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.


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.