Saturday, January 1, 2011

Race Report: "First Run" 5K

A running life is one of unexpected contrasts.

Runners, seen often as lonely, pitiful and trudging along a side stretch of roadway clearly intended most especially for those encapsulated in their lavish comfortmobiles, I see myself differently and have in truth made lasting and meaningful relationships with new friends, and this sport has brought my family closer, through years of races which they have either supported, or occasionally, participated.

It was a couple weeks ago I sent a text to my sister to let her know that during the end of her holiday visit to us from Nashville, I was planning to run a 5K race at the stroke of midnight bringing in the new year. I just wanted to let her know right away that I was going to be party pooper and not be at whatever family get together was being planned.

A few days later she wrote back asking if she could join me. "Yah!" I answered. That would be awesome. Soon everyone she was traveling with wanted to run too and after that my boys and Lynda wanted to join us. What started off as the completion of a goal for myself, to do 5K, 10K and half-marathon before the end of the year (okay, I was technically over the self-imposed deadline by a second), this had turned into an EVENT!!

We gathered at our house and prepared in the traditional pre race manner--cheese crab fondue and pork ribs! Ugh! My indulgence of crap food, end of the year binge continued to the bitter end. That made about as much sense as eating a big bowl of clam chowder before going 3 miles out to sea in a small fishing boat the day before. Not too bright, but I never claimed to be.

It was below freezing outside so we decided not to arrive at the race too early. We parked in a garage and walked about 6 blocks to the World Trade Center in downtown Portland. The organizers had arranged about a half dozen "mushroom" heaters around the covered patio area so it was possible to huddle together and keep semi warm before lining up in the chute. About 20 minutes before midnight I excused myself and started jogging around the block to warm up a little.

I went to the start line in time to find the boys and we moved to the front of the pack. They had both been trash talkin' me all week, saying how any 15 or 18 year old could kill a 50 year old in a 3 mile race. No training required on their part, just utter youth. To prove it they wanted to be with me at the beginning. The race director moved some cones and we all shuffled forward to official start with about 2 minutes before 2011. I got my watch ready, wished the boys luck (they would need lots of it) and tried to remind myself of my race strategy as recommended by John Ellis: go out strong, hit a stride and race the last half mile or so. The countdown started and...

Happy 2011! Oh wait! RUN! And fast too. I knew I needed to run a 6'45" pace to meet my goal of a sub 21 minute finish. I really questioned my ability to pull this one off. My running had been inconsistent the last week and I had filled in the gaps in my exercise program with plenty of holiday eating and drinking. I just felt heavy and lethargic, not exactly where you want to be before lining up at the head of the pack at a 5K trying to set a PR. But there I was sprinting across the starting mat and running the half block of Salmon Street before turning north onto Naito Parkway.

Now trust me, I'm not an expert on what 6'45" feels like, and with my pace man (Randy) absent, I was on my own figure it out. Hmmm, that's where technology enters the scene. I had cleverly set my watch to display "average pace"so all I had to do was run like an idiot, check my results on the display, and adjust. First time I looked down at it it said 5'50" something. Good, I can slow down after completing the first section of my strategy--good aggressive start. Now just find a pace that felt 6'45"ish, or a little faster, if I could.

The boys were just ahead of me. They were wearing the same white long sleeved "First Run" T-shirt that all of us had put on. My sister and I had gotten them earlier that day at packet pick up and it was an easy thing to decide that we all wear them to show our unity. The boys also wore new running shoes that we had gotten at Fred Meyer a few days earlier. All they ever wear normally are the much in style high-top basketball shoes, and they don't work well with their flat bottoms on a road for running. So they got new running shoes for a 3 mile effort.

I passed the boys at about third of a mile out. It was a special delight to pick off the mouthy 15 year old who had been mixing in a plethora of condescending chuckles with his claims of assumed running superiority. I didn't say a word. I just pulled past and let my ever disappearing self do all the talking. G o o d b y e suckers!

I had no time to gloat. At this pace I was anaerobic before I had run the length of a football field, sucking wind almost right away and slobbering like Secretariat on the final stretch of the Preakness before I even saw my first illegal firework explode just a short distance ahead. Quick peak at my watch: 6'15" pace. I judged I might be able to hold this speed if I was lucky. After all, I'm tough and this was only 3 miles. Simple an exercise in mind over matter. I'll just beast my way to the finish. I came to a spot where they were separating 5K runners from 1.5 mile walkers and estimated I was about 1/4 through the route. That lifted me a bit because it seemed so soon. Maybe I would be okay? Hell yeah!

The road curves to the left a bit and leaves the high rise area of town and becomes an area of older brick buildings which have been restored into condos and quaint shops. It was about here that I got passed on the right by a guy in faded jeans, work boots and and yak hat. He ran just ahead of me for about a minute before abruptly turning hard left into my intended path going quickly to the sidewalk and shouting "screw this! you people are nuts!" and I realized I had just been had by a merry prankster. Good one! And that lifted my spirits too.

