Chasing Spiridon

Monday, July 4, 2011

Race Report: Foot Traffic Flat Half

Every race distance deserves respect. Run a 10K hard enough to where you’re ready to puke on the person grabbing your finishing tag at the end, then work at whittling down that time. This is no less a running challenge than the just-finish marathons many people do. Still. Stepping up to a half-marathon after a spring sprinkled with 5Ks, 5-milers and 10Ks definitely gave me a tingle of excitement today. Plus, it’s a pretty big crowd at the Foot Traffic Flat Half, capped at 2,000, with some fasties among 'em.

Conditions were perfect for the early-morning race out on bucolic Sauvie Island: sunny, temperature around 55 and a little breeze from the north as we got going around 6:50 a.m., 15 minutes after the full runners took to the roads. Temps quickly jumped into the 60s – and it hit 70 by noon – so those running the full might have faced some heat issues. Remember, this is Portland, where most before-work runners have been enjoying gray skies and 40s and 50s all through their marathon build. Acclimation is a key factor in faring well in hot weather (or cold, for that matter), and through our cool, soggy spring there was little opportunity for most people to prepare for so much sun. Of course, living the luxurious life of a freelancer, and preferring to do my running in the afternoon or early evening, I had an edge in this regard. Plus, today, well, by the time my half was over the sun was just beginning to really crank.

So: Do you need to hear about how early I had to get out of bed this morning in order to make it onto the island in time for the race? About the fireworks the night before when I was trying to fall asleep at a decent hour? About the warming up, the hitting of the porta-potties, the marveling at the diversity of the gathered and all that other pre-race stuff? I didn’t think so. But, yes, in order not to disappoint I will say a few words about that bit of baggage every hardcore runner carries into a race: expectations.

I’d been running more frequently the last few months, but total volume was down from the glory days of aught-nine – What days! – due to the ankle that rankles. Most runs had been in the 5-8 mile range, with literally nothing over 12. My biggest week was in the low 40s, a pittance compared to the 70+ weeks I regularly hammered in 2009. But the quality had been pretty good, with those shorter races and tons of hills – so I went to the line thinking I had a shot at sub-90, if all went well, even if it might only be 1:29:59. That’s well off my 1:28:51 half-marathon PR, but if I could manage to sneak under an hour and a half on light training and come away with the ankle still connecting the foot and the leg, hey, I was more than ready to take that.

Nothing that happened over the first few miles suggested to me that I’d do better than I had hoped. Per habit I let the race excitement carry me to a couple of quick opening miles, 6:38 and then 6:39, as I glued myself to some people who looked like they might be my speed. Except for one who fell away, they weren’t: They pulled away in Mile 3 as I settled down to a 6:54 split, followed by a 6:56 on Mile 4.

Yep, headed to 90 minutes or thereabouts, I was thinking as we hung a U-turn on a short spur to the course before rejoining the big loop at the south end of the island.

Then, heading northeast across the island in the middle stages of the race, I actually began to wonder if I might not make 90 minutes. I wasn’t dying, but the breeze had picked up and at several points was right in our faces. I tried to shield myself by tucking in behind a tall guy in a red shirt – he had been just in front of me much of the way. Then another guy came and hooked alongside him, so I had the two of them to draft behind. That helped a bit, as did their chatting; it was just running talk, but listening to it helped give my mind a break from the race. Mile 5 (before we hit the wind) was 6:46, then came 6:50, 6:57, 6:55 and, for Mile 9, 6:56. The chatting duo pulled away a few times and I didn’t strain to keep up. They looked stronger than me and though I never explicitly said it to myself, in the back of my mind I believe I was anticipating I would fade. Nothing dramatic, just the gradual leaking away of pace, a second or two each mile, the way it usually happens as longer races ware on. But I wasn’t worried: I just wanted to stay calm, stay comfortable, enjoy the fresh summer morning and let the race unfold. That’s kind of a cool thing you get to do when you aren’t gunning for a PR.

But things took a strange turn as we bended south for the last quarter of the race.

With the wind at our backs, I caught back up and then went on ahead of my erstwhile compatriots. I checked myself to make sure I wasn’t being stupid, but all the feedback was thumbs up. I wasn’t killing myself. I was pushing, but I was cruising. Mile 10 was a 6:39. Hitting that marker, feeling good, knowing there was just 5K to go – I was damn near elated. I can keep this up for 5K! I told myself. Ninety minutes was in the bag and I wondered briefly if a PR might be possible. But the calculations proved daunting to do and, anyway, I was simply having too much fun to care. So I maintained the pace. Stepped it up a little, actually, doing a 6:35 on Mile 11, matched by another 6:35 on Mile 12. The island is pancake flat – duh – and the finish area had long been within sight. Now I could smell it. I motored on past the Red Lizard aid station around 12.5 miles, figuring it was too late to make a difference and would just slow me down.

