Friday, May 11, 2018

RISP Foot Pursuit 5K

Late April brought me back to the roads for the first time since last summer. And, just as I did back then, I’d arbitrarily decided on a goal of sub-17 for the 5K. I’d recently re-incorporated workouts into my running and haven’t been too hampered lately by the now 18-month-old hip injury (it's a toddler!), so sub-17 seemed a reasonable target.

It had been four years since I last ran the RISP Foot Pursuit, but upon arriving there were a couple familiar sites. There was the winner from four years back – Derek Jakoboski -- still looking fit and fast. And there was an old favorite – Gray Shirt Man -- who was wearing a sleeveless variation of the shirt he’d worn then, with the bold addition of Italian flag-themed running shorts. We'd soon see if he was still up to his speedy exploits at the start. (See my write-up from the 2014 rendition for historical commentary on Gray Shirt Man. Note how much more creative and humorous I was then.)

I warmed up solo along the seawall (with a couple of Schonning run-ins) and then connected with Jeff at the starting line. As always, I was relegated to the second row after too many optimistic/anxious runners squeezed in front of me. No matter, the position would help me stay conservative at the start, which is a permanent part of my plans.

Now for a quick ode to GPS watches. Some lament that we Garmin-enabled runners are a slave to the watch. We no longer run by feel, instead trusting in and relying on our watches to tell us how hard we should be going. Well, I couldn’t disagree more. Maybe it’s because I spend much of my waking hours thinking about data, but I say we should be able to use whatever information is reasonably available to us to make us better runners, as long as we know how to use it. If I could get real-time readings of my blood lactate, or electrolyte levels, or stride symmetry, and I had a way to quickly digest and make sense of it all, I absolutely would.

I say all this, because I was reminded of the importance of the GPS watch during the first mile of the race. Had I been going off feel, there’s no chance I would have happily settled into 9th place, getting dropped by the leaders, within the first quarter mile. It wouldn’t have been until oxygen debt hit (far too soon) that my body would have sent a signal saying maybe I am out of my league. Instead, all it took were a few glances at my pace to know I’d be in trouble if I didn’t relax and run my own race. How I wish I’d had this technology in high school and college. So many excessively enthusiastic starts could have been avoided.

After roughly half a mile, I’d overtaken all but the top three runners in the race, who were well off in the distance already. Interestingly, a few of the guys I’d gone by had latched on and were running right behind me through the mile (5:25). I was feeling OK and forcing myself to lean into the downhill, which always feels surprisingly unnatural, despite being way more efficient. Shouldn’t evolution have fixed this flaw in our thinking?

With one or two guys still on me (I wouldn’t give them the courtesy of a look-back, so I am guessing based on the footfall pattern), we turned onto Boon St., and I saw that one guy ahead had been dropped by the leaders. I mistakenly assumed we’d overtake him quickly, given how suddenly he'd been gapped, but boy was I wrong.

Just after mile 2 (5:24), I caught up to the third-place guy, and we turned onto Ocean Rd. a stride apart. I was feeling fairly good after running the first two miles just ahead of goal pace, so I saw no harm in accelerating and hoping to make quick work of him. As I passed, I urged him to “hang in there,” not expecting him to take my advice. He matched my pace and stayed a few feet back for a couple hundred yards. Eventually, I could no longer hear him, but I knew he was there from the small break between cheers from spectators. We made the final turn, which leads to the interminable finishing straight along 1A. Here, again, is where the GPS watch changes everything. A quick peek reminded me that I had less than half a mile to go, not the 700 miles there appeared to be left based on how far away the finish banner looked. I crossed mile 3 (5:06) and kept accelerating. This guy wouldn’t go away. Some bystander muttered a single “wow” as I passed, and I wondered whether it was because my pursuer was sprinting so fast or because someone as old-looking as I am is in third place.

Mercifully, I crossed the line (16:39 / final 0.1 at 4:40 pace) four seconds ahead of 4th, and well under my goal time. It was a nice confidence booster and hopefully a springboard to faster times this summer and fall. All that said, it was slower than my younger self ran in 2014, so there's still work to do.
Finally able to relax, a few steps out from the finish. Look out for the giant anchor! 
Post-race, I enjoyed a nice (and occasionally disturbing) conversation Jeff and Steve, a muddy cooldown with Jeff through the Canonchet trails, some hot dogs and burgers in the pouring rain, and finally the award ceremony (I’d won my age group and WTAC the team title). All in all, a fun day!

This motley crew managed to capture the team victory. 


