Sunday, June 22, 2008

Fairfield Half Marathon

My life is a strange combination of the exquisitely choreographed and the hopelessly haphazard. On one hand, I'm signed up for two ironmans this year, which requires you to not only decide on the race a year in advance but hit a five minute window on the internet. On the other I spent all week debating doing the Health Net Triathlon to support my team- Force 5 Sports. In the end, it was clear that would have created too much havoc in a weekend workout ecosphere that included a 7 hour workout for Margit. While she would have made the adjustment, it didn't make sense.

I started considering running Fairfield instead on Friday morning. But I probably would have stayed on the fence about it if I hadn't gotten a totally random call from JB (of JB Sports) on Friday afternoon. We talked briefly and he encouraged me to come down and run the race. There's three race directors I have trouble saying no to- JB, Marty, and the one that lives in my house. Of course, online registration had closed at noon and with over 3000 runners coming to the half and the 5K there was no way I was going to ask JB to sneak mine in.

Although I was signing up at the last minute, I did go into the race with a plan. That plan was to use the race to mimic how I want to do the Lake Placid run, that is, easy on the first half and careful on the early downhills. I was also going to use cliff blocks for nutrition, but it turned out that the ones in my trunk had already been eaten. My teammate Steve Surprise, who rode down with me, loaned me 4 dollars to get more- thanks, Steve.

When I got done with my warm-up, I saw Jim Zoldy and that was cool- I wanted to congratulate him on a great Escape from Alcatraz (the triathlon, not the prison).

I lined up right in the center, ending up behind the leading women contenders, who packed in after I picked my spot.

JB gets the race going pretty well on time, which is very cool.

Of course, the first mile always is a little bit too fast. It's a nearly board flat mile with about two turns, a long field of vision for the runners, and the adrenaline that many people feel when they have 1600 people on their heels. I have to be honest. i don't feel it. What I feel a combination of panic and embarrassment as truly great runners start pulling away, although ironically part of the panic is the knowledge that they still shouldn't be that close to me, and I'm over-exerting myself.

When I first saw the one mile clock I was about twenty seconds away from it and it said 5:20. I didn't even wait until I got to it- I started backing off straight away. I went through in 5:43 or so. As I trimmed my speed in the second mile, people started to pass me, including Jim, who I would only see for maybe a mile or so, and at a distance. Jessie and Natoli went by.A few guys I know are from the Danbury area went by. Dave Pantin pulled along side and this young big-chested guy with no shirt and an Old Spice aura also passed me. He appeared to be running especially hard for his build and where we were in the race.

I let it all go. I'd like to think that as I get older, I'm getting more intelligent. I mean, people tell me I'm intelligent, but the truth when it comes to sports is not exactly. I tend to be more intelligent when I'm operating very close to my margins. Six or seven years ago when I was all in as a runner, I could run crazy the first five or six miles of Fairfield, pound out some ridiculous sub-six miles, then just hang on. Of course, when I finished I looked and felt the Ramones hotel room the day after the show. These days, if I did that I'd end up running 1:28 or slower.

There's a big hill right there and I worked up it, but only at 90%. This is a big hill, but short and completely manageable. People still came back to me, and some people clearly were pushing too hard. At the top you get some nice downhill, then another uphill...

... and so on. The course kind of rolls like this, with the general elevation increasing, but both sharp climbs and decents, until mile seven. I was determined not to push the downhills. Again, I wanted to use the race as a training run for IMLP. the first seven miles are downhill and the worst marathon I've run in three tries at that race was the one where I opened up with 7 miles in 42 minutes. I was back and forth with people around me, including Dave. We'd get to hills, I'd push at 90% or so and get small gains, then on the downhills hold my own or more likely lose ground. However, as we got past the halfway point of the race, I sensed the people around me were starting to fade slightly and some of the people in front of me were coming back to me.

I decided that since I was on the back half of the course, I was going to attack on the downhill, within the idea of keeping a steady pace, not shredding my calves, and so on. I'd taken a bag of Cliff Shot Blocks at six or so miles and that was kicking in, so I went for it, opening up my stride and...

By mile 10, when the hills had come back, I'd moved up about half a dozen spots and felt really good. I continued passing people- and everyone was really positive and supporting with one another- it was a great group of runners today.

I saw Natali ahead of me as I crested the last hill, caught him after mile eleven, and then just pushed it in. I passed two other runners from Danbury and then as Mark Gihouly announced it, it was a race between me and Manoel Leal to the finish line. Except I wasn't blowing up my tight calf to sprint and he crushed me by five seconds.

I tossed my chip to a volunteer and headed back out for Steve, feeling pretty good about my run. Steve was already at mile 12 when I got out there and we had a good run back in. All in all a good day for a run...

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