Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Some Time in the Valley...

Yeah, so I've been spending a lot of time in a valley lately,  Not Death Valley.  Not the San Fernando Valley.  In fact, it's not a geographical valley at all.  I mean a training valley, as in the opposite of a training peak.
It's times like this when we runners start waxing philosophical about why we run, and whether we're losing some of what we had and are doomed to never get it back.  Well, at least I think that way, and it may be because I'm overly competitive for a recreational runner.  When I notice a slump coming on, my first inclination is to work harder, to set lofty goals, and to claw at them like a ravenous dog trying to pilfer an unattended pork chop.  This leads to more frustration--the inescapable feeling like I'm ice-skating uphill.  The vicious cycle continues until I exhaust myself and feel worse for wear.  When I'm in a hole, if I keep digging, I'm only going to end up in a deeper hole.
Then, always too late, I remember: peaks are nothing without valleys.  Professional athletes know this better than anyone, and they design their training such that they peak for focus races.  In retrospect, my best performances have been when I inadvertently did the same thing.  One might think that my sub-24 hour finish at Umstead 100 was my magnum opus, but I beg to differ.  Really, when it comes to setting a specific goal at the very edge of my ability, training specifically for that goal, and following through on race day, I'd say the 2012 Ridge To Bridge Marathon was my masterpiece.  Without a doubt, I was in the best shape of my life last October.  And book-ending that peak Marathon race were several other prideful accomplishments, including still standing decisive personal bests for 5k, 15k, Half Marathon, and 50k.
Are those fast days behind me?  Hell no!  I'll get'm back, but I have to contend with the clock first.  Like many runners, I'm obsessed with time.  I check my watch repeatedly during training runs.  I count down weeks, days, and sometimes hours to a focus race.  I use numbers denoting seconds and minutes to denote effort for given intervals of speed training.  When I approach the finish line of a race, my eyes laser-lock on the gun clock.  When friends race, I always ask "how'd you do," but that's really a tactful way of saying "what was your time?"  Time is my enemy, and it's bullying me.  Therefore, instead of fighting time, I'm going to do what I tell my third grade students to do to bullies: walk away.  That doesn't mean I'm going to stop wearing a watch or stop training, but as far as reaching for those lofty goals like before, I'm just going to say "what's the hurry?"
So naturally, I can't look ahead and say THIS or THAT is going to be my next focus race.  It's summer time.  It's hot.  I ENJOY running, so when it feels too much like fighting, I know I'm grasping at straws.  I'm going to enjoy my time with my wife and my dogs, and I'm going to have some fun running with friends, training with them to make us all mutually better runners, and letting my fitness come back to me on its own terms.  So I may not post as many recaps, but that doesn't mean I won't be out there Running Reckless in sockless shoes!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Two Races Enter, One Recap Leaves.