Sunday, May 6, 2018

Belleville Pond "10K"


Note: This was written six weeks ago. There's really no good excuse for not posting it sooner; I simply always thought of something else with a higher priority to do instead. But there's nothing like falling behind by two races to spark some motivation. This *should* soon be followed by a post on the RISP 5K, pending exhaustion of whatever other excuses I can come up with for that one...

Please forgive the delay in this post. I’ve had a very busy stretch at work, with three of the past four weeks involving travel to Puerto Rico, California, and Florida, culminating in a 10-day lung infection that necessitated a break from running. So, let’s see what I still remember.

The Belleville Pond 10K at Ryan Park has been perhaps my favorite race in the South County 4th Season series. It’s a fun and challenging course that in my two previous experiences had been especially fun and challenging due to a blanket of deep snow. In both cases, I also managed to win, which, in retrospect, may have had something to do with my fondness for the event. 

There’d be no snow this time, but I was excited nonetheless. We did get hit with a powerful rain and wind storm in the day prior, and the wind was still strong on the morning of. I came unusually light-clothed (by my standards) and was regretting it as I stepped out of my car upon first arriving.
I got in a short warm-up with Jonny and Greg, in the process learning the first part of the course in reverse (so, you know, it would look familiar whenever I peeked behind me in the race), and I added on a little bit extra to remind myself of the finish.

My plan for the race would be to gain another position – up to third – from the previous race. I thought this might doable but also the best I could imagine placing, as I considered Lonergan and Greg to be untouchable.

We waited longer than usual for the race to start, as a big crowd still stood in line for the port-a-potties. I took refuge behind the dugout of the baseball field, where I was somewhat shielded from the wind until the race started (first falsely, and then for real - Brightman's fault, no doubt).

As expected, Lonergan went out like a flash, and Greg followed, perhaps a little farther behind than in the previous race, but still clear of the chase pack, which was led by Tall Guy from Old Mountain fame and Brightman. Interestingly, Jackman hung back with me and Jonny, and I suspected he might be banking on the assumption that I’d be running my typically conservative race. I decided to have a little spontaneous fun and proceeded to run far faster than I usually would at this point in the race, just to mess with his head. We quickly caught up to Brightman on the first single-track section and accelerated by onto the rail bed.

This is always a good point in the race to take stock of situation up ahead, as you can see a good half mile into the distance, which may have been just far enough to see Lonergan. It was also apparent that Greg had put in a big surge here and may have actually been gaining on the lead. Next up was Tall Guy, who had maybe 10 seconds on us…until he wiped out leaping a downed tree. It wasn’t a bad fall, but it clearly took his momentum away. Jackman and I were careful not to repeat his mistake and cleared the tree with ease, and Brightman was hot on our heels throughout this section. I suspected we’d gotten a gap on Jonny but didn’t dare look back at this point, just two miles into the race.

We exited the rail bed, cut across the main path on the far side of the park, and headed into the sand that leads into power line section. We were rapidly gaining on Tall Guy, and I put in a small surge up the steep embankment immediately before the powerline crossing to get some separation on Jackman. I watched as Tall Guy tentatively crossed a log bridge (which I bypassed entirely) and then caught up to him. I asked how he was doing after the fall, and he muttered that he’d been better. That was the last I heard from him for the duration of the race.

As usual after getting a lead, I tried to really put the pressure on for a long stretch, which coincided with the Route 4 section of the course. This is a segment with lots of short ups and downs, and a couple of switchbacks that give an opportunity to see where your followers are without looking too paranoid. I became aware that I’d suddenly gotten a lot closer to Greg and was positioned maybe half way between him and the Jackman-Brightman-Tall Guy crowd.

Running by myself, I got lulled into a slower pace than desired a few times but managed to shake myself out of it before losing too much time. Seeing Seth and his camera out there in remote locations helped enormously.

And here is the resulting video. Really amazing job by Seth!

Belleville Pond 10k 2018 from Seth Acton on Vimeo.

On the other side of the main trail, the course traverses an especially tricky and technical section with everything from sand to moguls to rocky ridges and sharp drops. I recently ran here while on a late conference call with work, and got temporarily distracted as I was reminded of that meeting and something I'd committed to do but hadn't done yet. Yuck - I had to get my head back in the race; worse distraction ever! I was snapped out of the memory upon hearing footsteps suddenly close behind. After a few uncertain moments, I was relieved to discover it was Seth getting some trailing shots (see ~3:15 in the video above for Seth's sneaky move).

