Friday, April 23, 2010

The Long and the Short of It - A Weekend of PRs

My racing season in 2009 was marred by injuries... and a lot of racing. 

It really seems ironic, but in the winter I was coming back from the IT band injury that killed my marathon aspirations, and caused me to spend the better part of the winter dealing with getting the injury diagnosed and rehabbed.  But with slight recovery, and a passion to seize the day whenever possible, I hit the trails often when I was mildly able to do so.

I learned a lot in 2009, got to spend many, many miles with trail running friends, and though it was a slow progression sometimes, I was able to see a lot of trails Eastern New England has to offer.  With all of the miles and smiles and dirty socks, I still had that desire to improve.

Nevertheless, my thoughts for 2010 have been based in going longer and simply experiencing more of the ultramarathon life.  This began with the decision to do the Hyannis Marathon on short training.  10 weeks later I found myself running the final .2 in tears at the culmination of a goal nearly 4 years in the making.  This was also a great experience because I basically had no side effects from the marathon, and was able to basically train through the marathon.

Then my fiasco at Eastern States put things into perspective, and I have been testing the limits of my IT band to see exactly how far I can go with the sore, rapidily tightening IT band.

So last weekend's 20 miles in the woods was a nice reminder that I might be okay to a degree.  A few days later I had a hard day at the office and just laced up the shoes and took off for an easy run... an easy half marathon... who does that?  I ended up only adding ultra walking breaks a couple times, and covered the 13.5 miles in about 1:51, which a half marathon split of 1:47:44.  This was particularly impressive considering my current PR for the distance was set in Sept. 2008, where I ran 1:46:32 at the Run for the Rock in Plymouth.

Fast forward to the weekend.  The usual suspects in The Gang were all headed off to various Ultra pursuits in either Connecticut (Traprock 50k) or here in Massachusetts (Don't Run Boston 50s).  Bummed out that I was missing out on Traprock, I knew I wanted to race, and I found that the 'Chase the Gorilla Down Argilla 5k' was happening on Saturday.  Chase the Gorilla is one of those iconic races you see on CoolRunning and joke about doing one day, so I figured I'd give it a whirl.

When I was physically able to come back to running, I trained and ran a couple of 5ks in the Spring of 2007.  Both of which were clocked in over 23 minutes, and I remember how absolutely exhausted I was after running both.  This was rather frustrating given the fact that I really only felt the same hurt after running MUCH faster when I was in college.  It also puts into perspective all those afternoons spent sulking in my dorm room because had a bad, slow race and ran 32 minutes for 5 miles.

Nevertheless, I headed out on the cold and drizzly morning and grabbed my number.  It was they typical road race crowd.  The folks there just to do it, the roadie warriors from the running clubs in their official looking singlet and short combos.  There once was a time where my nerves would get the best of me here because I was once one of them, hoping my Greater Boston singlet would get under their skin, even if I wasn't nearly as fast as them.  I laughed a little, got up front, out of the matching outfit fitness crowd, got all the odd looks because I was sporting my Vibrams and RaceReady shorts.  

I sort of got a little self-conscious about the Vibrams, and I am still a little thrown off.  The fact is, I don't want to be trendy in that 'douche bag' kind of way.  I guess the Vibram and barefoot movement thing is getting a lot like CrossFit, in that there is an aire of elitism, and I am not down with that.  The thing is, I can see vast improvements with my form and speed by running in the Vibrams, and am using a minimalist trail shoe from New Balance that is helping as well, but I guess, like CrossFit, if it helps to accomplish something then it is worth it.

So the race starts... No gun.... wondering if starting races with pistols is now forbidden in Massachusetts?  I get out front, a rare treat in my second life as a runner, and I cruise.  Get to the first mile in 6:21.... whaaaaa??  I was wondering what the final two miles had in store for me given the fast start.  Thankfully there was no time keeper at mile two, and I gave up the Garmin, because, really, do you need GPS on a wheel measured 5k?  I think not.

I just ran as close to the edge as I could, and came to the finish line to cheers and a solid 20:08!  Three years since my last road 5k, three minutes shaved off the new runner PR!  The time was good enough for 24th overall.

(Cranking home - photo credit: Preston, Metro Boston Barefoot Runners)

I am not about to sign up for a 5k every weekend, because that really doesn't present the challenge I have come accustomed to with trail racing.  Sherpa John has some thoughts on the Boston Marathon in his latest post, and I found the same thing at this race.  Lots of posturing before the race, no interaction during the race, and then afterward people scoot off to the next destination.

I did have a chance to talk at length with Preston from the Metro Boston Barefooot Runners group following the race, so that made the 'after party' much less uncomfortable, but aside from bumping into one of the runners I coached/trained to her first 5k last Spring, it was really kind of a weird scene.  I mean, don't get me wrong, in some ways I feel like a total social misfit at trail races where I only know I couple people, but typically during and after the race you have a few new names and smiling faces to look forward to at the next event.

Like I said, I am happy with the PR, and it will serve me well on the trails, but I miss my friends.

Sunday I just chilled out, and then Monday I was raring to run having watched an inspiring performance by Erkesso, Cheruiyot, Ryan Hall, Meb, Ernst Van Dyk.  Yes, even with all I have said about the roads, it is truly amazing reality TV to see the elite runners going at it over 26.2 miles.  I guess knowing others who run ultras, and dabbling with them myself, I have an appreciation for the suffering that happens over that last 10k.

The brilliant afternoon made it easy to get outside and go.  I just ran as I felt and didn't worry about the watch.  The IT band started nagging toward the end of the half marathon course I mapped out and tried for the first time, and when I finished I nearly dropped dead seeing that I had shaved three minutes off my previous best for the half marathon, and done so by averaging miles under 8 minute pace.  

This is sort of a big deal for me because that 8 minute/mile barrier has seemed to be insurmountable over most runs longer than 5 or 6 miles.  Where it isn't that big of an issue, because the ability to run a half marathon on most days is a total blessing and the best when I think about trying to run A MILE at 235 pounds, it means a lot to me.  It means I am making some progress.

So 3 days, 2 PRs, and one weekend... now if only my IT band would cooperate and I could get back to my real goal - completing a 50k!

Beyond the short 'trail' race (Whale of a 5k Trail Race) this weekend, and the Marine Corps Marathon in the Fall, I have nothing on the docket, and I am wondering if taking a shot at 50k at the G.A.C. Mother's Day Six Hour is a good idea.  The G.A.C. race has so many positive features:  fairly tame course, 3 mile loop, lots of interaction with other runners.  I am really thinking of just going and seeing how long I can maintain 30-33 minute loops.  At the very least it is good experience with a great crowd, and if I have a good day, I'll be able to honestly say I have run an ultra!

Oh well, time to dream!

Until next time, Happy Trails!

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