Saturday, February 14, 2009

14 out of 114 on February 14

As you may have guessed from my previous blog, I ultimately decided against running the "Last Chance for Boston" Marathon. I wasn't confident that I could PR (although there was a decent chance that I could have), and it took three weeks for my hip to fully recover from the marathon. Here is what my training has looked like since the marathon:

Week of January 19: 20 miles (all slower than 9:45)
Week of January 26: 25 miles (all slower than 9:30)
Week of February 2: 35 miles (all slower than 9:20)

I didn't do any speedwork for those three weeks, and my first speed workout was on Tuesday of this week, which was 10 miles, with 3 at tempo pace. I did this on a treadmill at a resort in the Bahamas!

Before I even ran the marathon, I had registered for a the George Washington Birthday 10K on February 14. I figured that four weeks post-marathon would be a good time to gauge my fitness before jumping full force into marathon training again. Seeing as how I wasn't going to run "Last Chance for Boston" and that I felt fully recovered from the marathon, I figured I would go ahead and do the 10K.

The weather was perfect. Upper 30's and sunny. I actually got hot in my long-sleeved lightweight shirt. I thought to myself that it was perfect marathon weather! I got to the race, warmed up for just over a mile, and then lined up at the start line. I didn't expect to PR (49:23) considering that I hadn't been doing any speedwork in over a month, but I was hoping for a sub-50:00 just to prove to myself that I wasn't completely out of shape.

I passed the first mile marker in 7:48. Perfect! I really wanted to just hold that pace and continue on for a PR. But things got tough as the race was a lot hillier than I expected. And very curvy with lots of sharp turns. I passed the next mile marker at 8:07, which I couldn't understand. It didn't feel like I had slowed down, so I told myself to speed up but not too much.

The race thinned out and I focused on keeping up with two runners just in front of me. We kept passing each other back and forth. I passed the 4th mile in 9:07, which I knew had to be a mistake. Unlike in past races where I really let this mess me up, I just kept going and told myself that the mile marker was off-- I wasn't that slow.

Just before the finish line, we had to run over a bridge. A long uphill followed by a long downhill. I got passed by a few runners on this uphill, but I maintained my pace. I glanced at my watch and realized that I wouldn't PR, and that my time would probably be 50:xx. Knowing this, I didn't give the final kick that I could have, and just coasted down the hill and maintained my pace up until the finish. I just didn't see a need to push the pace at the end when I knew I wasn't going to PR.

I crossed the finish line with a watch time of 50:48. I was kind of bummed about this, but I didn't beat up on myself too much. I then heard people talking about the course being too long. That actually made sense to me because mile 4 was 9:07, and mile 5 was 7:58, so it's not like mile 5 was shorter than it should have been. Within minutes, the announcer came on and said that the course was too long. He said it was 6.4 miles. I was relieved because that meant that I definitely met my goal of sub-50:00. But then I got sort of mad because I realized I might have been able to PR. If I hadn't been so far off the PR, I would have given it the final kick and probably PRed by just a few seconds.

Now the race results are posted online and it says "Today's event was measured at 6.4 miles. Pace has been calculated at 6.4 miles." All that's listed is my gun time of 50:57 and then my pace of 7:58.

Now my only question is. . . is the adjusted 7:58 pace based off of my gun time or my chip time? This matters to me because if it's gun time, then it would not have been a PR. It would have been a 49:30. If it's chip time, then it would have been a PR by a few seconds. The 10K is my weakest distance, so even a PR by one second is a huge deal!

Based on my 5K and half marathon times from the fall, I should be able to easily break 49:00 in a 10K, but for some reason, I just can't seem to do it!

I placed 14 out of 114 in my age group
I placed 201 out of 659 total runners

According to Mike (Crazy Legs), I was the first finisher with headphones! It was a nice surprise to see Mike and Katharine (Freaky McRunner) after the race. I didn't know ahead of time that they would be there.