I was getting ever closer to Greg, and perhaps as little as 10 seconds separated us at this point, but I honestly never considered catching him a real possibility. My pessimism become anchored in reality when we reached the return rail bed, and Greg found another gear that I could almost match but certainly not exceed.

Impressively, he maintained that gear when we transitioned into the last bit of trail before the bridge crossings, leaving me in the dust. I was very tried and hanging on for dear life here, grateful that I didn’t have anyone lingering close behind. I was happy to finally reach the Field of Broken Dreams, where Greg was maybe 75 yards ahead. He looked back once for good measure, saw no danger, and cruised into the finish. I locked up my hoped-for 3rd place, with Brightman, Jackman, Tall Guy, and Jonny finishing drama-free in that order behind me. All of the theatrics, however, were reserved for the next three, who battled all the way to the line, the younger guys getting the better of Jeff, who was still very much Gazelling to the line, despite not having the kick he’d hoped for.

WTAC took the win again, and I secured some beverages for that day’s family party. What a practical award ceremony.

I should also mention that my hip injury from 2015’s half marathon has returned with a vengeance. It hasn’t yet had a major impact on my training, but I’ve begun feeling it on nearly every step of every run, which even the most optimistic person can’t view as a positive development. I’m hopeful that my forced 10-day break will have helped the healing along. 

(Note: The break did, to some extent, give me some respite from the hip pain. It's certainly still there, but tolerable for now.)

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Old Mountain Field 5K

"A wet adventure." Those were the words used by Jonny to describe his planned long run the next day, but they are just as aptly associated with this one. It had a little bit of everything: mud; swamp; stream crossings; slippery rocks, roots, and bridges; briers; downed-tree hurdles. Heck, it even had unleashed dogs -- twice! -- blocking the trail at the most inopportune times. And, of course, there was the competition itself, so let's get into it.

This race should be like a home course for me, as it starts just a few miles from our house, but in truth, until the previous weekend, I hadn't run here in three years. (It should also be noted that the last time I raced here, I took a wrong turn while leading the race, losing a spot to Greg Hammett, only to have him wait for me at the finish line, as described here.) So, I wasn't exactly feeling any advantage. Fortunately, a warm-up over much of the new (to me) course, led by Jonny, had me more confident about the directions. There was also no chance I'd be leading the race this time around, so I was looking forward to having guides for much of the race itself.

Race Part I: Stalking

This course, both the old and new version, entices nearly everyone into an overly eager pace right off the line. Even those of us who prefer more conservative starts are forced to comply or risk getting cut off from our natural position in the pecking order by eager interlopers. Having experienced the drawbacks of a too-fast and too-slow start on this course, I decided I prefer the former to the crashing and thrashing the latter requires.

[Looking at most post from three years ago, here's what I wrote about a similar starting strategy:

My typical race plan, especially on trails, is to run patiently and trust that I'll be able to catch the fast starters before the race is through. This is a nice, safe strategy that has served me well. It's also terribly boring. How boring? Here's Jeff's description of this approach from his blog post:
"Normally, prudence dictates a conservative pace at the start to save some endurance for later in the race."  
That's right, it's so boring that words like "prudence," "dictates," and "conservative" are used to describe it. Oof, that's boring. I decided to use this year's OMF race as an experiment in aggression. ]

This is a long way of saying I went out uncomfortably hard yet again. Still, I found myself behind a dozen runners with maybe 50 meters to go before entering the woods. I begrudingly surged past half of these, eventually landing in fifth place as we hit the trail. I was behind the four who beat me last time, which, after all that starting drama, is precisely where I'd hoped to be.

Lonergan led, with Greg hot on his heels, and they were flying. Brightman was next, and he'd smartly let the two leaders gap him. Jackman was a step behind him, and I was a few seconds back from there. I had a tall guy in a blue jersey ("Ronald McTall guy," as Jackman put it) directly behind me but figured he'd eventually drop. I was also sucking wind pretty hard, thanks to the quick start, so I had no plans of making any moves unless absolutely necessary. But I also wouldn't let the two guys in front of me pull too far ahead, no matter what it took.

We had a few obstacles early on in the race. The first was a totally unexpected dual-dog encounter at the bottom of the rock jump. They were well behaved but did an incredible job of just standing directly in the middle of the single-track. We also came across a group of walkers right before the stream crossing; they were much more courteous than the dogs were.

I stayed five or so meters behind the two in front of me, glad to have a little space to watch my footing. When Jackman went by Brightman in the first mile, I started to close the gap, as I didn't want to lose touch with him. I pulled directly behind Brightman, thinking I'd hang there for a bit, but Jackman's gap had grown, so I spontaneously made a move through the muck and briers around Brightman. He accelerated to hold me off, and I recklessly crashed through some branches and rejoined the trail just ahead of him, keeping the pedal down to discourage a comeback. Despite this big move, I soon sensed someone right behind me again and realized it was Tall Man, who was evidently here for the long haul.