I was really working hard now and looking forward to the turn around point. The lead runners were coming back on my right side and I recognized some of the people I had lined up with and resigned that I probably should not have been so near at the start. Oh well. I made the turn myself and became curious how far back the boys were. I saw them in a few minutes, looking fine and still running together. Some of the New Years party goers made comments to us as we ran past their celebrations. All of the things I heard were good natured fun and it added to the atmosphere of the race. Things like "why don't you give that up and come in and have a drink?" Hmmm! You really mean it??

I heard Lynda yell at me and waved as we crossed each other. I was happy that she had wanted to do this race but now felt a little sorry that she was struggling "alone". I came once again to the split and felt some relief in assuming I was 3/4 finished but was also able to look down the straight road ahead and saw police car lights that marked the area near the end and that still looked very far away. I thought this would be a good place to employ the third stage of my strategy and push for the finish - but I was already to maxed out to push for the distance I could see before me. I'd have to hold off awhile longer. My ability to push harder just wasn't there.

A few times I caught myself starting to wander mentally, for just a few seconds here and there, but quickly pulled myself back and kept my focus on my pace. A street light came up and I used it to look at my watch again: 6'38" now. Damn, I'm slowing down! I checked again a minute later: 6'41"!! Dammit! Should have not been so cock sure earlier!

Okay, it was time to push for the end. I need to hold this pace to the end. It's going to hurt, but the opportunity is now. Go with everything that's left! There was an older guy just ahead of me and to the right. I used him as someone to pick off and so to find a new pace. After I went by him he tried to take me back but couldn't hold it and faded.

Ahead now I could barely see runners turning right and heading to the finish. To my delight I found that the police cars were actually blocking traffic several blocks beyond the end of the race so I had a shorter distance to run than I was expecting. That inspired me to find even a little bit speed and I added an extra step to my gait.

Back onto Salmon Street and all the hoopla, bright lights and arch just ahead. There were three mats laid out across the street and I wasn't sure which one was the finish line. I figured it best to consider the last one the true finish and just kept going to make sure. Stopped my watch at: 20 minutes 43 seconds.

A new PR, 43rd overall and 5th in my division. 2 seconds faster I would have been 3rd!

The boys came in together a short time later and I am so proud of them! They both want to do more races and maybe even train for them! Lynda did good too and the the girls from Tennessee completed their races with big smiles on their faces. My sister did the 1.5 mile walk with one her 67 year old friend Betty who had been an inspiration to me all week long. Betty went from sledding trips on Mt Hood to whale watching miles off the coast and everything in between and never slowed down. I gave her a big old hug when she got done.

It was a fun night. You see, running really isn't a lonely sport at all. It's a place where family and friends come together and sometimes do something extraordinary. Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Running For Boston

How lucky am I anyway? My family puts up with my running schedule. I have wonderful running friends who support and inspire me with their own active lives. I have a best friend who can kick my ass on the road every day but instead stays back with me, setting the pace and helping me see the road ahead. And a coach, whom I have never met, who has for years never failed to send an email each Sunday night with his plan for me for the following week.

With all this help, all I have to do is... run.

My coach... I never take John's help for granted. The most meaningful thing I can give him in return for all his caring, dedication and rigor is running his plan with...well...caring, dedication and rigor. If he's going to take the time, so am I and with heart felt thanks.

So it was late last July when I sent him a quick note from my phone asking if he would help me get ready for Boston. I knew Patriots Day was still more than 8 months away but I just had to know if I was coaching myself or if John would want to make the huge sacrifice and start helping me again. If he said yes, I expected it would be sometime after the calendar clicked over to 2011. That would give us 3 1/2 months of training.

John did say yes and that was a huge relief. But what shocked me was that he wanted to get started not next year but right away! By the first of September we were in full training mode with weekly plans. John wanted me to sign up for a couple fall races, a 10K and a Half, and made two big changes to my running since qualifying for Boston the previous December--slow down but run more miles each week.

A magic number emerged, a heart rate of 140 beats per minute. Early on most runs needed to be run under this rate even if it meant walking. By the end of the month I was up from 20 miles a week to 25, and then to 35 miles and eventally up into the 40's in November. My average HR was 20 BPM slower than a typical run in the Spring and Summer.

The new year has brought with it an increase in quality runs, meaning a mix of tempo, speed, strength and long distance. The challenge of these workouts comes at me from two different directions. Not only do I have to commit to meeting the intent of the work but I also have to do it in the cold, wet and dark of winter.

Some of the toughest barriers in these workouts have been seeing my watch in the black of night while it poured rain. My Garmin has been irreplaceable during this training cycle but there are times when it gets so wet when it's raining that it cycles through its different screens every time a rain drop hits it or the bezel no longer responds at all. To avoid it going into this lock up condition I'll lock the bezel before it starts wigging out. But that limits it's function and doesn't allow me to use the light when I need it most.

