Thursday, September 27, 2012

One Step Closer

It’s been hard to blog about what I feel is the inconsistency of my training this year, the seemingly endless slow runs along the same route, or find motivation for writing some mindless drivel about my aches and pains or how hot it was all summer.  So I didn’t blog much.  I’d apologize but in reality consider yourself spared from a myriad of vague references, bad puns, and lame jokes.

Since I really didn’t know what to share, or if anyone would care, so for the most part I didn’t write.   I felt detached from the running community.  Much of my training was by myself.  When I could find the time or in some cases if I felt like running, I’d try to get out to the Running Room and run with one of the training groups or run with friends for fun.  For the most part I had no training plan, no race goals,  just enjoy running and try and be more mindful and less stressed and agitated about life.  Luckily there were as many good days as bad days and while I didn’t feel like I was making progress towards getting back in racing condition, I added a few events to my calendar with the goal of having fun.

This weekend was no different.  I was heading two hours out of town to run in the Amherstburg Run for Heroes Half Marathon.  No fixed plans, not sure about when I’d head down or where I was planning to stay until the last minute.  Then when things fell together, I had an offer for drinks two lovely young ladies and a pre-race carb-loading dinner with one of their extended families.  It was an evening of fantastic food and great camaraderie with memories I will cherish for a very long time.

At the expo, I discussed pacing options with the crew from  The Half Marathon had both a 1:40 and 1:50 pace group or I could run 13km with the 3:30 Marathon pace group before the half and full courses separated.  I was leaning towards running by keeping my sights on the 3:30 group but not quite sure.  I’d see how I felt in the morning.

All week I’d been struggling with the effects from the previous weekend’s long runs.  I had run 16km onSaturday and had wickedly tight calves on Sunday when I ran another 29km.   Monday was miserable and I was concerned how badly Tuesday’s deep tissue massage was going to hurt.  It was quite surprising to discover that my hamstrings were tighter than my calves but for the most part I wasn’t in too bad of shape heading in to the weekend.  Next stop was Thursday for physiotherapy on my feet.  Every three weeks I have any newly formed scar tissue broken up in the fat pad of my heels and address any other niggles that I find time to whine about.  With no other better ideas at hand, I blamed all my problems on taper madness although it was very clear to me I wasn’t tapering.

Sunday morning I arrived early at the United CommunitiesCredit Union Recreation Centre and headed up to the second floor to stretch and people watch.  Just inside a pair of sliding glass doors, I was able to perform my warm-up drills on the upper level of the arena which was just slightly colder than the air outside. 

The start was delayed for 10 minutes until 7:25am to either allow for the sun to come up or for the traffic to clear.  I originally wound up in a corral with the marathon runners only to discover the half marathon start group was across the street.  A wild scramble through some barriers during the National anthems had me mingling with the 700 participants in the Half Marathon and the less than ten in the 1:40 pace group.  It seems I had made my decision to go out hard and strong and see how long I could hang on running at a 4:44min/km pace.

Being near the front of the field there was minimal congestion.  We were a bit slow through the first couple of kilometers but that suited me fine.  The pace felt controlled and relaxed.  There was ample communication with Pacer Rick and we validated splits and communicated strategy to catch up after water stations.

The kilometers peeled by steadily in the cool air and bright sun.  A bit of a cross breeze kept things fresh and the course was as described – virtually flat.

The most memorable moment was running past the Amherstburg Legion Hall where a group of 90 year old World War II Veterans stood and saluted the passing runners.  It was humbling to be recognized by these men who were much more the heroes than those of us running past.

There was also a quick in and out of historic Fort Malden along a gravel path near the 12 kilometer mark. 

Heading out of Amhersturg and back in to the country, I was able to stay with the pace group.  The pace quickened somewhat through 10-15km but on average we were right on the track.   I think at the 15km mark, I called out our average pace as being right on at 4:44 according to my Garmin.

 I was taking Powerbar gels every 5km through until 15K, with the last one having 25mg of caffeine.
Somewhere just after 10 miles (16km), I fell back a bit going through a water stop.  If I have complaint about the race this would be it.  The cups provided at the water stops where either hard plastic or foam.  They were full with 6-8 ounces of liquid which was awesome, but the cup itself was impossible to crush into shape to prevent spilling or wearing most of what you were trying to drink, all in all a pretty minor complaint.

The gap was only a 100 meters at the most but I couldn’t manage to close it to anything less than 50 meters.  The old tried and true method of imagining the person(s) in front tied to you by a string and you reel them in got me closer a couple of times but I couldn’t seem to land the big fish.  I was able to tell myself they weren’t getting any further away.  My watch would beep on every kilometer and give me the split time so I could see that I was holding my pace reasonably well and my average time was still holding at 4:44.  Pacer Rick would check back and see where I was and I’d hand sign a thumb’s up and he’d smile and try and wave me up to the group.

As we closed in on the finish there was a bit of a downhill that felt great and in the final 200 meters a very minor bump of a hill but just enough that my legs felt like they’d died.  Rick waved furiously encouraging me to catch him.  The rest of the group had left him pushing to finish under 1:40 and it was just the two of us separated by that 100 meter gap.

I could hear the race announcer chiding Rick for finishing 4 seconds early and I knew my PB was in the bank as I saw the race clock in the finishing chute.  When I eventually remembered to press the stop button on my watch it was 1:40:22.   I found Rick in the chute and thanked him for dragging me along to an almost two minute personal best.  Official chip time was 1:40:07, crushing my 2011 GoodLife Half Marathon time of 1:42:06

It seems all that painfully slow running did pay off in the end.

And then there are “the numbers”.
I was faster through the first 10 kilometers than the 15K race I ran in August.  My 5K splits were relatively consistent.  With no uphills or downhills on the course there wasn’t a radical variation in split times like running the 2011 GoodLife course in Toronto which has a huge net downhill but had a large uphill at 5km and an uphill grade to finish in Queens Park.   While the first 5K split was my fastest of the race it wasn’t overly fast compared to the next two relatively even splits.  (As usual) It felt like I didn’t have anything left at the end and while it wasn’t slow an extra few seconds wouldn’t have hurt either.

So, all-in-all I’m happy, maybe even a tiny bit ecstatic.  Everything went according to plan.  I made it to 16Km with the pace group.  I gutted out the last 5Km and held my pace.  More importantly, I didn’t feel any cramping in calves, which based upon the the beginning of the week I wouldn’t have believed possible. 

So now what, maybe a marathon?