Race Part II: Stalked

I tracked Jackman through the Jonny-coined "zero-track" section, watching him wipe out around a muddy turn, only to pop back up seemingly without losing a step. I went under the awkward diagonal downed tree and wondered how Tall Man dealt with that one. As we came to the rock wall section, I opted for the right side of the trail, which essentially turned out to be a bog, nearly sucking my shoes off. I recovered in time to almost take a digger on the stream crossing (right after seeing the dogs again!), narrowly avoiding a major catastrophe.

We headed up the hill, and I tried to find a way to ask Jackman to let me pass, saying something to the effect of, "I'll take the lead for a bit; you can take it back whenever you'd like." It was unnecessarily polite but did the trick. Tall Man followed, and I got the feeling he was biding his time before making me his next victim. Sure enough, he went by on the descent and quickly got a gap on me as we headed for the reservoir loop. This section turned out to be the trickiest yet. The lugs on my trail shoes acted like ball bearings when treading across the wet wooden bridges. I tried to avoid making any sudden lateral motion, but this proved difficult on the many bridges positioned at the start or end of a curve in the trail. I'd managed to make it across nearly all of the bridges when, on the penultimate one, I slid on one foot across almost its entire length, stopping awkwardly with my other foot to prevent a fall.

Race Part III: Surviving

It was a relief to exit onto the grass/concrete section, getting my feet back under me, and charging into the woods once more for a final loop over the "mountain" and through the switchbacks. I was only a few seconds behind Tall Man and seemed to have plenty of space on Jackman and Brightman. I was also surprised to see Greg not too far ahead, having been dropped by Lonergan, who was nowhere to be seen.

The little hope I'd held for catching Tall Man was dashed as he pulled away up the last big hill. I did what I could on the slalom section but to no avail. On the final straight, I could see Greg finishing, with Tall Man about half the distance between us. I came through in 19:57 (results), good for fourth place. I was surprised to see Brightman come next, just ahead of Jackman. Jonny, Muddy, and Jeff all finished in the top 10. With Greg donning a WTAC jersey, we easily pulled off the win. Turns out, we would have won even without Greg, but I'll take the big win over the narrow one any day.

From a Series standpoint, I'm in a three-way tie for 3rd with Jackman and Brightman and will need to make something special happen at the longer upcoming races in order to pull ahead. Should make for a fun six weeks.


Amazing race video from Seth!


Old Mountain 5k 2018 from Seth Acton on Vimeo.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Resolution Beach not quite 5K

Coming off a series of injuries in 2017, I'd been carefully ramping up my running since mid-December. This has meant mostly slow, short runs, supplemented by indoor cycling and lifting. Given this, I'd been wavering about running in the South County Fourth Season trail series and was relieved when I'd discovered I'd be in California for the series' first race -- Resolution Beach 5K -- as it meant I wouldn't be tempted to jump in. 

While on my Cali trip, I checked the Rhode Island weather incessantly, hoping to see negative temperatures so I could relish the respite I was getting out there, where it was 70 degrees and sunny. Instead, I saw, incredibly, that it would be over 50 degrees and rainy. Not only that, but the Resolution race would be moved back a day because of the rain and flooding. I'd now be back in time for the race, leaving me with a dilemma. Well, there was no dilemma, actually. I couldn't resist; it had been three years since I last did these races, and I missed them too much. I was in!

Fast-forward to Sunday morning, I drove over to the beach on a day reminiscent of the last time I'd done this race in 2015, though maybe a little less cold (20 degrees), a little less windy, and a lot icier. The massive amount snowmelt and rain had frozen overnight and blanketed the trails in several places. During the group warm-up, I tried to figure out the ideal path across the various ice obstacles, but ideal would be a dream. It was more a matter of picking the least treacherous option. From one particular previous run-in I'd had with ice, I'd learned the hard way how unforgiving it is and how rapidly it will let you know that.
My face met ice once before and lost. Seven years and two titanium plates later, it hasn't forgotten!
Two other observations from the warm-up: (1) the little bit of wind was in our faces on the way out and really bit through the few layers of clothes I had on. I made up my mind to go with triple layers on the upper body and stick with tights below; (2) RD Mike Galoob hasn't changed -- we came across him carrying huge boulders to make a rock bridge across one especially wide water crossing on the beach, just 30 minutes before the race started. He also informed us that the course had changed from the past and would no longer include the road portion. For all I know, he made that decision as he was talking to us.

