Thursday, March 18, 2010

Falling Short

How do I expect to beat Spiridon with such puny runs? Good question.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Race Report: Shamrock 15K

Finishing time gives you a result, and I do worship at the altar of result. But as grandiose and overwrought as it might sound, for me the spiritual heart of running — the mysterious, timeless allure of the sport — is the challenge it offers to the idea of supreme effort.

Running asks the questions: Did I give it my all? What is my all?

This was top of mind for me while running today’s Shamrock 15K, especially during the nearly four-mile climb on the first half of the course. This is a brutal climb not because it is exceptionally steep, but because it’s not; at around 2 percent, you can't just concede and shuffle on up. No, on this gentle but steady grade you’re compelled to decide how fiercely you will go, how much pain you will trade for gain. It was here that I told myself, “Run this race harder than you’ve run any race before.”

I told myself this and tried to comply with the order. I have to confess, however, that I wasn’t entirely certain what it meant. An all-out uphill sprint two or three miles into a 9.3-mile race? That would be just stupid. I’d be fried, unable to finish strong, probably unable to finish at all. Some concession to good sense would be required. Yet being careful, making sure to leave something in the tank, well, the risk there is that the effort wouldn’t be the absolute one I was looking for.

So how do you know if you’re giving it your best effort? I suppose it comes down to starting the race with a realistic understanding of what you’re capable of doing. From varied and thoughtful training you can make rigorous, honest assessments about your fitness.

I’m usually pretty good at that, but with this race I almost got waylaid by a magical round number.

One hour.

Actually, 59:59, which is what one Red Lizard had taped on his back this morning. He had it as his race goal and so did another runner I know. In the week leading up to the race, I had begun to think maybe I could make a go at it.

Well, not really. But sort of. Kind of. Maybe. No, not really.

That’s the kind of mental gymnastics I was doing as I pondered my race strategy. When I finally did step to the line this morning, I wisely dismissed the idea of an hour being in play— but I held onto something. Something valuable. Contemplating the goal did, I think, shift my sense of what might be possible. I found myself expecting — not hoping — to be within a minute or so of that magic mark. True, that would be a substantial improvement over my PR at the distance, but that 1:04:48 was way back in 2007, and, yeah, I'm two and a half years older now, but I'm also fitter. Plus, I ran 31:53 last week at the Red Lizard 5-Miler, a 6:23/mile pace. Shouldn’t I be able to run near 6:30 miles for a 15K?

It was a chilly morning, with temps in the mid-30s at racetime. The air was calm. I noticed just a slight north wind occasionally rustling the line of blossom-filled cherry trees along the waterfront. I wore two layers of short-sleeved technical shirt, Nike Dri-Fit shorts, cotton gloves and no hat. My feet were entrusted to the battered Asics Hyper Speed 2s I’d been doing all my road racing in the past several months. I looked at them on the line and thought, “This is it, your last race; go out with a bang!” I'm sure they were inspired.

They call it Shamrock Run Portland but it’s actually several staggered runs, beginning with the 1K Leprechaun Lap, then the 5K Shamrock Race, the 15K Shamrock Challenge and finally the 8K Shamrock Run. Oh, and squeezed in there somewhere is the Shamrock Stride, a 3.5-mile “fitness walk.”

Race organizers serviced and herded some 21,000 participants in all, and did a good job at it. And they especially deserve credit for getting runners to self-seed according to their expected mile pace. I waited for the starting horn with the six- to seven-minute group, while a smaller bunch stood ahead of us, directly behind a placard reading 5-6 Minutes. It was all extraordinarily orderly for a big race.

The first mile of the course is flat, taking you north along the waterfront for a few blocks. It then dives east into the downtown area before turning south down Broadway. I felt fine with the pace but my heels and Achilles were a bit tight.

Once on Broadway the climbing begins. I looked at my Garmin from time to time, but somehow wasn’t really processing the data; I was running on feel. I kept thinking that I wanted the effort to be not just hard, but a bit beyond hard; I wanted to make sure it was as much as I could give without destroying myself.

