Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Breaking down, getting healthy, and getting stronger, Part Deux

I have been leaning toward letting this blog die but since my last post on my injury recovery was the 2nd most read/linked post ever, I feel the need to provide an update.

A lot has happened in my running universe in the last five months and nearly all of it has been good. Shortly after that post, I came down with pneumonia shutting me down for most of September. It took a long time to recover my breathing and I had to keep all runs really easy and the mileage on the low side through October. Even still, I did run my first ever cross country race (Mayor's Cup) at the end of October. My time was slow, but it was a lot of fun and I decided I would run more cross country that fall (a whole other story.)

At the end of October, recovered from pneumonia and with my hamstring feeling good, I was fully healthy for the first time in well over a year. I had finished the 7-week rehab routine that I outlined in my previous post. I had reassessed to find that my hip flexor mobility had improved noticeably and my hamstring pain was all but gone. At that point, I came up with a much shorter routine of core/stability/mobility exercise to do 2-3 times a week for maintenance, and occasionally reminding myself to always maintain good posture, but that's about it. I continue to do these things now.

The few exercises I do religiously, 2-3 times per week are:

  • pigeon hip extensions,
  • lunges knee-to-instep,
  • push ups,
  • knee drives,
  • foam roller to my hamstrings, calves, hips.

I add to those basics as time permits or as I feel like I need something else, but those are the standbys that I do every single time. It takes 10-15 minutes most of the time unless I add to it or spend extra time on the foam roller, and it makes a noticeable difference every time.

Also at the end of October, I began doing a weekly hill workout, as well as doing most of my long runs on hilly courses. Hills provide really good feedback for whether I'm running with good posture--something I still need to stay conscious of so that none of my bad habits come back. And hills are really good for strengthening the hips, glutes and hamstrings. Every Tuesday, I run one of two hill loops--both have uphills that are moderately steep (about 7% grade). One is about a half mile loop with a hill that gains about 70 feet in about .16 mile with a gradual downhill around the block back to the bottom. The other is a mile-long loop with a hill that gains about 108 feet in .3 miles and also has a nice gradual downhill that loops around back to where I stared. I alternated every Tuesday doing either 10 x the short loop, or 8 x the longer loop plus warmup and cooldown for about 10.5-12 miles total. I plan to gradually add a few more reps to each of these workouts as I get deeper into my Boston training.

I run the uphills at a steady but not brutal clip. These are not sprints. I focus on running tall, straight back, bringing my heel up to my butt, landing with my foot under my center of mass, and driving from the hips. On the downhills, I don't back off the effort completely but rather focus on turnover and remaining fluid while running pretty quickly downhill. It's really easy to feel good form on the uphills and so I use that time to drill into my brain over and over what good form should feel like. It's really easy to let your form get sloppy on the downhills so I use that time to practice maintaining that good form when there is a lot less feedback. It's a great workout and good mental practice. Both the uphills and the downhills are important.

Here's a map and elevation chart of the run I did this morning and every other Tuesday:

The results have been way beyond what I was expecting.

Not only is my high hamstring/hip continuing to improve, I am, at age 44, apparently about as fit as I have ever been. Without going into great detail, I ran a bunch of races at the end of the year, each one went better than the one before it and better than expected. Then on January 4th, I ran 9:42.92 for 3000m at the 3rd BU mini meet. It was a last minute decision to enter and I certainly had not done any specific workouts to prepare for it. I just wanted to get some turnover and see where I was fitnesswise. By most calculators, that 3000 puts me roughly in lifetime PR shape ... in early January ... off of 60-70 miles a week, a weekly hill workout, and not much else. And I feel really fresh.

A big part of it is probably just running with two healthy legs for the first time a very long while. But it is also true that the hills are making me really strong. Everyone knows that runners should do hills but I have never put in such a consistent block of training in which hills, and specifically these hill loops, were basically my only workouts. I am a believer.

I was hesitant to even write this post because things are going so well that I don't want to talk about it for fear of jinxing myself. But given the feedback I got on the first post, and given how well things have gone since then, it felt like a follow up was in order.

The plan is to keep doing what I'm doing. I've stretched out my long runs and already have a couple of 20's in the bank as I turn my attention toward Boston. The only races on the calendar right now are the Grand Prix races: Jones 10-miler on February 23rd, New Bedford Half Marathon on March 16th and An Ras Mor 5k on March 30th. New Bedford will be a big check point because it was that race last year that forced me to admit I was injured.

Then of course there's Boston on April 21st.

So if you haven't already, get a copy of Anatomy for Runners by Jay Dicchary. I don't know how many copies of that book I've sold but, suffice to say I wish it retired part of my annual quota. And keep the faith--you CAN fix yourself and come out the other side better than before.