On the hastily-drawn starting line, runners lined up facing in opposite directions. Well, it was more like everyone except the Hammetts faced the correct direction, while Jonny and Greg prepared to head off on the race's former route. They quickly (though not a quickly as you might imagine) corrected themselves, as we got the final race directions. I also used this time to remind myself of my race goals:
  • Don't get injured
  • Be comfortable
  • Enjoy it
  • Let the fast guys go
The last one, I knew, would be the hardest to achieve, as I have trouble controlling those competitive juices once the race starts. But I'm older and therefore supposedly wiser than I once was, so when the race started, I put my head down, ignored the others, and eased into the race.

That is until I saw I was taking a completely different line along the beach than anyone ahead of me. There were three water hazards along this opening stretch -- transient streams that had created shallow gullies where runoff pipes emptied onto the sand -- and they varied unpredictably in width along their respective routes. I couldn't remember from the warm-up the ideal crossing points, so I went into lemming mode and swerved back behind the lead group, figuring that at least this way we'd all face the same enemy.

Fortunately, there was little trouble steeple-chasing my way over the water. As we neared the end of the beach, I counted eight people ahead of me. I passed two of them and fell into position behind Jonny as we climbed into the dunes. At this point, I made some comment like, "Don't worry, it's just me," to which Jonny replied, "Give yourself some more credit!" What a nice guy.

Looking up ahead, I saw the expected lead pack (Lonergan, Greg, Jackman, and Brightman) plus one random guy. The guys I knew up there wouldn't be coming back, but I decided to keep an eye on Random Guy, as I don't like to lose to strangers at these local races.

Jonny and I gradually gained on RG as we traversed the newly cut section and cautiously navigated the icy spots. I had passed Jonny at some point along the way but don't recall when. This isn't normal and must be another sign of age/wisdom.

I got a small amount of separation on Jonny on our return trip of the two-way portion of the course and crept to within a few seconds of RG.  We came to a part of the course that was covered with a sheet of ice spanning the entire trail and extending 20 feet or so. I recalled from the warm-up that the only safe passage is along the right side, where tufts of grass in the ice allowed for some semblance of traction, whereas the left side had trouble written all over it. I was surprised to see RG choose trouble, and boy did he get it. He went down in a flash, landing hard on his hip. I slowed to ask if he was ok, but he'd already gotten to his feet and started running again. I'd gotten ahead of him during his spill and felt guilty for it, but he seemed fine, and the race must go on.

Approaching the stone ruins, I had a nice vista out to the beach, where I saw Lonergan already on the sand, with Jackman and Greg battling for second through the ruins. They were all very far ahead of me.

I led our little train of three through the ruins, clambered down the rock wall on the other side, and leapt over the largest of the three rivulets, apparently looking much more majestic than I felt. (Thanks, as always, to the magic of Scott Mason's camera.)

Doing my best impression of the WTAC gull. RG and Jonny give chase.
The finish on the beach is mentally challenging, as the finish line can be seen for the entire half-mile or so remaining in the race. Up ahead, I could see Brightman, far out of reach, but behind I could still hear the breathing and footfalls of my pursuers. I gradually accelerated, gaining some space, and feeling thankful that the race would be far less than the advertised 5K.

I crossed in 5th in a time of 15:26 (despite what the results say). I was very pleased to meet all of my goals yet still feel like I raced. In particular, it was satisfying to see that I was able to gradually increase the pace throughout the race, with average mile paces of 6:27, 6:07, and 5:36 (for the last 0.5). 

I was no worse for wear afterwards and already excited about the next race in the series. I'd love to continue to close the gap on those ahead of me as the series (and, hopefully, my fitness) progresses. And now it's time to get to work...
Group cool down. Another great shot from Scott.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Schonning 5K

I can be convinced to do nearly anything, as long as it isn't dangerous, unhealthy, or illegal. So, when Steve Schonning asked me if I was running his father's race (in its 20th year), I quickly decided I was, despite not being race-ready and still nursing a sore left plantar fascia. In retrospect, this was borderline dangerous and definitely unhealthy, but as far as I know not illegal. Oh, and that plantar fasciiits has become a part of my life at this point. Heck, the injury is older than my youngest child (and smells worse, too). Fortunately, it hasn't deteriorated as I've reintroduced running over the past two months and has even tolerated 3-mile tempos during the Westerly Fun Runs, so why not try to race on it?