Oh — mind if I go a little Euro on you here? I want to switch from using miles to using kilometers in talking about the race, because that’s the easiest way for me to understand my progress. After all, it was a 15K. Plus, even though I wasn’t shooting for it I was using an hour as a reference point, and that translates nicely to an even 4:00/kilometer pace. Think of it as three consecutive 20-minute 5Ks. Or a 40-minute 10K followed by a 20-minute 5K. Metric math, it’s a gas!

(And just a little bit more about the data I’m presenting: Garmin takes its own measurement of the course, of course, and by its accounting this 15 kilometer race was 15.24 kilometers. That “extra” quarter of a kilometer took me 51 seconds. So what I’ve done, to match my data with the certified course, is disperse those seconds equally among the Garmin’s 15 one-kilometer splits. Probably not a precise match with reality, but darn close.)

So the first two kilometers came in 4:04 and 4:03, just a little off the one-hour pace. Then gravity hopped on my back. Not knowing what numerical pace I should go, I again proceeded on feel. I’ve been running tons of hills lately — 30 miles of up-and-downness on Mount Tabor this past week, for instance — and felt comfortable and confident. From time to time my breathing would become labored and I’d notice tightness develop in the quads, but I’d just relax and remind myself how strong I was. It seemed to work out OK, and I climbed with splits of 4:22, 4:22, 4:12, 4:17 and 4:22 on kilometers 3-7.

At this point the course relented just a bit; there was additional elevation gain, but flats and declines were thrown into the mix. My eighth K was a 4:04 and ninth was a 4:10. This put us right around the turn from Terwilliger onto Barbur and it was about then that a guy pulled up alongside me and said, “Nothing but downhill now.” I figured that was the case, but wasn’t 100 percent certain. I wanted to know if this guy meant what he said literally — you don’t want to dispense with the possibility of more climbs and end up wrong. Major bummer. “Really?” I said, turning and looking right at the him. “Absolutely,” he said seriously. “You are done climbing.”

Usually, my approach to downhills — especially when preceded by a climb — is to take advantage of the opportunity to recover. Today, I told myself, that would not be good enough. Push. Push. Push. My body felt great; the tightness in the heel and the Achilles had dissipated, and my left hip — all my problems are on my left side — hadn’t uttered a peep all day. So downhill I went, going 3:57 for the next kilometer, putting me at 41:53 through 10K.

Even going downhill I knew I couldn’t run 18:06 on the final 5K and shock the world (you know, the Inside Pete’s Head world) by shattering the hour barrier. But I thought I could get under 20 minutes, landing me in the 1:01s for a finishing time. Push. Push. Push.

Things got a little crowded when the 8K runners joined our 15K route to the finish on Naito Parkway. I had to dance around some people and, to my surprise, found the experience more joyful than irksome. I think going downhill and nearing the finish were factors in that generous attitude. Kilometers 11-14 were 3:57, 3:52, 3:52 and 3:48.

We were on flat ground now, heading to the finish. I passed a girl and chased a guy. I went hard the whole way. As I crossed the timing mat I hit Stop on my Garmin and saw 1:01:03. And that was my official time, according to the not-quite-official results posted on the race site.

On the short MAX ride home I spent some time chatting triathlon with a fellow who wanted to but didn't do the race. An Ironman Canada veteran, he was on his way to the airport, heading to Brazil on business, and had seen my Ironman Coeur d'Alene bag. I tried not to babble too much about my race, but it was hard. They're always rewarding, these races. Always. Shamrock, though, it rated extra high and I was in the throes of a nice post-race buzz. The effort mysteries weren't solved for me on the streets of Portland today; I think it's in their nature never to be. But I feel like I got closer to some truth.

1K: 4:04
2K: 4:03
3K: 4:22
4K: 4:22
5K: 4:12 21:03
6K: 4:17
7K: 4:22
8K: 4:04
9K: 4:10
10K: 3:57 41:53 (2nd 5K: 20:50)
11K: 3:57
12K: 3:52
13K: 3:52
14K: 3:48
15K: 3:41 1:01:03 (3rd 5K: 19:10)

106/3,639 overall
95/1,733 men
8/203 m45-49