Onward.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Breaking down, getting healthy, and getting stronger

Runners are, by and large, the most brutally honest people I know. From work-a-day hobbyjoggers like me to professional athletes, delusions of a better, faster, more capable self simply cannot survive the rigors of real life training and racing. At the end of the day you are what the clock says you are and if you don't like it then it is up do you to do something about it. But don't complain about it because nobody wants to hear your whining. Period. When you get dropped from the group on a hilly long run there is no way to sugar coat it. On that course, on that day, among that group of runners, that's who you are. Your PRs are your identity so you better work hard for them, make them count, and, above all, be proud of them. For the most part this type of honesty is very healthy and I truly believe it has made me better at almost everything I do in life.

This is not to say we are not capable of lying to ourselves like everyone else--it's just that we carefully pick our spots. We lie when it is the only way to keep moving forward, because at the end of the day moving forward is all we have--no matter what successes or failures we have in life or no matter what the universe throws at us, putting one foot in front of the other is the one thing we can always control. Just. Keep. Pushing.

So we lie to keep on moving forward. "Fast is easy." "I can still do this." "I'm not tired." "Your doing grate!" And my personal favorite: "It's not an injury."

But when brutal honesty and relentless forward motion collide it creates a sharknado of cognitive dissonance.
The NWS has issued a sharknado warning.
For more than a decade there were two things that I knew for sure--these two basic truths were the bedrock of my entire running worldview:
  1. Injuries are never random and are always due to a failure in training by the athlete.
  2. I don't get injured because I am way smarter than everyone else.
I still believe the first statement. Coming to grips with the fallacy of the second statement has, over the past 6 months, been a less than comfortable but necessary journey of personal growth.

Hi, my name is Mike and I am an injured runner.

But I am on the mend--physically and mentally--and I believe I can still be better than I have ever been. This is the story of how I figured it out, and how I'm fixing it.

I have had a left hamstring injury since at least January and probably since as far back as November of last year--I remember vividly how badly it hurt after the Great Stew Chase 15k in early February and how I could barely take a step the next day when I went out for a little shakeout jog. A month later, by Stu's 30k, it was worse and a little jog the Monday after that brought tears to my eyes. I managed my way through the next few weeks and somehow ran a 1:19:50 half marathon at New Bedford on March 17th but by then there was no denying it--I was broken. I had planned to use my training for that half as a nice base build for a Spring of doing hard workouts in hopes of busting a sub 17 5k but instead I had to take a couple of weeks of very easy jogging.

During this time, I started toying with the idea of jumping into the Vermont City Marathon (hey, I'm injured so I think I'll run a marathon!) I thought I might like to have a Boston Qualifier in my pocket for 2014 and easy mileage didn't seem to bother me much. Then Boston happened, and I made up my mind for sure I wanted to run in 2014 and so that was that. I managed to run an okay marathon in Vermont, then got sick, then after taking some time off being sick started running again and my hamstring was no better--it was worse.

I decided to figure it out. I had already been doing a lot of reading and a lot of it focused on hips and glutes as the primary culprit--I had started doing lunges and bridges to try and strengthen my glutes and increase my hip mobility but I wasn't clear on why that was important. Still it seemed to help a little. I kept stretching and rolling my hamstrings too, which basically made no difference. It turns out I was on the right track, just not really zeroing in on the root cause.

Then in late June or early July I picked up a copy of Anatomy for Runners by Jay Dicharry and everything changed.
Are you a runner? Then read this book.
I have been reluctant to become too evangelical about a book that I only read 6 weeks ago but the thing is after reading it, my whole world suddenly makes sense. Jay Dicharry understands runners and why they get injured as well as what to do to not get injured. He mixes the anatomy and physiology with practical and real world exercises and self-assessments that make you go "oh of course!" Near the end there is a chapter on self-assessments and another (appropriately called "Putting Humpty Dumpty Back Together Again") on corrective exercises. I can't summarize the book in this space and do it justice so I'll just suggest that if you're a runner and you want to recover from an injury, or avoid future injuries, you should read it.

The biggest issue for me--and a lot of other people it turns out--is that I have tight hip flexors from sitting too much. Over time this has caused me to become a quad-dominant runner, my glutes became too weak to maintain the position of my pelvis above my femur, and when I fatigued my pelvis would roll forward on my hips. This caused me to arch my back and my center of mass to move forward which caused me to over stride in front of my body to keep from falling on my face. Basically I was running in what Dicharry calls the toilet bowl of doom.
Here I am in the toilet bowl of doom in 2010
I think the combination of rolling my pelvis forward and over striding in front of my center of mass was what put too much strain on my upper hamstring and led to upper hamstring tendonitis. But at the end of the day the exact diagnosis is unimportant--that was one of a dozen things that could have (or should have) gone wrong the way I was headed, and treating the specific injury would have done very little good.

