Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Mile

It had been 25 years since my last track race when I finally made it to one of the BU mini meets on Saturday.  Now all I can wonder is what took me so long.

Having never done one of these meets I had no clue how it would flow and so I got there really early (9am for a 10am meet) not knowing what time I would run. I asked one of the BU athletes at check in for her best guess on when the mile heats would start and she said, "Eleven-thirty, maybe?" Yikes. I had a lot of nervous energy so after a quick jog over to Star Market for some quarters to feed the parking meter, I shed some layers and did some jogging on the 1-lane warm-up track that surrounds the actual track. At just past 10 o'clock, they started with the 3000m heats.

They called the first heat as the "8:35 and under" section and I thought a bunch of the guys must have given some wishful seed times. But no. The whole field was comprised of college runners or recent college grads, mostly D1 guys. Eric Ashe of the BAA, and BU alum, won the heat in 8:06.07 (!) and every guy in the heat was under 8:35. Wow. I was a bit intimidated at that point but as the heats wore on, it became clear that there really were runners of all ages and speeds and that with so many runners in each event, you wound up with really tight grouping in the heats so there was real racing going on throughout, with almost nobody ever running in no man's land. The heats went fast with very little down time in between--as soon as the last runner in a heat went by, they called the next section onto the track like clockwork. And so it went.

The last 3 heats of the 3000 had 16-20 runners each so they got through it in 4 heats and immediately started with the 400. They announced that there would be 12 heats of the 400 but I figured those would fly by so it was probably only 15-20 minutes until the mile heats would begin. I moved my gear bag down onto the infield and intermittently did some more jogging and some strides and drills to stay loose. I still had no idea how many mile heats there would be, or which section I would be in but judging by the number of skinny people still warming up or stretching on the infield, I knew there would be a whole bunch.

The 400 indeed went by in a flash and they called the first mile heat to check in--the sub 4:20 heat. As the heats went by the seed times were only inching up incrementally and by the 4th heat they were still calling 4:40 and under. Apparently the calendar worked out such that a lot of high school kids were able to make this 2nd of the 3 mini meets and most of them were running the mile. Around this time I bumped into Kieran Murphy, a friend from the Shamrock Running Club. He had run these before and it was good to see a familiar face and get some coaching on how things would go.

Eventually they called my seed time (I had given 5:05 which was a wild guess based on my best 5k from October) and I found out I was seeded 11 of 12 runners in the 8th of 13 sections of the mile. After waiting around all day, everything seemed to speed up now and the next thing I knew they were calling the 7th section onto the track and I would be up next. I took off my watch, stuck my lane number on the shoulder of the ole Greater Lowell singlet, moved over toward the starting line and watched the end of the 7th section.

Then they called us onto the track and, just like that, the waiting was over. My seed time put me into a crazy mix of a heat with about 3 other masters men, a whole bunch of high school boys, and a couple of recent college grad women. On the line I had a tall high school kid to my left and a petite New Balance Boston woman to my right. The official checked each of our numbers, confirmed our last names and then the starter gave us our instructions.

"Bang!" We were off.

Immediately the tall kid inside me on the line threw a flying elbow right into my chest and it was game on. Within 30 meters I was near the back of the pack just hanging on for dear life as this crazy organism hurled itself around the roller derby track. When we came around the 2nd turn onto the front straightaway I was near panic but once I saw the clock I settled down. I hit the finish line at 38 seconds which was right where I wanted to be--except in the haze of racing I didn't even process that that was actually my 209 meter split, not the 200, so I was ahead of schedule. I was just fine where I was near the back. I went through 400 (again, actually 409) in 74/75 and by the 800 I was sitting dead last but hit it right at 2:30. Now it was all starting to get fuzzy. Kieran was doing some really good in-race coaching for me, yelling splits and telling me what to do. He told me to "stay on that CSU guy!" and I obeyed, moving past someone to get on the CSU guy's shoulder. People were coming back and I was passing them and having to run in lane 2 for most of the time now.

The last split I remember was 1000, which was about 3:06/3:07. Kieran was telling me 600 to go and for a split second I heard it as 6 laps and momentarily backed off before I processed what that meant--holy shit it was go time. Kieran yelled again, "You have to go by him, NOW!!" and as utterly insane and crazy as that sounded, I moved out and started grinding my way past the CSU guy. The entire rest of the way was one giant mess of trying to work past other runners and none of them giving in--just complete and utter hand to hand combat for the entire last 600. By the time I was on my last lap I was trying to go by another tall high school kind and his coach was screaming at him from the infield not to let me go by. The kid never gave in and as I whipped myself around the last turn I got ready to throw every last gasp of energy I had at the final straight.

I simultaneously could not even believe how much my throat and chest (and whole body) were burning at this point, or how totally unfazed I was by it.

Off the final turn I think I remember seeing the clock at 4:51 and just running out everything that was in me, practically throwing myself through the finish line. It was all blurry and messy but I just did inch past the kid I had been racing for the whole last lap even though that didn't matter any more. It was all about the clock now. I knew I had broken 5 and only at that moment did I mentally acknowledge how important it had been to do that, and how, deep down, sub 5 had been the only goal I had from the moment the idea of entering this meet even took seed in my brain. The hit of adrenaline, the knowledge that I had done it, and the unbelievable burning in my chest and head was quite the rush--I recommend it.

I managed to let go the railing without falling down (nice!) so I staggered down the banked turn onto the infield where Kieran congratulated me and I kinda-maybe gasped some words of thanks or at least tried to. It was a while before I could breathe somewhat normally and the dry air triggered a whole avalanche of asthma and allergy issues for me that I'm still dealing with and probably will be until mid week. Whatever. It was completely worth it.

