the morning to get to school, so I scheduled a 6.4 mile loop with Dave before work. Running from the YMCA to our meeting spot across from Summit and running back after our loop turned the 6+ miler into just over 9 miles. Later, I would add another mile (barefoot) on the treadmill after some weight training, bringing me to a 10+ mile day, meaning I had back-to-back long run days. For sure I would take a rest day today (Fat Tuesday). Nope. I woke up feeling like a racehorse, so I laced up some super-light Innov-8’s and knocked out 7 miles at sub-marathon pace. I was 2 miles into that run when I realized I had forgotten to wear my IT Band wraps. My legs were feeling great, and my form felt spot on, so I finished my morning run elated. I felt so good throughout the work day, that I promised myself an evening run just to take advantage of good time. That evening run turned in to just over 10 miles, capping me at 17 for the day. So much for a rest day.
Well, there you have it: a back-to-back-to-back set of long run days, all with less than two weeks until Umstead Marathon. It's Tuesday, and I've nearly passed my mileage for all of last week so far in this week. I don’t know if this is a good sign or not. I don’t want to train myself into a corner, but I have to take advantage of what I have. I have one more longish run on Sunday, which will NOT exceed 10 miles. Aside from that, I may throw in one more speed day, and everything else will be at an easy recovery pace to keep the legs moving.
While I’m in a resolute mood, I should mention that I have come to my decision as to what to deny myself for Lent, which starts tomorrow. I already have given up nearly everything that is bad for me, so this year is quite a challenge. Given that I get a lot of my protein from nuts, legumes, beans, and whole grains, I figured meat was a logical choice for a sacrifice. I will continue to eat eggs, but only local, farm fresh eggs supplied by one of my colleagues at school. I have not had milk or cheese for months, and I don't really eat any red meat to speak of, so I'm basically giving up poultry, fish, and the occasional strip of bacon. It will be interesting to see how my fuel/recovery diet will respond to this change, but I think I can do it successfully if I plan far enough in advance. We shall see…
Happy Mardi Gras! Laissez les bon temps roulez!