I was thrilled when I learned Tommy would be at the race. I figured he and I could keep each other company for a mile or two, and maybe longer. Given the lack of focused workouts and uncertain fitness, I had no idea what time I'd run and whether or not I'd be able to run with Tommy for long. I arbitrarily decided I wanted to break 17 and it turned out he had the same goal. We agreed to shoot for 5:25-5:30 pace in the first mile and see what happened from there.

At the starting line, we glanced around and, without speaking about it, knew the race would be between the two of us. We took off through downtown Westerly side-by-side, a little too fast at first due to adrenaline and slope, and eventually settling into what felt like a sustainable pace. We crossed through the first mile in 5:25, right on target.

Around this time, as we churned up a small incline, there opened the slightest separation between us. I kept the pace honest but also hoped Tommy would put in a surge to latch back on so we could run together longer. The gap grew a bit more as we made several sharp turns away from the old cone turnaround and to the new section of course added this year. I don't know this area well, so I was caught off guard by the steepness of Cobblestone Hill. I tried to keep a steady cadence without overexerting, in the process passing the volunteer who was scrambling up the hill herself to try to beat me to the intersection she was supposed to be manning (or womanning?). Her effort was in vain, and she eventually gave up the race and resorted to shouting the instructions to take a left at the end of the road. Tommy and I both had a good laugh at that mid-race levity later on.

As I turned on 1A, I caught a glimpse of Tommy at the top of the hill and noticed that the gap had grown some more. While it would have been fun to run the whole way together, this was still a race, and I really didn't want to be caught. I kept glancing at my watch in astonishment that the pace was so much slower than it felt. Mile 2 was 5:36.

My legs had felt heavy from the start but were turning into lead in the third mile. This final mile was pretty uneventful, as the only action came from commentary from the volunteers (Jeff V. said something to the effect of "Tommy's coming for you," which admittedly scared me into a faster pace) and the occasional road crossing, which is always a little dicey when you're the leader and the volunteers/police haven't gotten into their rhythm yet.
Finishing up (photo: Westerly Sun)
(Embarrassingly, this picture was covering about a square foot of the sports pages in the Westerly Sun.)
I passed the third mile in 5:25 and, after a little mental math, realized that I'd be awfully close to hitting my goal. I picked up the pace a bit going around the final turn onto the long finishing stretch in front of the Y. I could see the finish line clock at 16:50 and wondered how much time it would take to actually get there. It couldn't be 10 seconds, could it? I went into the last non-sprint gear I had, as I thought it would be foolish to make a mad dash for the finish when I was racing no one but a meaningless barrier. Still, I really wanted to break that meaningless barrier. Naturally, I missed by a couple of seconds (17:02), and there wasn't even the patented SNERRO two-second add-on this time.

At least I was fairly consistent in my inferiority to my 2014 self. 
I was generally pleased with the race, despite missing the goal, as it gives me something to hopefully build on through the fall. It's a little depressing to now know I'm so much slower than I was at this time three years ago, when I ran 16:20, but I have to start somewhere, right? My foot was no worse for the wear, either, which was a bonus. Most enjoyable, though, was the chance to race with Tommy, even if it was for a shorter duration than either of us would have preferred. Next time...

One other "perk" of being back in Small Town USA? The local newspaper flattery.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Ventura County Corporate Games

For the second consecutive year, the Ventura Country Corporate Games would be my first race after a six-month hiatus. Last year, a balky Achilles was the culprit; this year it was my hip. Fortunately, the hip had improved enough to start doing one easy workout per week in late January. Week after week, I gradually increased the volume and intensity, but I was still unsure of my fitness. My entire right leg, from hip to toe, is a permanent mess, so I always feel uncoordinated and sloppy when running, and this makes it tough to feel fast no matter the shape I'm in. Sometimes, you just need to race to figure out where you stand.

While my mileage has been even lower than usual, I'd progressed further down the workout list than last year, so I figured I'd have a good shot at topping my time (and hopefully my place -- I was second) from last year's edition of this race.

The course consists of two clockwise circuits of a set of open fields. Most of it is paved, with a few short dirt sections interspersed. There's also a narrow dirt path just to the inside of the paved path that has formed organically from millions of footsteps of concrete-averse runners and walkers. I made note of this after recalling the mayhem I encountered on the second lap last year when I almost literally hit the back of the pack of walkers who were casually making their way around the course for the first time. Perhaps sacrificing the smooth, fast footing of the paved path for the open but uneven dirt would pay off this year.