The answer was in increasing my hip extension mobility, strengthening my core and rewiring neuro-muscular system to run with correct posture. I had to rebuild my chassis.

So what am I actually doing differently now? It's really just a few basic things.

  • I think about and pay attention to correct posture all the time now, especially when I'm running.
  • Several times a day I stand on one foot, 30 seconds each foot.
  • I stretch my hip flexors for 3 minutes each after every run.
  • I walk around barefoot whenever possible, even more than I used to.
  • I've replaced all the drills I was doing with just 2 things: heel lifts and backward running.
  • When I do strides, I try to crunch my abs a tiny bit to try and bring my pelvis and my shoulders toward each other--this helps me maintain a perfectly straight back even while striding really hard.
  • I don't stretch my hamstrings at all anymore (but I still roll them a couple times a week).
  • I do a series of core and stability exercises--including a lot of glute max stuff--that take about 30 minutes, 3 x per week. Mostly it's specific bridges, lunges, squats, some stability ball stuff and some pushups and knee drives. I took a bunch of the exercises from the Humpty Dumpty chapter that I thought I needed most and that I could practically do in the space I had and with the equipment I had. After about 7 weeks, I plan to pare the list of exercises down a bit and not do all of them every session and get it down to maybe 15 minutes a session, 2 to 3 times a week for maintenance.
I honestly think the biggest and most immediate difference has been from simply thinking about posture. Until I read this book I have to admit I never actually knew what good posture was or what it was supposed to feel like. And so I couldn't have corrected it if I tried. After doing some really simple exercises and just teaching myself what good posture is, I can now feel it instinctively.

It took a lot of concentration at first to stay in good posture and keep my pelvis neutral throughout even an easy 6 mile run, but in just a few weeks it has become almost hard wired to where I don't have to think about it much at all. Very rarely now, I'll still catch myself arching my back and/or tilting my pelvis and I'll have to concentrate for a few seconds to get myself back to neutral--but those instances are becoming fewer and farther in between.

My hamstring pain is basically gone. I can still feel it every now and then the day after a long run or if I accidentally over stride for a bit but I would not really call it pain anymore as much of just an awareness of an area that used to be kind of tender. It went away so quickly that I'm sure the exercises had little to nothing to do with it and that it was almost entirely from just running with better posture--the exercises are just helping me to maintain posture and make good posture instinctive and natural.

At first my glutes were really fatigued from the combination of all the exercises I was doing and from actually having to do their job when I was running. But after just a few weeks that's gone and they have actually become a strength--I don't fatigue as quickly when running hills.

The biggest epiphany was only a week or two after finishing the book when I went out for a 12-mile run on a Sunday by myself. I had been doing the exercises and drills and giving myself something to work on in every run up until that point. That day I decided to just run and not really work on anything--no specific pace, no strides or drills. Just a run with good posture. For the first time in 6 months I made it through a run of that length without hamstring pain. When I stopped for water after about 11 miles and had to restart again I was amazed that there was no pain or stiffness. I had a pretty good idea I was on the right track at that point and it really helped my whole attitude. Since then I've gotten stronger, my hamstring has become less and less noticeable, and I've progressed to some big, hilly long runs that felt pretty good.

I've noticed that when I run with good posture, I carry my hands a little lower--it feels like I used to run when I was in highschool. I also don't get sore anywhere and I have basically no muscle knots or adhesions. I still roll my hamstrings and calfs and do a bunch of self massage, it's just that now I never find anything. Granted, I haven't really done any hard workouts other than a few long runs on hilly courses, but I still used to always have some kind of knot somewhere and now I have nothing.

Right now I plan to finish out the initial 7-week core-stability plan that I wrote out and then re-asses and develop a real, longer term training plan. I may add it some weight training in the fall but I am still undecided on that. I will definitely keep in the habit of doing some core and stability work at least 2x per week forever for maintenance. I'll still run a few races but I am putting all time goals on the back burner for now until I'm 100% healed and able to put in a real training cycle--I am excited to really be able to train with a fully healthy chassis and see what I can do. Get healthy, then get stronger.

A couple of months ago I felt like this injury cycle was the beginning of the end for me. Now I feel like I am in control again and that I can accomplish anything I set my mind to.

Boston 2014 is the next race I really care about. Everything between now and then is just part of the process. Anything is possible and I am ready. It is going to be epic.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Un-retirement

I ran 2:56:06 at the Vermont City Marathon yesterday, roughly 31 months after having declared myself retired from marathons.