A quick digression on nutrition: Nailed it. Drank water or Nuun at I’d guess four of the seven aid stations. Ate my own Gu just beyond the four-mile mark. Grabbed a Hammer Gel around, hmm, the nine-mile mark? I’d done several half-marathons without much in the way of carbs, and it might be that boosting the intake made a difference today. Hard to say based on one trial, of course, but seemed that way.

Back to the race: Way back around Mile 3 a guy in an orange singlet had gone by me looking very strong. He had come back into view around the 10-mile mark, and provided a nice target during the final stages of the race. I was closing on him, and closing on him, and closing on him. As we turned into the Pumpkin Patch entry, where the race started and finished, I had the margin down to 10 yards or so. Wasn’t able to get him, but he did me a big favor over those last few miles, staying strong and pulling me along.

My Mile 13 split was 6:28, then came some 31 seconds for that dastardly remaining 0.1 mile to the end. By my watch, it all added up to a 1:28:19. Officially, it was 1:28:21, a half-minute PR.

Which sets up kind of an interesting situation for me tomorrow. See, last week, frustrated over months of persistent pain despite my best efforts to take care of it, I made an appointment to see a podiatrist about my ankle (it’s actually my ankle and foot). That appointment is tomorrow morning. I’m thinking a half-marathon PR 24 hours earlier might not be good for my credibility when I describe this injury! Any sane person, any doctor, would have to ask: Are you truly hurt? I don’t want to get into a long discussion of the injury here. I will just say that in 10 years of doing endurance stuff with great fervor I’ve never really been sidelined by anything, so you can be assured I’m pretty good at both taking care of myself and toughing out the owies. But this is a weird one: It doesn’t get much worse when I run – today it was a minor nuisance, and I was able to put it out of my mind almost the entire way – and it doesn’t get much better when I don’t run. But it always at least kind of hurts, and sometimes hurts quite badly. Mainly, I’m seeing the doc because I want to be sure that running – which I can obviously do, though with some discomfort – isn’t risking turning whatever this is into a completely debilitating injury. I’ll try to follow up with a post on how the appointment goes. Meanwhile, wow, the warm glow of a PR. It’s nice.

Official Results:
6:44/mile pace
60/1639 overall
54/571 men
2/56 M45-49

UPDATE: Was the Flat Half course short? There has been much discussion of that possibility in the days since the race. Runners were consistently reporting Garmin readings from a tenth to two-tenths shy of the required 13.1 miles (or 13.1093787, to be precise). My own reading was 12.94. I'll be exploring course measurement issues in a future post, so I won't get into details here. But this message on the Red Lizard board strongly suggests the Garmins were wrong and the course was indeed 13.1.

UPDATE II: Alas, the Flat Half distance dissection was not complete with that previous update. A subsequent and very solid-seeming measuring of the course brings us back to the 12.9X guestimate. The upshot: This was a damn good run on fairly sketchy training, but no PR. If the course had been a true 13.1, I would have come in around 1:29.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

New York: Slow to Arrive

Typically, I’m on this stuff within a few days. Run it, think it, write it. But NYC … NYC was different. NYC wasn’t a race, I guess that’s the main thing. It was a foray, a Northwest-Northeast cross-country weekend bolt, a visit with friends, a tour of the metropolis. There’s no tale of running derring-do to tell. No bid for sub-three glory here. As a runner, I arrived in a shambles and was glad not to leave in whatever a degraded shambles is called. I ran four or five times in September, did a 15-miler, hmm, three weeks before the race? Then I ran once or twice more in the 10 days before Race Day, November 7. This was for the simple reason, as I explained earlier, that my body, this summer past, said: Enough, emphasizing the point with all manner of woes. So as far as a goal went, it was to survive the race without any of my issues blowing up, to return from New York not on crutches, not in need of immediate surgery, and then able to go about the business of not running for a long time while the injuries healed. And this has come to pass, or, at least, is unfolding.

Despite missing a PR by one hour and ten minutes, there’s very little more I could have asked of the 26.2 miles from Staten Island through Brooklyn, Queens, into Manhattan, over the East River to touch toe on Bronx soil before returning to Manhattan, and on into Central Park for the finish. I freaking adored the crowds. All of us were heroes, fasties and plodders alike. In Brooklyn especially I remember feeling the crowd in a way I hadn't in a race since Boston. And First Avenue was everything I hoped it might be, a big gambol up the broad boulevard. It was there that I finally hooked up with Steve. Forty-thousand runners and we found each other. I got a big kick out of being next to my old pal as he crossed the finish line in a time more than a half-hour better than what he’d done at Berlin, his previous marathon. And it was pure delight to be greeted by Mary Anne’s then-4.97-year-old daughter, Mara, afterward, who eying the finisher’s medal dangling from a ribbon around my neck squealed, “Pete, you won!”

Indeed I had. I had jetted from Portland to New York, had dinner with Mary Anne, then met a succession of her cool friends, spent time with the aforementioned cutie-pie Mara, as well as her father, the inimitable Miro…. And when it seemed like there would be scant Steve time, we ended up with several hours together the day before the race, and he got to meet Mary Anne and she him, and I was glad for that. It was just a swell weekend. Not that I don’t have a complaint! Call me a wimp but I’m never doing the New York City Marathon again. I do not want to sit my candy ass out in the early-morning cold at Fort Wadsworth for three hours before taking off on a marathon. Great race. Stupid pre-race.

