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.