My goal going in was 2:55:00, which would have been the magical BQ-20, a.k.a. you get to register the first day Boston registration opens in September. But under the circumstances, I will take it. BQ-20 was just a nice round number to shoot for but almost 19 minutes under my qualifying time should more than suffice.

I only decided to run this race 6 weeks ago, and even convinced my buddy Dan Princic to do it as well. We both went back and forth with our wives on whether to try and make it a family weekend, but in the end decided to try and do it on the cheap. Get in, get our BQs, and get out.

So we drove up to Burlington on Saturday afternoon in a heavy rainstorm that mixed with snow at times. We got our bibs, checked into our dorm room (literally) at Champlain College, and then walked down the hill in search of food and the Bruins game.

Dan in the dorm room, pinning his number before making his bunk.

We found both at Manhattan Pizza Pub. After a good plate of chicken parm with ziti and a couple of very responsible beers, the Bruins were good enough to wrap up their game (and series) in regulation so that we were walking back up the hill to Lakeview Hall by a little after 8pm.

These are responsible beers.
In the morning it was still raining hard and the forecast had not improved. 42 degrees, rain and wind. We got up and shoved down some easy-to-consume calories before walking down to the gas station and back for coffee.

We got into our race gear, donned our ghetto ponchos made of black trash bags, and headed on out into the shizzle.

The start area was a cluster and a muddy bog but we found the gear check, dropped our bags and headed for the start. Just before the gun I ripped off my trash bag, and since the sleeves of my throwaway long sleeve t-shirt were already soaked, I tossed that as well. I was down to shorts, singlet, arm warmers, gloves, and the good old winter-hat-over-ballcap look. I was pretty styling. And cold.

There was bicycle parking, apparently.
And then the race got started.

The course is basically 4 out-and-back sections of varying length, through different parts of town, returning through downtown after each one.

The first 3-mile loop goes through some nicer neighborhoods near UVM and Champlain College. These were nice warm-up miles just to get the blood pumping. On the way back we headed through Church Street which had good crowd support in spots.

The second loop is an out-and-back on Route 127 for miles 4 through 9. This was boring, and cold with a headwind on the way out. It was nice to see the leaders go by before we made the turn. And it was nice to see the pack after we made the turn, but mostly I was just glad to get this section over with. We ran back through the start for mile 9 then got another trip down Church Street to get a little shot of adrenaline for the next loop.
Church Street
The third loop is through some neighborhoods in the southern end of Burlington for miles 10-15. The return section of this loop was all along bike path right against the lake shore and featured waves crashing onto the path. Good times.

Just after mile 15 we hit the biggest hill on the course which couldn't have come at a better time. Normally I would not want a big hill in the 16th mile of a marathon, but this one was what I needed to get my body temperature back up after cold blast along the lake. There was great energy from the crowds here too.

The final loop takes up the last 10 miles of the race. There were long stretches of running northwest on North Ave (straight into the wind) broken up by a few detours through neighborhoods that each gave a short respite from the cold headwind. On the final North Ave section, miles 20 and 21, the wear and tear of the cold, wind and general fatigue was taking its toll and I had the strong urge to curl up in a ball on the side of the road. I talked myself to mile 22 where we would turn back toward downtown and have shelter and/or the wind at our backs. But when I reached that point there was not much left in the tank and the surge I had been planning never really came. It was everything I could just to stay under 7 minute miles from 22 on. There was nothing left to do but keep pushing until it was over.

Mile 26. No longer avoiding puddles.

Eventually the hoopla of Waterfront Park came into earshot and I was able to let myself believe it was almost over. I must hand it to the crowds--as miserable as the weather was, they were out in force and they were boisterous and festive. There was an "S" turn at around 26 miles and then a straight shot on a grass field that was under 3 inches of standing water and mud into the finish. With 100 yards to go I took off my hat(s) and hammed it up for the crowd--flapping my arms, and pumping my fists and basically acting like a total idiot. Why not, I figured? I gave it a big exaggerated fist pump at the finish line and I was done.

I shuffled through the mud and crowd to find my dry clothes in the baggage tent and found Dan sitting in a chair changing shoes. "Crushed it," he said, "2:45." Fist pumps.
Dan. Crushing it.
Then there was the usual slogging through mud to the massage tent, going into shivering fits at times, getting wrapped in blankets to stop the shivering, scarfing down two slices of pizza, getting our one free beer each, etc. etc. The typical post-marathon stuff.

Life is good when you're dry(ish) and in the beer tent.
After the climb back up the hill to our dorm (with a stop at our favorite gas station for a 6-pack of Long Trail), I took the hottest shower in history. It was glorious.

