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.

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!

Saturday, November 5, 2016

City to the Sea Half Marathon

My half marathon PR had been eating at me almost since the day I ran it in 2012. That day, a combination of terrible conditions (gale-force winds) and inadequate training teamed up to hold me to a 1:22 clocking. Four years (and zero half marathons) later, that PR remained, reminding me of its existence every chance it got. (I even noted it in my very first blog post, when I created the "Optimal Race Curve" to show just how relatively poorly I've done at longer race distances.) Finally, a few months ago, I decided it was time to do something about it. There are a plethora of half marathon options out here, with one scheduled seemingly every weekend. From those myriad options, I chose one that sounded scenic if not fast -- City to the Sea -- starting in San Luis Obispo and terminating at nearby Pismo beach. My training went quite well, and I began to dare to think not only of PRs, but also of breaking 1:15.

Well, just about the only certainty in my running world is that injuries will crop up at the most inopportune times. Sure enough, a month or so out from the race, I was visited by ghosts of injuries past. One was the achilles pain that knocked me out late last year and has been showing up from time to time since then. I felt confident I could deal with that one. The other was a knee pain that I self-diagnosed six years ago as fat pad impingement. It prevented me from running for almost an entire year back then, and so I was pretty worried when it unexpectedly made an appearance and wouldn't go away. I stopped all workouts and took a couple extra days off for the last few weeks to try to keep it under control. At that point, I decided my primary goal would simply be to make it to the starting line. I'd worry about the other goals once I accomplished that.

To complicate matters, I got word in September that I'd be traveling to Europe for a whirlwind tour of the company's three European locations (in Ireland, the Netherlands, and Germany) during the week leading up to the race. There was nothing I could do about this little inconvenience, so I embraced the experience and did my best to adjust to the time changes and ignore the lack of sleep. (I also twisted my bad ankle on a cobblestone while running in the Netherlands, but that was a mere footnote on my growing list of excuses). Returning back to the US on Friday, I slept like a log Friday night, then hopped in the car with the family on Saturday, and before I knew it I was jogging down to the starting line early Sunday morning. A little foggy-headed and creaky-legged, but no worse for the wear.
The race photographer didn't get any pics of me running, but she did nab this nice one. I probably wasn't the focal point.
Race start; I'm in the bright green singlet
The Race

Miles 1-3: I'd had in mind that I'd run 5:45 pace for as long as I could. I figured there would be a few others who would be running this pace or faster, so I wasn't shocked when three guys took off ahead of me at a substantially faster pace. Two of them looked legit, while one I knew would be faltering before too long (and he did just that after two miles). Sometimes you can just tell. By the mile mark, I was already 20 seconds behind the leaders and running all alone. The first three miles were straight and slightly downhill, and I was feeling very good all around. Mile splits: 5:43, 5:41, 5:46.

Miles 4-6: I heard a group coming up behind me and guessed it was about four people based on their foot steps. My guess was right, and I was soon swallowed up by the pack. I found their pace to be comfortable, so I latched on, and soon it was just me and two of the original foursome, as the other two had been dropped. I selfishly decided to let these guys do the work for a while, and I'd enjoy the ride for as long as I could. We stayed together long enough to pick off one of the early leaders, who then did as I had done and latched right on to the group. Imperceptibly, the two pack leaders cranked up the pace, and I knew I'd be in trouble later if I tried to hang on. I reluctantly let them go just as we started up a long incline, hoping I'd see one or more of them later. Mile splits: 5:45, 5:39, 5:48

Miles 7-9: The seventh mile has the first of two big hills in the race. This one rises about 100 feet, which is quite a shock to the system after running flat or downhill for the first six miles. I started gaining again on the early leader who'd tried to run with the mini-pack I was once part of. I figured I'd catch him by the top of the hill, but it actually happened much sooner, as he stopped to tie his shoe right smack in the middle of the hill. I tried to keep pushing over the top of the hill and back down the other side. Coming down the hill, I could see far into the distance, but not far enough to see the race leader. The two guys ahead of me were probably already 15-20 seconds up the road and didn't seem to be slowing. Still, there was a lot of race to go. Mile splits: 6:09 (uphill), 5:08 (downhill, plus likely GPS error), 5:49