There's also a team element to this race, as it is one part of the larger Corporate Games, at which Amgen competes for bragging rights with other companies in the county. I was unknown to most of my teammates last year, but now I had a reputation to uphold ("Oh, you're THE Chris Garvin," someone said before the race. Did they want my autograph?). I didn't want to let my team down, which added some pressure to what should have been a low-key race.

After warming up, I did my usual pre-race scouting of the competition, noting that last year's champ wasn't in attendance this time. (OK, I already knew he wouldn't be here, thanks to twelve months of Strava-stalking him.) I did see one young guy doing some seriously intense strides. He was going far too fast, as if he had a 100-meter dash coming up, so I was tempted to dismiss him, but he still looked pretty darn good.

I lined up at the front this year and quickly went to the lead as the race started. There was a strong wind during the first half-mile of the race, and I had really hoped there would be someone to tuck in behind for this stretch, but I was all alone. At least I wasn't the one being used as a shield...or was I? Out of nowhere, someone fell into step behind me, doing to me exactly what I wanted to do to someone else. Karma!

We stayed in formation for a few minutes. Once we escaped the wind, he pulled up beside me and asked which division I was competing in. I told him I was in the 'A' division (for large companies). It turned out he was in 'D'. He said something about this taking some pressure off our battle. Could he be looking for an excuse to slow down? I decided to test his competitiveness and accelerated. We were slower than I'd hoped for at the mile (5:26), and I really surged after this, using the wind at my back and a slight downhill to get a step on him. I glanced at my watch after another half-mile and saw that we'd been running 5:03 pace.

As I approached the end of the first lap, a spectator told me I had 10 meters on the guy. I crossed the line for the first time in 8:28 and realized that I was feeling pretty fatigued. I got a bit of a jolt when one of the volunteers shouted, "Amgen! I picked you!" Well, shoot, I can't let that guy down!

It was mentally challenging to enter the wind tunnel again, but I figured I could also use it to my advantage, since he was no longer sitting on me through it. Just as I made it around a corner and out of the wind, I hit the back of the back. For as far as I could see, the path was filled with walkers and runners. (For some perspective on just how thick this pack was, I passed roughly 300 people over the final 1.3 miles of the race.) 

As planned, I jumped onto the parallel dirt path and used this to bypass the labyrinth of humans next to me. Every hundred meters or so there would be someone occupying the dirt path, and I'd have to dodge back into traffic momentarily before resuming running unimpeded.

I passed the second mile in 5:17 but really felt like I was slowing. I glanced at my watch a quarter-mile into the third mile and saw I'd been running over 5:40 pace. I accelerated again, allowing myself to be distracted by the game of Frogger I was acting out. Mile three eventually passed in 5:21, and was feeling well enough to run 5:08 pace over the final 0.2. (Despite being called a 5K, the race flyers list the course as 3.2 miles. I guess it's more important to have two equal-length laps than to measure an actual 5K.)

My final time was 16:51 (8:22 second lap; results here), which was 15 seconds faster than last year's time. The second place guy was nearly 30 seconds back, and third was another two minutes behind him. It's not exactly a top-heavy race, but I'll gladly take the win.

Splits are randomly selected points along the loop for the past two years.
I was a little disappointed that I'd felt so fatigued so early in the second half of the race, but glad for the improvement, glad for the negative split, glad for the win, and most importantly glad to be mostly injury-free.

Up next are a couple of road mile races for something a little different, and then it's back east for good!


Monday, January 2, 2017

2016 - It also happened

We runners have great short-term memories. Run a PR a week ago, and we're flying high. But this what-have-you-done-for-me-lately attitude toward our bodies creates a near-depressive state when we're in the throes of an injury. This is the story of my 2016. I know that some good things happened at some point, but that's ancient history as far as I'm concerned. The life I now know consists of everything but running -- some swimming, a little lifting, the occasional hike, some painful yoga, and many failed attempts to resume running. Even cycling isn't an option. I know I will eventually be able to run again, but the "when" and its accompanying uncertainty are crushing my spirit on a daily basis. 

But you can't have downs without ups, and since this year-end post is not meant to dwell in the present, but to visit the past, let's look at the year in its entirety. 

Takeaways

A few bullets to summarize the year, with a positive spin...

  • Ran my fewest miles in three years, BUT it was only slightly lower than the last two years despite missing a bunch of time with various injuries. 
  • Only ran five races, BUT three were road PRs (5K, 4-mi, and Half Marathon). Placed in top-4 in all five races.
  • Nearly eclipsed 100,000 feet elevation gain without specifically targeting hilly/mountainous runs. The benefits of living where I live...
  • Experimented with some new training plans that seemed to work well without overstressing my fragile body.
  • Ran in four different countries (in a single week, no less) - US, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Germany. The latter two were places I'd never visited before.