Later Dan and I walked back down to Church Street and got a couple of great burgers, a bunch of good beers and had some lively conversations with a few of the locals. At about 8:20pm on Sunday night, the sun came out.

The sun!


Onward.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Onward

I guess I should say something about Boston.

It has been 11 days since the bombings and nearly a week since they caught "suspect number 2" hiding in a boat in a back yard in Watertown after a massive gun battle and siege of that city that we all watched glued to our tv's and computers. In that time, a lot of people more eloquent than I am have written a lot of words about the strength of our city, our region, our first responders and the running community. The families of Martin Richard, Krystle Campbell, Lu Lingzi and Sean Collier have memorialized their loved ones and begun the healing process. The wounded have begun their long roads toward recovery. Boylston Street has reopened for business and we have begun to move on as we do.

Personally, I feel tremendously guilty for not having been there. It seems a strange thing to admit but there it is. Having not run Boston since 2009 I spent the day tracking friends online and watching the elite race while having conference calls and answering work email. I was still a safe 13 miles away from the finish line, on my way out the door to go downtown for a post-marathon celebration with running friends, when the bombs went off. The next hour or so was a haze of trying to communicate with people near the finish line--several of whom I had been in touch with just minutes before the blast and then suddenly could not reach at all, as the phone networks were at first overwhelmed and then shut down to prevent any further remote detonations. All the while, friends and family were contacting me to make sure I was safe.

I self identify as a runner. It is a huge part of who I am. And yet on the biggest day in our sport, when our greatest event suffered its greatest tragedy, and we collectively went from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows, I was a safe distance away, watching helplessly on television like millions of others as the drama unfolded on that street I know so well, by that finish line I know so well, and on that sidewalk I know so well. Guilt was not one of the emotions I was expecting, but there it was...and here it is.

The fact that so many of the victims were spectators who did nothing but show up to be a part of such a great day and support the runners is very difficult. Almost all of us who have run a marathon remember being inspired by watching a marathon first. Around here, the marathon we watched was Boston--it is difficult to be anywhere near the Boston Marathon and not be inspired and overwhelmed by the energy coming from that long line of people surging toward the Citgo sign and beyond and hearing the roars from the crowds all around. The idea that someone would  attack that is nearly impossible to imagine.

Like thousands of other runners--and non-runners for that matter--I immediately resolved to be at the starting line in Hopkinton on Patriots' Day in 2014. Interest in the Boston Marathon is now at an all-time high for the 2014 race. I had already been toying with the idea, and had just 2 days before Boston, signed up for the Vermont City Marathon next month to try and get a qualifier for next year's race. "Just in case I decide to run it," I told myself.

Now, there is no more "just in case"--there is only do or die. I am blessed to still have two strong legs, a strong heart and a big pair of lungs. And as long as I am able, I can never again deny those gifts by not running Boston.

Onward.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A Dead Whale or a Stove Boat


At last, New Bedford.

After slogging through what turned out to be (and, continues to be as I write this) a fairly crappy winter, a lot of us were looking forward to this: New Bedford on St. Patrick's Day. In the same way that NASCAR holds its biggest race of the season right off the bat, this race always seems to draw the biggest, fastest field of the entire NE GP season. Granted, this is not the first race--that was Jones 10-miler last month--but it always feels like the start of the racing season when you can strip off your winter layers, show those pasty legs made strong from a winter of grinding it out on frozen hills, and let 'er rip. New Bedford in March is where you go to see how you measure up against the toughest and deepest running community on planet earth (probably) outside the Great Rift Valley.

I met up with some of the Southern Middlesex contingent of Greater Lowell, Chris Hancock, aka X, and Kevin Carnabucci, aka Bucci, in Melrose to carpool down. The weather looked decent--windy and cool, but sunny--and we were all in pretty good spirits. We got to downtown NB, went to the Y to pick up our numbers and met up with EJ, and then went back to Kevin's car to strip down and go for a fairly pointless warm-up jog. It was too cold to really warm up. Downtown New Bedford, which is likely pretty quiet on a normal Sunday morning in late winter, was ajitter with activity. Along with the race officials, police, EMTs etc. there were under dressed, skinny people skittering around like ants in all directions.

Bucci and X wandering through downtown New Bedford
We got lined up, met up with our GLRR teammates and other notable personalities from the NE running community, and listened to the announcements and national anthem. I made sure to stay near EJ. I think we both figured we would pace together for as long as possible since we had pretty similar goals--EJ was looking to improve on his PR of 1:19:18 set here last year. I would have considered that a great day for me, but not entirely unrealistic. I figured if we aimed for that at it wasn't there I should still be able to get under 1:20 for only the 3rd time in my life--I would consider that a win.