Miles 10-13: The tenth mile contains the second big hill - another 100-foot rise pointing directly into the sun. This one was soul crushing. I really struggled heading up and then had nothing left in the tank to attack the ensuing downhill into Pismo Beach. I was trying to avoid tying up, but that was inevitable. To get the mileage needed for the race, the course takes a turn straight down to the water, then back up a small but poorly timed hill, then back down to the beach again, and finally to the finish line. I'd realized about halfway through the race that my watch was knocking maybe 25 yards off each mile. That added up, and so it wasn't surprising (but was still disappointing) to have so much left in the race when my watch reached 13.1 miles. Another minute of running, and I was finally to the line, crossing in a new PR, but somewhat underwhelming, 1:16:47.

Splits: 6:16, 5:43, 5:49, 5:50, 5:31 (pace for last 0.3)

Final time: 1:16:47 (5:51 pace) (full results here)

Some shots of the race from Katie's Instagram feed. 

Post-Race: I got some nourishment after the race in the form of a breakfast burrito, which tasted oh so good. We hung around for a bit, thinking we'd spend some time at the beach before heading home, only to discover that the "beach" was several hundred feet below a cliff. So much for those plans. I decided to run the two miles back to the car while the rest of the family took the shuttle. Turns out, my legs were in really rough shape after the race, especially my right knee and hip. Interestingly, the knee pain was identical to an injury I got my senior year of college after falling during an XC race. I hadn't felt that in a long time. Ah, the memories...
I love this one -- a candid of me and the kiddos after the race.
In the days following the race, my legs (especially my quads) were SO sore. As you've heard me say before, the amount of soreness you feel after a race tells you how well prepared you were for it. So now I know -- not prepared enough! My right knee was also very painful for a few days, but the pain had mostly disappeared by the weekend. I decided to take a run six days after the race and fared quite well for 5 or so miles until I started to descend on a road back to the start of the run. My knee flared up, and I also noticed that the hip pain was back.

Another week off followed, which seemed to relieve the knee pain, but the hip was even worse, especially on ups and downs, which is pretty much all there is where I live. In the weeks since then, I've been trying to manage the pain while still getting in a run every two or three days. I have no other races on the horizon, so it's just a matter of patience at this point. I have a feeling my next entry in this blog will be the end-of-year summary, so stay tuned for that. More racing in 2017, I hope!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Heroes in Recovery 6K

With a pretty good stretch of recent training (and with an eye toward a half marathon in October), I decided to take advantage of the fitness and jump into a local race. I'd been thinking about running one of several road 10Ks in the area but instead opted for a 6K trail race at Paramount Ranch. (Paramount Ranch is a neat little spot in the Santa Monica Mountains with great trails and an old western main street that's been used as the setting for hundreds of movies and television shows.)
Paramount Ranch - site of the Heroes in Recovery 6K.
I hoped there wouldn't be a gun fight on the trails that day.
The race - Heroes in Recovery 6K - raises money for a good cause, is a novel distance, covers challenging but fun terrain, and even has some prize money for the top four finishers. Those were reasons enough for me to give this one a shot. Now onto the race...

Mile 1:

On the starting line was a group of a dozen or so kids from the race's charity organization, New Directions for Youth. They were pretty adorable and had been training for the race for the past eight weeks. Rather than asking the kids to move to a more suitable starting spot, the race director asked the rest of us to carefully run around them after the race went off, noting that we'd have lots of time to make up for the slow start. I thought that was a nice touch and gave those kids a chance to lead us out onto the course.

The little guys lead the way. I'm looking for a way through.
I lined up in the first group behind the kids and plotted out what I thought would be the path of least resistance around the inside of the first curve. Well, those kids are smart and had the same path in mind, which put me in a tough spot as I attempted to pass them 50 yards or so into the race. I dodged my way through, even elbowing one or two of them in the head (they were the perfect height). I said I was sorry and prayed that the race photographer was far enough away not to catch that moment of abuse.