A graphical summary of the year

2016 mileage was in line with the previous two years' mileage. A plateau is forming...
Weekly workout time by activity (top), daily weight (which I tracked for the first time ever this year), and sickness and injury timelines. The darker colors in the injury timeline indicate when an injury became too severe to run/bike.
Holiday-themed summary of last year's injuries.
I had the data, so I threw this together just to see how things shook out. No surprise here that the weekend dominates, as opportunity and motivation tend to align. The Tuesday bump was unexpected, though. (Note: this only includes the activities in the chart above, so no lifting, hiking, or yoga.)


Goals

Now for a not-so-positive review of the year. Here are my goals with their associated outcomes:
  1. Run more miles than in 2015 FAIL
    • 1088 vs. 1136. Was on pace for my best post-college annual mileage, and then the hip happened. Maybe next year...
  2. Get and stay injury-free FAIL
    • Did a nice job recovering from and holding off the knee and Achilles injuries earlier in the year, but the ankle sprain in July and hip injury that struck in October made sure there was no doubt I'd miss this goal.
  3. Sub-1:16 half-marathon FAIL
    • Ran 1:16:47. Close but no cigar.
  4. Sub-16 5K PASS
    • Just eked out a 15:59 in May. I'll take it.
  5. Jump and touch a 10-ft rim (this was inspired by Greg's blog. Who knows what's after this. Maybe a two-handed dunk in 2017??) FAIL
    • I didn't even remember this goal until pulling these together from last year's post. I think this may have to wait until my next life.
  6. 20 consecutive pull-ups FAIL
    • Hadn't counted on not having a convenient place to do pull ups to train for this. Let's try again in 2017.
  7. More data analysis! PASS
    • Lots of this in 2016. I'll have to post some of the results here for proof at some point in the next few weeks.

Miscellaneous Stats

  • Highest mileage week (Mon-Sun) = 35 miles (7/25 - 7/31)
  • Highest mileage 7-day period = 53 miles (6/24 - 6/30)
  • Lowest mileage week = 0 miles (4 times) - Knee pain (Feb), Hip pain (Dec)
  • Most hours run/bike in week = 9:00 (7/25 - 7/31) - Rest of family on vacation, so I played
  • Longest run = 15 miles (9/18) - Trail race, plus long cool down
  • Most climbing on a run = 3018 ft (7/5) - Kearsarge North in Maine (ironic, given that there's so much elevation to gain in California). Also, coincidentally, this was the same exact day as my highest elevation gain run in 2015.
  • Longest ride = 32.8 miles (8/6) - not the best year for biking, thanks to the hamstring issue
  • Most climbing on a ride = 2135 ft (7/30)
  • Number of races = 5 (1st place -1 time, 2nd place - 2 times, 4th place - 2 times)
  • Number of states run in: 8 - CA, WA, OR, NY, ME, MA, NH, RI
  • Number of countries run in: 4 - USA, Ireland, the Netherlands, Germany
  • Total running elevation gain: ~97,000 ft. Just missed 100,000, which would have been cool. Doubtless I've ever get this much again after moving back east next year.

My favorite photos from runs in 2016

Seattle and Mt. Rainier in the distance (February)

Descending San Bruno Mt outside San Francisco with college friend Ben (June)
View of Sky Top and Mohonk Mountain House from Eagle Cliff in New Paltz (June)
View of the Trapps from Laurel Ledge in New Paltz (June)
Descending the Bonticou rock scramble in New Paltz (June)
View from the top of Kearsarge North (July)
Aftermath of ankle sprain (July)
View back toward our house from the flanks of Boney Moutain (Aug)
How my legs and feet often look after running on these dusty trails (Aug)
Silhouette of Mike with ocean in the distance, short walk from our house (Sep)
My occasional partners in crime (September)
View of Dos Vientos from hills near home (September)
Unexpected view toward Santa Rosa valley near Amgen (September)
Munich Olympic Stadium (October)
Downtown Breda, Netherlands (October)
Sunrise in Ireland (October)

Goals for 2017

  1. Get and stay injury-free
  2. PR in at least one distance
  3. Set personal best in two of my favorite RI races: Blessing and Li'l Rhody
  4. Do 20 consecutive pull ups
  5. Swim consistently 
  6. Do drills and strides at least once a week (when injury-free)
  7. Maintain consistent training after the new baby (March) and move back to RI (June)
Happy New Year, everyone!