The first couple of miles as we ran northwest from downtown, were into the cold wind. It felt much colder than I thought it would but I just kept telling myself once we turned at about 3.5 miles, the wind would be at our backs for a good 4 or 5 miles. Miles 1 and 2 went in 6:03 and 6:05, and then the uphill miles 3 and 4 were 6:09 and 6:14 when we reached the top of the hills and turned left to head south back toward the water. EJ had almost dropped me on the 2nd hill but I didn't let him break the string and he let me catch back up once we reached the top in the 4th mile.

Once we got our legs under us, we started rolling on the slightly downhill and downwind section through miles 5-7. The crowd support is good through here and the cheers of "Go Lowell!" and whatnot definitely helped pick me back up. There are many advantages to running with EJ, but not the least of which is that so many people know him and even many who don't tend to cheer for him--especially when he breaks out the Flag of Ireland shorts on St. Paddy's day.

Rolling a 5:46 7th mile with EJ. Whoops!
The NB course layout demands that you be aggressive in miles 5-7, but maybe not quite as aggressive as we were, going 5:46, 5:54, and 546. That might have been a just a few ticks too fast for me--but it would turn out it wasn't for EJ.

The lonely miles 8-10 along the water went 6:03, 6:01 and 6:08 which put us at 10 miles in 60:06, or a full minute faster than I ran the Jones 10-miler a few weeks ago.

At just before mile 10 we had turned almost directly into the wind again. I (like most people) struggled here. EJ did not. He started pulling away from me and there wasn't a whole lot I could do about it at that point. I wasn't losing ground to anybody else, really, and in fact I was gaining on and passing people throughout miles 11 and 12, (despite running about a 6:27 mile 11 into the icy wind) it's just that EJ was walking away from me. Those were some difficult miles.

I was relieved to see the hill that starts at just before the 12 mile mark because it meant we were back downtown and out of the wind, and that the end was near. It was all blood and guts at that point, grinding all the way up the gradual hill to the KFC that signals the second to last turn. On the slight downhill before the final turn I actually was able to gain back some turnover and pass a few more people, and at the 13 mile marker the clock read 1:19:17. While I was glad do know what I needed to do to break 1:20, it was a little bit heart rending  to know it was obviously going to require a pretty painful finish. I kicked with whatever I had left for a 1:19:50 for 142nd overall (tough field!) and 19th M40.

EJ had done it again--a PR in 1:19:05 for 6th M50. We met up with the other Angry Chickens who were in ahead of us: Justin Patronick, Andrew Downey, Cody Freihofer and, Top Chicken o' The Day, James "The Kid" Sullivan with yet another breakout day: 1:13:42. James Deluca, running on a bad wheel, came in shortly after me with a big PR in 1:20:50. Then a wave of Angry Chickens came in with impressive performances.

Sully, EJ, and me. Irish Flag shorts for all GLRR runners next year! You can't argue with the results.
It didn't take much time standing around to start to get really cold, so I shuffle jogged to Bucci's car and tried to get the key from under one of the wheel wells, which was a lot harder than it should have been and involved getting face down on some cold pavement and almost not being able to get back up (long story.) Eventually I got the car open and started throwing layers of clothes on as fast as I could. As I did, X and Bucci showed up with a couple of new PRs. We got ourselves dressed and then headed to the Y for our chowder and fish sandwiches, and then a couple of doors down to the Cat Walk Bar for some beers and catching up with the GLRR crew. Another tough but great day in the Whaling City.

Give me a Guinness!
I feel pretty good about my race--about 75% pleased and about 25% wondering what I might have done if I'd been a little less aggressive from 5 through 7. At any rate it is only my 3rd sub 1:20 ever, and possibly ranks as my 2nd best HM considering that my 1:19:11 at Wilmington in 2010 was on a course that almost everyone agrees is about 150 meters short. This is the fittest I have ever been in March in a year when I wasn't about to run a marathon in April, so I've done what I wanted to do when I started this buildup last fall: I have given myself a chance for an honest try at the 5k this Spring.

The one nagging worry is my left hamstring which has been a problem in the late miles of the the last three long races I have run now--Jones, Stu's and now NB. And it was very tender the day after when I went for a little jog. I've been doing a lot of reading up on the whole hamstring/glute/hip system and I have a semblance of a plan to deal with it, but it is there in the back of my mind. We'll see. Like most runners, in addition to being a part-time meteorologist, I also dabble in orthopedics and physical therapy so I think I can manage it and keep it from becoming a real injury.