The kids in arrears, I followed the course along what would be a stream in other parts of the world but here in California is a bone dry ravine. This was, as far as I could tell, the only long stretch of straight, flat trail, and I used it to catch the early leader and accelerate into a steep up/down section. I thought I might be clear of the rest of the field on the other end of the technical descent, but I soon realized there was one guy I hadn't shaken. Not only was he hanging tight, but he was moving up to my shoulder as we came to the end of the first mile. Split - 5:46

Mile 2: 

The second mile starts part way up the biggest hill of the race. I had planned to ease my way up this hill, which I did, but the guy behind me took the opportunity to ease right by me. And ease he did; I've never seen someone look so smooth while accelerating up a steep hill. By the top of the hill, he had gapped me by 5 seconds and wasn't showing any signs of slowing down. It was already clearly a two-person race, as I couldn't see anyone within 100 yards behind me, so I stayed focused on the leader hoping his big move would take its toll later in the race. From the top of hill, the course drops down pretty quickly and then goes through a series of short ups and downs, making it difficult to settle into a steady pace. I kept waiting for his lead to stop growing, but if it was going to happen it wouldn't be during this mile. Split - 5:46

Mile 3:

More ups and downs in mile 3, and I started losing sight of the leader. I loved the challenge of the course, though it was strange to never feel like I could get into a rhythm. Every time I would have a straight stretch of trail to stride across, I'd encounter a dip, step, or sharp turn that would throw things off. To add to the fun, the second half of the course used some of the same trails as the first half, except in the opposite direction, which meant dodging a slew of runners at peace in their own world coming up the single track in front of me. It was a welcome distraction/series of obstacles, and before I knew it I was heading back down the steep hill where I'd been passed by the leader back when this was still a two-man race. Split - 5:49

Mile 4: 

I caught the occasional glimpse of the leader when the trail afforded a scenic vista here and there in the final mile. He was quite far ahead, and I was running for what little pride I had left. My legs were finally starting to feel a little peppier, and I was able to increase the pace to something respectable as I inched toward the finish. I made the final turn with about 200 meters to go and heard the announcer greet the winner as he crossed the line. All I could think about is how the spectators (all 15 of them) must be wondering where the second place finisher is. After an eternity, they wondered no more. I was done. Split - 4:30 (5:24 pace).

Total time: 21:50 (results here)

Crossing the line in 2nd.

Post-race: 

I congratulated the winner (a nice, modest, young guy), and we chatted about the challenging course and surprising temperature increase. We were soon asked by a few kids from the New Directions for Youth to pose for pictures and meet with them. Actually, they asked the winner to do that, but they reluctantly pulled me in on account of my hurt feelings. They treated us like celebrities, which was pretty cool.

Speaking of feelings, I was feeling pretty bummed about getting destroyed by the winner. Then, I heard his name called at the award ceremony. It was very familiar, but why? I turned to my trusty phone, typed it in, and found this. This dude had just finished 3rd in the NCAA DI XC championships less than a year ago. Hmm, maybe I should recalibrate my performance. Turns out, he either took it easy on me or has been taking it easy on himself since graduating. Either way, there was no way I was going to touch him in any race of any distance, so 2nd place suddenly seemed rather fitting.
4th, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place finishers. The identity of the guy on my right is just dawning on me.

Other observations:

  • The temperature was 49 degrees when I arrived at 7:30, which is just about as cold as it's been since I moved out here last year. By the time I finished my long cool down, it was 102! Now that's a temperature swing.
  • My quads felt heavy throughout the race, likely from the previous day's bike ride. It's a good reminder to stay away from that dreaded two-wheeled beast as more important races approach.
  • I need to start defaulting to fist bumping others after races out here. There are few things as awkward as sticking out my hand for a shake only to be greeted by an unrelenting fist on the other end. Everyone here does the fist thing but me. It's time to adapt.
  • The top female in the race was 9 years old! Apparently, she's been at this for a while.
  • This girl sang the national anthem. So Hollywood.
  • There's nothing that bothers me more than someone crossing the finish line and immediately making excuses for their performance. At this race, I congratulated one guy on his finish, and he launched into something about bringing the wrong shoes to the race. Did it add 10 minutes to your time, buddy? Another guy, without any prompting, announced that this race was too short, as he just ran a 50K a few weeks ago. Good for you, but it's not like the length of this race was a surprise. For the five of you who read this blog, please hold your tongue if you're thinking of self-handicapping before or after a race. Do as I do: save your excuses for your blog!