At the end of the day I ran 4:58.94 for 6th out of 12 runners in the 8th of 13 sections at a low-key, holiday all comers meet. It was one of the best running experiences I have ever had--my first track race and first sub-five-minute mile since high school.

As I drove home from BU I felt like Zeus standing on Mount Olympus throwing thunder bolts at the tiny people below. If my throat hadn't been so sore I might have yelled out the window at people on the street, "Hey, I just ran a sub-five-minute mile, what did YOU do this morning??"

It was that awesome.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Mill Cities Relay (and a bunch of other stuff)

I woke up on the morning of Tuesday, November 20th (the day after Monkey Weekend) covered in glitter, with a splitting headache and stinging quads, to find I had joined the Greater Lowell Road Runners.

Well, not really, but that's sort of how it happened. I was pretty sure I was going to join GLRR for 2013 anyway, for a bunch of reasons both competitive and social, and after spending all weekend with EJ, Sully, Bash and Eric, the deal was sealed. I came home, signed up, and emailed Jason Bui, who was organizing the club's entries for Mill Cities, and told him I was available if he needed any masters runners.

The next thing I knew I was slotted for the 9.5-mile leg (the long leg) on GLRR's scoring men's masters team along with Titus Mitunda, Carlos Flores, Ken Cain and Keith O'Brien. No pressure.

Long before this I had committed to John Bogosian, who is a board member at the Special Olympics, that I would run the Jolly Jaunt, a big fund raiser for them, which falls the day before Mill Cities. I had initially planned to race it but changed plans to a tempo run once I committed to Mill Cities. On race morning I carpooled in with Chris Ritondo, we did a nice long warmup around the common, and then I ran a nice-n-easy 19:09--a solid 2 minutes slower than my best recent 5k. It was cold, snowy and mostly fun, and afterward our fund raising team, "Johnny's Angels," went to the Bean Town Pub for some post-race refreshments.

Team Johnny's Angels
I've never done a 5k tempo the day before a race but I had a feeling I wouldn't feel any worse for wear on Sunday morning. Luckily, I was right. I had to leave the house early to meet my teammate, Ken Cain, who was running the leg before me. We dropped my car at the 4th exchange (where I would finish) and he drove me to the start of my leg where I met some of my new GLRR teammates and did a short warmup jog before getting ready to roll.

This race epitomizes everything that is awesome about the New England running scene--it is 100% for runners by runners. Mill Cities is a 28-mile, 5-leg relay that starts in Nashua, NH and follows the Merrimack River through Hudson, Tyngsboro, Lowell and Methuen to the finish at the Claddagh Pub in Lawrence, MA. The race is organized by the 20 or so clubs that make up the Mill Cities alliance, and is open only to teams from those clubs. There are awards (bricks) for the top 3 teams in each division, and for the top 3 clubs in the overall championship.

Expecting a 9:15-ish hand-off, I got up front to the exchange zone at around 9 as runners--mostly sunshine starters from the older age groups at first, but then some men's open teams--started to come through. Before I knew it I heard people yelling "66, Greater Lowell" and I jumped down onto the path and got ready to run. I got the hand-off from Ken and took off and just like that I was racing.

Clearly Titus, Carlos and Ken had killed it on their legs because I was in some elite company when I got the stick. Just ahead of me was Joe Navas of Whirlaway's men's masters team, soon after starting I was passed by Pat Moulton running for Gate City's men's open team, and Ben Ndaya of our coed open team. I had to just chill out and relax and not worry about any of that--most teams naturally put their fastest runner on the long leg and we hadn't done that so I just needed to run my race. I figured we were in the top few teams but I wasn't sure where since it was hard to tell who was on a men's masters team that had gone through before I got the hand-off. I was pretty sure Somerville and Whirlaway were ahead of me, and probably Gate City.

The miles were very well marked along the (sometimes icy) bike path and on Route 110. My first mile was really slow (6:35) as I was basically frozen. I left too much time in between my brief warm-up and getting the hand off and I was practically shivering. After that first mile, though, I started to loosen up and everything was between 6 and 6:10, which was right around where I had planned to be for the first 7 miles or so. For the last 2.5, I definitely got down under 6 pace but had stopped looking at my watch and was just running to the barn at that point. I probably got passed by 5 or 6 runners throughout the leg (and passed a bunch too) but I *think* they were all open division folks. So I held serve and reached the exchange zone in about 57:55 (6:06 pace)...where I did not see Keith, whom I was supposed to hand off to. Uh, oh. I stood there waiting for someone to track him down. It seemed like forever but it was probably only 30-45 seconds and we didn't lose any places to MM teams, so no harm / no foul I guess.

I felt pretty good about my run given that I was about 6 weeks past my peak for the season and really should be in recovery mode at this point. It was the perfect exclamation point to a condensed come back season that was only designed to give me a starting point to build on for next spring. Mission accomplished and then some.

I did a short cool-down with Bash and then put on some warm clothes and drove to the Claddagh. The short  drive to the Claddagh was actually one of the coolest parts of the day for me. Seeing that long string of different colored club singlets stretching off into the distance was a cool sight and made me really appreciate all that we have here in the New England running community. So cool.

At the end of the day, our men's masters team finished 4th--so no brick for us. We chipped in 10 points toward the club championship, though, and GLRR wound up 3rd overall.

The Brick
The after party at Mill Cities is pretty epic as far as road race after parties go and it was especially cool since I was meeting a lot of my GLRR club mates for the first time. I am utterly convinced this is the best club for me and I am really psyched for 2013. I'm not gonna lie, I'm already looking forward to Mill Cities 2013.

The after party!