Onward.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Stu's 30k, a.k.a. the EJ show


The siren sounded to start the race and we all started running, nice and easily at first. There was none of the chaos of last Sunday's Jones 10-miler. EJ and I, and the rest of the 250 odd runners including several Angry Chickens, headed on down the road at a fairly comfortable (to start) pace. My plan was to take the first 5k at about 6:40 pace and then gradually ratchet up the effort from there. I had managed to convince EJ that if he stick with my pacing plan--which for me was more about the workout than the finish time--he'd get the sub 2 hour finish he was looking for.

We talked to a guy named Tom who works at Marathon sports--he had won a 10k where EJ had finished 2nd last year. It was a nice day for a run and we were rolling along without much effort. Our first 5k wound up a little slower than we planned, more like 6:45 pace, but there was plenty of time to fix that.

Running a long race with EJ is an uplifting experience. He makes a point to thank every volunteer and every cop directing traffic. He cheers for the people on the side of the road who are supposed to be cheering for us, or taunts them into cheering louder. This is contagious too--at one intersection around 3 or 4 miles into the race I waved and yelled "thank you!" to a cop on the other side of the road and EJ said, "Oh, thanks Mikey, I almost missed that one."

Maybe EJ loves whole running scene so much because he found running later in life. Or maybe I should say running found him. Sometimes it seems as if the sport of running sought out EJ because it needed him, and he took to it like a fish to water. At any rate, we're all better off that running found him.

Our 2nd 5k was a bit faster than planned, around 6:20 pace, and so it went for the next hour or so--I should have known trying to do a progression run on that roller coaster of a course was hopeless. We continued to turn up the effort and I tried not to worry too much about pace, which yo-yo'd with the hills--the trend was in the right direction. At one point we lost our buddy Tom.

We rolled along for a while and the miles peeled away--grinding the uphills and trying to roll like water on the downhills--catching someone once in a while but mostly having the road to ourselves. There were some snow flurries but the ground was dry and it wasn't too cold.

After about 15 miles my left hamstring was noticeably barking at me and I began to rethink my strategy of dropping the hammer and running the last 5k of the race with my hair on fire to try and get in under 2 hours. I was okay to keep banging out the 6:20-6:30's we were doing, but I felt like trying to do much more than that was going to put me into a level of effort I really didn't need a week after Jones and 2 weeks before New Bedford. But I could tell EJ was feeling pretty good and wanted to roll. We could see Reno Stirrat up ahead of us, along with a guy in a black CMS singlet.

Finally, I said to EJ, "If you're feeling it, go ahead."

EJ was feeling it.

He practically left a vapor trail as he took off up the road. Before I knew it he'd caught Reno and the CMS runner and was moving on to the next targets. It was a weird feeling to see him pulling away so fast because I could have sworn I hadn't really slowed down at all (and my splits would later show that I hadn't.) But in the 10k race pace that EJ was now dropping made the 6:20's we had been running look like walking.

By the time I made it through the town of Clinton and turned onto that last bitch of hill, EJ was no longer in sight. I crested the hill and began to turn my legs over again and and wound up finishing strong and feeling good. I finished in 2:01:17 and I was just fine with that--I accomplished what I wanted.

EJ had finished in 1:59:39.

I had run almost a 2 minute negative split and EJ had crushed that. His last 3+ miles went 5:52, 5:56, 6:20 (up the bitch of a hill) then back down to 5:50 pace for the last 3/4 mile. It was one of the most impressive finishes I've witnessed up close. Part of me wonders if I should have gone with EJ and tried to let him pull me to a sub 2 hour finish but make no mistake; I wasn't beating EJ today no matter what I did. He was a beast (you might say AoW.) And it was fun to watch.

Onward.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Jones 10-miler

SOMEWHERE IN THE 413 -- The first stop on the 2013 USATF NE Grand Prix tour took us to Amherst, MA for the Sugarloaf Mountain Athletic Club's (a.k.a. SMAC) Jones 10 miler. Who would pick a hilly 10-miler in February in Western Massachusetts as their Grand Prix 10-miler? Apparently we, the voting members of USATF New England would, that's who.

After two weekends of hellish snow in a row, the weather prognosticators really felt like they had their groove on and were trying hard to hype this weekend's minor winter weather event into something it thankfully did not become. The storm of the century turned into a bit of a nuisance with some rain, some snow and mostly just some wet roads. However, due to the threat of biblical weather, the race was pushed back from its original start time of 11am to 1pm, which, it turned out, was probably unnecessary but better safe than sorry.

I got to drive the cool kids car to this race--I made a couple of stops picking up GLRR teammates EJ Hrynowski and Kevin Carnabucci in Stoneham, and then Liane Pancost, Marli Piccolo and Ally Maslowski at the GLRR meeting spot at Drum Hill rotary in Chelmsford. Once everyone was on board, we were off to the 413. We got there plenty early so had time to pick up THE LARGEST RACE BIBS EVER, sit around, go to the bathroom a bunch of times, do a warm up jog, fret over what to wear, take pictures (see below) and hobnob with anyone who's anyone in  New England running, etc.