This past weekend, I decided to pull a Bobby Aswell and race multiple races on one weekend.  Friday evening was Charlotte's Largest Office Party 5k downtown, and Saturday morning was the Saving Little Hearts of Nicaragua 5k in Davidson.  These races were separated by 13.5 hours.  Oh, and it's early June in the beginning of what is shaping up to be a very hot summer.  I'm a genius.  And yes, it's difficult to denote sarcasm in print.
Charlotte's Largest Office Party 5k, Friday 6:30pm
Friday night's race starting alongside Buffalo Wild Wings, which adjoined the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Brevard Street in downtown (uptown?) Charlotte.  The course was not designed to be easy or fast.  The first km was largely downhill, but then it turned onto the sustained climb of Morehead and led to a fly-by of the BOA Stadium, much as last year's Blue 5k had done.  Turning right on Stonewall once again, there was some sustained downhill once again, but the last 600 meters or so on McDowell and MLK were a steady climb to the finish line.  The temperature had reached the mid-80s with high humidity.  Given the heat/humidity, the challenging course, and the tough day at work leading up to the evening hours, I had no realistic aspirations of nearing my usual goal of <19 minutes.  In fact, I would consider my self lucky if I could get near 20.
Instead of running the course as a warm up as per my usual pre-5k routine, I just plodded along for a couple of miles, not even bothering to add in some pick-ups at race pace.  What's race pace for tonight, anyway?  There was a large crowd (as was to be expected since this was part of the RFYL Signature Series) that included many of the fleetest runners from CRC.  I wasn't looking for hardware today; I just wanted a good showing.
At the start, no fewer than four dozen runners shot out ahead of me.  Some, like the out-of-my-league racers like Paul Mainwaring and Billy Shue, would be gone forever.  I knew many more would fade back to me.  My strategy for this evening was to maintain a conservative, even effort, and push a little on the Stonewall section of the third mile if I had some gas left.  On Morehead, the flies started dropping.  A giraffe-ish runner in my age group thought it was a good time to pass me at the bottom of the climb.  50 meters later, he was behind me again.  In fact, from this point on, I didn't have to worry about anyone catching up to me.  I just focused on the handfuls of fading runners on the hill ahead.
After a few races on this road, I've made my peace with Morehead.  As long as I treat the climb with respect, it reciprocates by not zapping me to death.  A few minutes later, I was over the hump at the 277 overpass, and I had some time to recover as I made for the right turns onto Mint and then Stonewall.  Once I hit Stonewall, the sun was at my back instead of in my face, but I did have a modest headwind with which to contend.  I turned on the gas--not so much to increase my pace by much, but enough to gobble up a dozen more runners who were dying more than me in the heat.  After the last two left turns, I saw two more runners--both in my age group--ahead of me.  Only one looked to be in reach.  Sure enough, all he could do was gasp and wave me on as I passed him.  One down.  The other started fading more than I expected, and I had a surge left in me, so I poured it on and passed him with 100 meters left.  As soon as I crossed the finish and stopped running, I immediately felt the damp heat of the air.  Yuck.  I was well off my PR, and I didn't even come close to my realistic goal of sub-20.  With a 20:32, this was my slowest 5k in 18 months, and that includes trail 5k's.  However, despite the unimpressive finishing time, my strategy paid off enough to earn me 2nd in my age group, which I'm perfectly happy with given the highly competitive field.
This AG medal is bigger and heavier than some marathon medals I've gotten!

Saving Little Hearts of Nicaragua 5k.  Saturday, 8am
Fast forward.  After a shower, a light meal, and a decent night's sleep, I was up and in Davidson for Saving Little Hearts.  There's nothing new or exciting about this course--it's the Run For Green 5k course used by about half a dozen other events in Davidson.  Last Spring, I ran 18:51 on this course at Pawz Too Run, but this day was hotter and more humid, and I was doubtful I had a sub-19 in me...but I was going to try anyway!
My strategy for SLH was opposite from the previous evening's race.  In order to play to the terrain, I was going to milk as much speed as I could out of the downhill first mile, then let the uphill middle mile do its own thing, and finally try to hang on for the last mile.  Everything started according to plan.  I shot out ahead of the entire field with two fifteen-sixteen year-old cross country athletes on my heels.  They overtook me at the bottom of the hill on South Street as we turned onto the greenway.  My first mile was a 5:52.  Not bad.  Thing 1 and Thing 2 pulled ahead and opened up a fifteen second lead on me, but I knew there was plenty of room in a 5k to make things happen--for better or worse.  I gasped up the hill on Avinger and maintained my fifteen second shadow.  I was in third place, and the fourth place runner was nearly a minute behind me, so whatever battle that remained would be among the overall top three.
I made my move in the last quarter mile--a stretch of Lorimer on which I had passed many runners in past races.  I overtook Thing 2, but I knew Thing 1 as out of reach.  I pushed to maintain my pace through the finish, but I heard Thing 2's footfalls closing in rapidly.  If I could hear him, he was too close.  In the end, I could not surge strongly enough to out-kick his sixteen-year-old speed.  He passed me within the flags leading to the finishing arch.  The winner finished with 19:31, his friend took second from me with 19:35, and I settled for third with 19:36.
And I would have won too, if it weren't for those medaling teenagers!  (Pun intended)

I shouldn't say I "settled" for third.  That kid outraced me, pure and simple.  And 19:36 is a perfectly respectable time given the sweaty race conditions.  I'm still frustrated though, because I've once again been stymied in my efforts to get under 19 minutes since the end of winter.  Four times now in the past few weeks, I've been hovering in the 19:30s.  None of the races have been in ideal conditions, but hey, that's racing.  I think it's just going to take a while for me to get my speed back after Umstead.  The weather's only getting hotter now, so the plan is to settle into maintenance mode for the summer and shoot for some fast times in the fall.  Until then, I may have one or two other outside-the-box goals to pursues, but that's a different blog post altogether.