Monday, October 25, 2010

Baystate 2010, it was a good season

Last Sunday was the Baystate Marathon in Lowell. It was, I suppose, my goal race for the 2010 season.

I ran a respectable 2:49:56, my 2nd fastest ever, but I did it the hard way--going through half way on pace for a 2:47:30. As the splits (1:23:45 / 1:26:11) would indicate, it was a very tough second half. In hindsight it's easy to say that if all I was going to do is run 2:49 again, there are easier ways to do it, but all indications were that 2:47-mid was realistic and so it was worth a shot, no regrets.

Marathons are just really, really hard if you race them. There's no way around it. There is a process of eliminating possibilities that goes on where at the start you're just trying to give yourself as good a chance as possible for a great day--you can't accomplish anything in the first half but you can throw a lot of goals away if you're not careful. As you get deeper and deeper into the race, the universe of possible outcomes gets smaller and smaller and the runner's job is to continue to pursue the best possible outcome on the day. Faster is always better. It's a damn hard job.

I was racing my friend Andrew and we started together. We ran shoulder to shoulder for the first half and then, just past the halfway mark, he took off up the road. I was already starting to feel the effects of the slightly too fast first half--my right hamstring was beginning to tighten badly, and I knew that if I went with Andrew there would be a huge blow up on the horizon. I had a feeling Andrew was committing race suicide himself at that point, but you never know. Maybe he was having a breakthrough day. All I knew is I had to run my race. He opened up about an 80 meter gap on me by about the 17 mile marker but by the time we reached the Tyngsboro Bridge for the 2nd time (around 18 miles) the gap was not increasing and it may have been shrinking. I reeled Andrew in over the next 3 miles or so and eventually passed him between 20 and 21--it's a bit hazy exactly where.

Andrew and I exchanged some encouraging words and then I moved by and within a couple of minutes I didn't hear his footsteps anymore and the reality of what was ahead of me started to sink in. The race with Andrew was basically over, the goal of 2:47 was out the window, a PR was starting to look really unlikely, so what was left to fight for? The best possible outcome. It's vague and trite, but when you're suffering that bad it's all there is. Maybe I could still get in under 2:50 for only the 2nd time in my life. Maybe not. All I knew was I had enough invested to that point that I was going to leave no doubt. The lowest finish time, the lowest place, the best result I could get, whatever that was--nothing left to think about, go until they wrap you in mylar, I told myself.

The last 3 or 4 miles of the race were some of the most difficult of my racing life and I don't have the energy to recount the details. My pace was slipping, my hamstring was becoming a real problem and there was the nagging feeling that it could all go bad in a second and I might not finish the race. Baystate has a 1 mile to go mark and at that point I looked at my watch and realized I needed to run a 7 minute mile to break 2:50 and I wasn't sure I could do it. But it was worth trying.

When I finally reached the entrance to the stadium and the 26 mile marker I felt like, because I was still actually running, I would at least get the sub 2:50. My friend Jeff was there on the outfield grass in his mylar sheet having just wrapped up a 2:35 PR and gave me some encouragement as I began my kick, such as it was, around the warning track. A figure in a red Whirlaway singlet and black hat came into view and I thought it looked like my friend Dan who had gone for sub 2:30, but how could that be? It was--the marathon is a bitch.

I finished. I never gave in, so there's that. It wasn't a PR, or really anything, but another marathon and yet I was mostly satisfied.

Later, after putting on layers of dry clothes, chatting with other marathoners, eating some of the post-race grub and meeting up with my wife and girls for some well needed hugs, I shuffled over to Beerworks and met friends for a few beers and grub on the patio. My friend and training partner, Mark, was the only one there before me. We swore off marathons together, again.

It was a good season. From August 1st on, I ran a 17:08 5k (fastest in 6 years), a 1:19 half marathon (fastest in 6 years and 2nd fastest ever) and my second sub-2:50 marathon. And yet, I'm ambivalent. I guess that's how this works--we're never truly satisfied. But it was a good day, mostly. A good, hard day.

The end.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Counting down to go

I've been remiss in keeping up with this blog lately, which is generally a good thing. It means I'm too busy for navel gazing.

Since my last update I've put together one of the best two months of training and racing I can ever remember as I aim this building tsunami of racing fitness (by my standards) at October 17th and the Baystate Marathon. In general, a marathon is always the end of a racing season for me--I'm not one of those freaks who can run several marathons off of a single block of training and I have neither the interest, nor the budget to do a succession of sub-maximal marathons in the interest of earning a t-shirt or entry into some club or what have you. With the exception of perhaps the 2008 Flying Monkey, which I ran 5 weeks after a PR effort at Baystate, every marathon I've run has been an all-in effort, which means I'm done for the season after that.

This time there is the added finality that a few hours after I finish Baystate and enjoy some food and post-race beers with friends, I will board a plane for Las Vegas and my company's world-wide sales kickoff that runs Sunday to Thursday. I'm not sure I'll even bring running shoes. Okay who am I kidding, yeah I will.

This fact has been quite liberating. In running terms, I'm not at all looking beyond a week from Sunday. That's the end of the earth for me. At some point after Vegas I'll hit the reset button and put some new goals on the calendar and begin the process of starting over, but we'll jump of that bridge when we come to it. I'm living in the now.

Here's what I've done since my last update:

  • Week of 8/9 -- 74 miles including 2 decent workouts
  • Week of 8/16 -- 78 miles indcluding Saunders 10k in 36:37 (14th) and a 20+ mile long run
  • Week of 8/23 -- 80 miles including 1 good track workout and a 20+ miler on the Baystate course with Mark and Dan
  • Week of 8/30 -- 73 miles with one decent workout and no long run with Cape Ann on Monday
  • Week of 9/6 -- 82 miles including Cape Ann 25k in 1:37:28 (15th) and Street Faire 5k in 17:18 (2nd) the day after an 18 miler
  • Week of 9/13 -- 82 miles including 2 decent workouts and a 21.5 mile long run on roads and trails
  • Week of 9/20 -- 73 miles including 1 decent workout and the Wilmington Half Marathon in 1:19:13 (1st)
  • Week of 9/27 -- 66 miles including an unplanned day off (sick) and yet a really good 18 miler with 6 miles at sub MP on Sunday.

The only one of those weeks I can find any fault with is last week, where I was dealing with a bad cold and took a day off. Even then Sunday's workout went so well I didn't even worry about the lower mileage. They hay's in the barn.

This weekend I'll get a little greedy and see if I can squeeze a 5k PR out of this cycle before I spend everything I've got left on Baystate. The old 5k / 42k double. It's worth a try--you gotta get while the gettin's good.