A little album of pictures I took during the race is online.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Autumn Leaves: Among Real Runners

Nothing like a concurrent 50M/50K to make you feel like an absolute slacker for racing 10K. But given the circumstances, I was happy to be able to do anything at all yesterday. I'd barely run in the past two months as the bill for hammering four consecutive PR marathons in just over nine months, from September 2009 to July 2010, finally came due.

It was right after that 5K PR at Nike HQ when things began going to hell. My left hip stepped up first: There was a period there of about a week where simply walking caused stunning pain right in the joint. I'm not sure if whatever was causing that problem subsided or if it was just overwhelmed by the next injury: the left foot/heel/ankle/Achilles. (I've been plowing through DVDs of "The Wire" recently, and whenever I think about my left foot/heel/ankle/Achilles, I hear Bunk muttering, quietly but with great power and resonance, "Motherfucker.") I'm vague about pinpointing this ailment's location because its location, unlike me recently, moves around a lot. I won't bore you with excruciating detail as to its meanderings (and the ever-shifting amateur diagnoses I rendered) — there's enough about this post already that's excruciating — so I'll fast-forward to right now: I don't think it's primarily an Achilles problem, and instead could be a bone spur in the heel that's aggravating the Achilles as well as, intermittently, the heel, ankle and part of my left arch.

The good news is that it didn't actually hurt that much yesterday out at Champoeg State Park for Autumn Leaves, the final race in the Oregon Road Runners Club's 2010 10K Series. This place is about 45 minutes south of home, in farm country about halfway between Portland and Salem, right on the Willamette as it twists its way up the valley toward the Columbia. The 50 folks started at 6 or 7 a.m. but the shiftless 10K crowd didn't go until 10 a.m. The morning was mild, in the low 50s, and utterly still. The ground was wet and sitting in the car before the race, playing Scrabble on the Kindle with Niko while we waited for go time, an occasional wispy rain that took about 10 minutes to obscure our view through the windshield fell.

Onto the race: This course was a little different than the Champoeg 10K course we ran in March, trading a mile or so of paved bike path for single track mush. That made it more fun and maybe a tad less fast. In any case, I acted as though nothing had changed, including my fitness: I tore through the first kilometer as though I were still in good shape, turning in a 3:42 split. And then came a 3:50. One guy was way out front but I was in a good group that appeared gunning for sub-40. My March time was 39:49, so why not join them, right? I'll tell you why not: running between zero and 15 miles per week (and more often zero than anything else) won't cut it. As I labored, slowing gradually, off they went. From the third kilometer on I was pretty much alone, overtaking ultra runners and watching ultra runners on the out-and-back portion of the course approach and go by.

Mostly I agonized, my legs and lungs protesting the injustice, the sheer inhumanity of making them race on no training. But once or twice my mind flashed back to 2007 when, eight months removed from my fifth marathon and having done no run longer than 13.1 miles since, I took on the 50M at Autumn Leaves. I remembered that during that very long day of labor the 10K runners provided an odd sort of boost as I cast them as unworthy warriors among we the heroic ones willing to take on the long run. Do your cute little 10K and then go home and have beers and watch football and pretend like you're a runner in front of your friends, they might even believe you, I said to myself. Just stay out of my way as I take on a real challenge. I didn't actually believe any of this, but during a 50-mile run you take advantage of every little bit of empowering inspiration you can find.

So how about it, 50-mile and 50-kilomter people: Were you mocking me? Wouldn't have been inappropriate on the second half of the race, that's for sure. After splitting the first half of the 10K in 20:10, I crawled to the finish in 21:39, adding up to a 41:49. This was my slowest time of the six Series races I ran, but I'm happy enough. Doing the Series was cool, because the ORRC people are so nice and friendly and each race had a unique appeal. Also, being signed up for the eight races was a good motivator to get out there and do them (although, in truth, my biggest problem is probably racing too much). I made six out of the eight races, missing Hagg Lake in May because it was the day before the Eugene Marathon, and I am not that hardcore, and missing the Garlic Festival in August because it was the morning after the Friday night Catnip 5K, which I barely finished due to the aforementioned injuries. My Series six:

January 3: Y2K — 40:23
March 6: Champoeg Park — 39:49
May 31: Up The Lazy River — 41:44
June 5: Run For The Roses — 41:00
September 25: ORRC Best Dam Run — 39:41
October 30: Autumn Leaves — 41:49

Now it's onto New York for the marathon. I know, WTF am I doing running a marathon in this state of disrepair? Eh, I'm not racing; I'm just running for fun. Gonna visit an old friend and colleague and tour New York with my bud Steve as he tries to shave a big fat slab of minutes off his first-time marathon time. Then, upon my return, I might get on the horn and make an appointment to see a doctor about that foot/heel/ankle/Achilles.