As it got near race time we left the warmth and comfort of the middle school to the start of the race about a quarter mile away in the driveway of the high school.  After much fretting, I had gone with just a singlet, arm warmers, gloves and hat. I was cold walking and standing around at the start, but that was probably about right. Once we got rolling I was fine.

The start, like all Grand Prix race starts, was pretty chaotic. I buried myself a few rows deep to keep from going out way too fast but that meant getting caught in the wash for the first few hundred yards. After about a quarter mile, Jason Bui and James DeLuca, my GLRR teammates I figured were going to run closest to the same time as me, were about 30 yards ahead and I was boxed in behind a big group. I had to do a little NASCAR style racing for a bit, but got out of the traffic and around the group so I could catch up to Jason and James--I figured if I had let them go there, I would have never see them again. It was a good move as we got into a good group that was rolling along nicely. I never saw a 1 mile marker but at mile 2 I had about 11:51 on my watch, which was okay given that the first couple of miles were net downhill--I had looked at the course profile and I knew we'd give it all back on the big uphill from 2.5 to 3.5 anyway.

The Hill starts on the straight stretch of road in the 3rd mile and goes on for a while but then you make a hard right turn and realize that it keeps going up for a while more, and gets pretty steep near the top. I tried to just stay relaxed here--I let Jason and James go a bit, knowing I'm not the best on the uphills and not wanting to get into any real difficulty so early in the race. There is a nice downhill to catch your breath and then the road flattens out a bit before becoming a dirt road. (Somewhere in here a GBTC woman spit on me--she apologized. Eh, we were all wet and about to get really muddy anyway.)

The dirt road could have been a lot worse. It was wet, there were a lot of puddles and there were a few sections near the reservoir where the where the snow was sticking and turning into a brown, soupy, slushy mess--but it was fairly runnable. Throughout this entire flat section I was reeling in Jason (and James to a lesser extent.) Somewhere on the muddy section I pulled alongside Jason and when we hit the pavement again at around mile 6 (maybe?) I asked him if the rest of it was paved--he confirmed it was which was a big relief. 

Miles 7 and 8 and the first bit of 9 were really nice--rolling, gradual downhill. I was running 6 pace or just under and making back some of the time I had given up on the uphills and muddy section.  At this point I pulled away from Jason a bit but he later told me I never got more than about 15 yards away. James wasn't getting any closer--he was running really strong up ahead--but I was catching and passing people through this whole section so I was okay with how things were going. Still, I knew there was a bitch of a hill looming just before mile 9.

When that last hill came, I figured at least this means we're getting close. My legs were actually getting cold  and I was glad there wasn't much left since I knew it wouldn't be long before they started cramping. I just put my head down and tried to grind away at that hill for a mile or so. Once I got up and over, I started letting my legs run and trying to turn them over again as fast as I could--Jason yelled for me to let it go and just then the finish came into view. On the downhill, just before the turn into the school you can see the finish loop and people finishing right in front of you and there is lots of good energy there.
Ouch! (photo credit: Krissy Koslosky)
I saw Sully (James Sullivan) looking like he'd been done for a while on the corner cheering for us and tried to bear down as much as I could at that point. I made it around the two hairpin turns and to the finish in 1:01:09. I'm fairly happy with that given the course and the conditions. I wound up 93rd overall and 14th M40 and 1st M40 runner for Greater Lowell, so not a bad day's work for a Grand Prix race. James DeLuca was in with a nice new PR at 1:00:30. Jason was right behind me in 1:01:13. EJ scored down to be 2nd master for GLRR and 1st for our M50 team, which took 2nd. There were lots of other great performances as well--too many to name. In the overall team race, Western Mass Distance Project cleaned up on their home course.

The star of the day for GLRR, though, was Sully who ran a massive, eye-popping PR of 56:22 for 30th place.

After rehashing for a few minutes with my teammates I started to get cold fast and was pretty eager to get inside and get some dry cloths on. Everybody got some food and we even sang "Happy Birthday" to Liane, who won her age group on her birthday--pretty cool.

The ride home was mostly uneventful and we seem to have beat the wort of the weather--as I type this it is snowing like a bastard out my window and has been for a couple of hours now. The winter that wouldn't die.

I'm not sure what my race tells me about my fitness for New Bedford--I think I can run a faster pace there than I did today, I'm just not sure by how much. There are still three weeks of training to go, and that will have something to say about it. But all in all I feel pretty good about my race. Onward.