I guess the main takeaway from this race is that I did get a good tempo run in, and I have confirmed that I haven't lost much speed in the past four weeks of light training. I ran an extra 5 miles after the race for a total of 12.7 miles for the day.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

New Perspective on Training and Racing

After having such a miserable experience at the Rock 'N Roll Arizona marathon, I kept saying to others and myself that I learned nothing. Usually a bad experience can be chalked up to "a learning experience" but I didn't think that was the case with this one. I didn't do anything wrong. I hydrated properly and took in plenty of electrolytes. I tapered properly and I set a goal for myself that was a bit of a stretch, although not unrealistic based on my training. If I had it to do over again, I probably would have gone out slower. But I had no idea the heat would affect me so much so it's not like I made a bad decision.

As the days went by I started to think more about it. And I thought to myself that at least now I could sympathize with people who had bad marathons. People who hit a wall or bonked. Not because they didn't train properly, but because of the weather or cramping or stomach problems, or whatever. I had had really awful half marathons, but never a bad marathon until just now.

The more marathons you run, the more likely you are to have bad ones. This is because there is an element of luck involved and there are things that the runner cannot control. When I first started running marathons, my first six were each PRs. And then my 7th was a "fun run" which I still finished faster than anticipated. It just seemed natural that the more of them you did, and the more you trained, the better and better the marathons would get. This is probably true if you look at marathons over several years, but for any one individual race, it's not necessarily true. And maybe the "good ones" that you get are much better than the "good ones" that you had when you first started doing it. But the more you put yourself out there, the more chance you have of things NOT coming together on race day.

I've been really depressed for the last week. Not about the marathon in particular, just in general. I think the marathon is definitely playing a role, though. I was talking to my friend Christopher about the topic of investment vs. payoff. I've never made such a huge investment in terms of time and energy to have it not payoff at all. Not even with a PR. That's why I wanted to run the next marathon just four weeks later. So that I could still make use of that huge investment. So I could get some form of return on it, in the shape of a PR, no matter how small.

But ultimately, it's not the smartest way to go about getting a PR. With marathons, you can't just say "that was awful, let me have a do-over tomorrow". It takes time to recover from the marathon, and by the time you do, you are not at the same fitness level you were at on race day. So it takes more time to build up again. And if you want to improve your fitness level, even more time to go beyond where you had been. I experienced a bit of this when I got sick and had to bail out of the Hartford marathon. I couldn't just jump back into training after having been really sick for four weeks.

I've never been so frustrated with marathoning and training in my whole running career. But that's how it is, and I need to accept this reality if I want to keep at it, and I do. Most people who have run 8 marathons can probably cite at least one "bad" race where they were really well prepared but things blew up. Where they had trained hard for months and months, and it just ended in a bad experience for them. I'm not any more "cursed" than the next runner.

Part of my love of running comes from the fact that if I work hard, I see gains. I love being able to accomplish things all on my own and have an objective measure of my improvement. I like to achieve my goals, and I like to be in control of achieving them. Maybe this is really an opportunity to grow not in terms of my "fitness level" but in terms of learning how to better tolerate not being in control. In the years before I started racing, I was anorexic. It was my way of maintaining control over my life by closely monitoring every calorie I consumed. And I recovered when I discovered how wonderful running was. But in a sense, it was a replacement for that feeling of control and structure that I had while I was anorexic.

I've always known about the lack of control that comes with race day weather and other factors. But I guess the real lesson for me here is that I am not exempt from bad marathons because I train well-- and I need to value my investment in training just as much with or without the PR to show for it. There are some people who get outstanding marathon times and don't train properly. There is a lot of grey area here. And even though running is very numbers-based, there are so many factors that contribute that cannot be quantified or represented in a spreadsheet.

Christopher said he didn't think I would PR at Last Chance for Boston in two weeks. Simply because it was too soon to be recovered and ready to perform at my peak level. And another friend of mine, Steve, cautioned me that I could end up with an injury, and then really be in a worse place than I am now. I clung to that race, even paid the $75 registration fee, because I needed some hope that my investment wasn't completely a waste. But on the other hand, I don't want to do something stupid that could worsen my situation, just because I was stubborn. Additionally, my right hip is still achey from the marathon, and I haven't been able to run quickly since the marathon because of it. Just really slow short runs. So, I'll need to think about it more. If I can't run at least 10 miles today, then I don't see how a marathon PR is possible in two weeks.

I'll keep you posted.