The road to Boston. By the time I get there I'll be lean and mean and ready to run. Well, with a little luck.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Race Report: Give N' Gobble 10K

Thanksgiving morning was unusually cold for this part of the world, so close to the ocean that our temperature changes are very modest from one part of the year to another. But it had even snowed a tiny bit the night before! I wondered when I woke up if the course would have any slippery spots.

I had everything ready, or so I thought until I dug through my workout bag and couldn't find my gloves. It was 31 degrees outside and I really wanted to keep my hands warm. With less than 45 minutes before the start of the race, I got in my truck and headed back home just to get my darn gloves.

This diversion cut into my planned warm up time. It was my race strategy to start off the line rather aggressively so I wanted to warm up for about 10 minutes before. Warming up before a race isn't something I usually do, but with the cold weather and early fast pace planned, it seemed a good idea. That opportunity lost by being a dunderhead, instead did some jogging around the Sherwood High School where the race was starting and then headed to the start line.

Randy was running this race with me. Initially he wasn't going to be able to because his family was gathering out of town for the holiday, but his son's football team had made the playoffs so the two of them were staying home. We walked right past the line of runners already in the chute and boldly took a position right at the front of the group. I looked up and saw a sign that stated "5 to 7 min runners here" and backed up a full step. I looked behind and saw another sign for 8 minute milers and eased into an area between the two. Randy, true to form, never gave up his position in the very front. I turned on my Garmin and kept an eye on it as it acquired satellites just a moment before the start.

Off we went. Somehow, and this always happens, it seemed like there were way too many runners ahead of me. Didn't we just leave and I was at the front? Where did all these people come from? I told myself that the first 500 yards does not a race make and let these guys go out too fast. I had a plan. Stick to it.

I spent a lot of time watch watching in this race. It's a short race and if you fall asleep and don't track your pace the whole time there is little opportunity to make it up later. My overall pace needed to be 7'14" to meet my goal of a sub 45 minute race and in the early going, which was supposed to be aggressive, I did a 7'11" during mile 1 and 6'55" on mile 2. So far so good.

But the early speed and spirited downhills took their toll on my quads right away. Before mile 3 I felt my legs fade away on one of the last of the rolling hills on this back stretch. By the time I got through mile 4 I had used up nearly all of my early cushion of time. Later I would see that my heart rate was maxed out during almost the entire race, averaging 175 and hitting 185 at the end. I was working hard and I was conscious of my labored breathing. I had run with or ahead of Randy up to now but at 3 miles to go he was just ahead of me.

During my early exuberance I had shouted back at him "This is our house!" in an encouraging way of reminding him that other runners had come to run in our town and we were about to enter Brookman Road, our favorite training route in town. Defend our course. But that zeal had ebbed quickly and I struggled just to push on down the road. A road so familiar to me. I run it at least once a week and is my favorite route from my house. The horses, cows, goats, llamas, orchards and barns are all old friends. This was our place and we needed to run well.

The group I ran in remained constant nearly the entire race. There was a lanky guy about 30ish who seemed to lope along effortlessly and woman about the same age who seemed very fit and was able to rear back and hawk one off to the side with extreme confidence and skill. I'm always impressed by that, maybe because I'm so lousy at it.

The plan was to "race" the final mile and a half. It seemed reasonable before we started but now I wasn't so sure what was going to happen when I tried to push. I thought I might be able to pick it up just a bit but I was feeling pretty spent and was laboring to keep up. We made a right turn off the street and onto a bike path that runs along a green way.

That turn seemed to help. The narrower route, change of scenery, and knowing we had just one more mile to go gave me a boost. At one point, when I sense him drifting, I even managed to be able to ask Randy to speed up as we hugged the left side of the trail, walkers from the 5K now on our right. I was also finding inspiration from my watch that showed that we were a full second behind the pace. Doesn't sound like much, but it really does translate into meeting the goal or not. Not much route left to make up the lost time.

At the end of the path there are a couple of short but very steep pitches to be dealt with and then we popped back up onto the subdivision roads. The high school was just a few blocks away.

This confines of the path were gone and now had room to sprint to the finish. I gave it everything did everyone else. We made one last turn back into the school yard where we had started and ran for it. I crossed the line and someone reached for me and tore a tag off my bib and handed it to the timekeeper as I clicked the stop button on my watch: 44'51". Nine whole seconds to spare!

I actually felt kinda sick after this one. Maybe I hadn't eaten very well beforehand, maybe I'm just not a speed guy, but I felt a little queasy and the right side of my face around my mouth felt sort of numb. It all went away quickly but this type of thing for me is more typical after a marathon, not a stinking 10K.

I wandered over to the football field area where the snacks and drinks were being given out and talked to some people that I knew about how I did. I walked back to my truck to get a bag of food I had brought and put it into the back of a U-Haul truck, this is a charity event after all, and headed for home.

The next day the results were posted on the website: 38th overall (ain't ever going to catch those kids), 31st man (got chicked 7 times!), 1st in my 50 to 54 division and set a 10K PR.

Not bad for an old guy on a cold Thanksgiving morning.