Thursday, June 28, 2012

Fairfield Half-Marathon

I signed up for Fairfield only after pulling a wrong-way at Lake Placid. Running a half two weeks after a marathon is not the smartest move, but I was well-trained, felt I'd kept up my volume without pushing too hard- I ran 11 miles Friday but then just spun for 90 minutes Saturday morning so I'd be fresh for the race.

Fairfield is an interesting half. I've run it more times than any other half-marathon, to the best of my knowledge anyway, and most of then have ended with me struggling in the last few miles to keep my dren together. I hate that and that's really been a focus this year for longer races, to hold it together and not fall apart at the end of races. This was my 3rd half-marathon and I'd held up OK at Disney and really well at Chesire, so I knew Fairfield would be a test. The course is definitely the hardest of the three, and it was going to be hot. I may like the heat, but it does effect everyone, no matter how acclimated they are, and I felt after running in last week's heat, I was ready.

I didn't need much of a warm-up with the heat. The starting line is packed, even though men and women have different starting lines (and different first miles of the course) I was right on the line at the start. Yes, it's a big race with a lot of good people, but 20-30 men fit on the starting line and I have a reasonable chance of being in the top 30 men. The press of bodies was a little much, but I was able to get off the line hazard-free.

I'd seen Don Gustavson before the race and he asked me what I wanted to run and I said I thought I'd run around 1:24 although in theory I was capable of 1:21. He was coming off a monster Friday of swimming, biking, and I think running, so he was aiming for 1:29 or so.

The start was cramped but not difficult. I was able to get off the line with no issues. It's a tough start because the first mile is extremely flat with about one turn. So the tendency is to cook that first mile, which in this race, is a really bad idea. I've run some 5:40s there and come back and been over 7 the last two miles....

I went out and ran over 6 minutes the first mile and that was actually about what I wanted. I didn't feel overcooked after a mile. I like that

At the next turn we merged in with the women. There were eight women in front of me right off the bat- Mary Lynn Currier- who I passed but never saw, and two other women that were in visual range. I hit the second mile marker feeling like I was running a good pace but the clock said 12:30 and that meant I'd run a 6:20. So I was off the pace in the second mile. Huh ?

There's a hill then, and experience tells me at this point in this race that this hill is not to be charged up, but rather handled a little bit carefully.

Al Metro was there and he yelled something out that really stick with me the whole race and I'll thank him for when I see him. 'You have experience on this course.' I thought about that the whole race, about how yes, I do have experience on the course and as I watched people racing each other this early in the race, breathing hard and struggling to stay with each other, I really questioned their judgement. There was one guy, running in shorts and a bandana, that would keep surging like this, getting caught and then chasing people, pulling ahead of me and then getting caught by me, for more than six miles. He was breathing so hard while I was mostly thinking about maintaining my form. Eventually he went off the back. The two women that I could see I also passed. I'd had a brief glimpse of the lead

The real big moment in the race was just after the 6 mile mark for me. I'd been watching people running all crazy and thinking I'd let them have their moment, because in the end a race is about minutes, not moments. I got swarmed by a guy and a woman that I thought must be running together. We were going up a hill, I'd established the inside line, the exact line I wanted and then went around me on both sides and totally cut my line off. I was pissed.

I actually said 'You took my line'.

I think sprinted around them, and took the line back. I was thinking that these two were definitely going to beat me. They'd caught me from behind about halfway through the race, this woman had someone pacing her. Therefore sprinting around them was stupid.

I did it anyway.

At the top of the hill there's a turn and we went around that and they tried to pass again and this time I was towards the middle of the road because that's where the tangent was. The guy bumped me. I looked at him and said 'Really ?' and then picked up my pace again.

This really was the most critical part of the race. The next thing I knew we were heading to a water station. The guy ran in front of me and cut me off- again.

That was it. I was running at another level now, the same way I ran at Disney. The guy picked it up and eventually separated from me. By the way he was responding to questions from spectators, they were looking for her to be with him. He turned around and looked for her and gestured in my direction because she was, for a few miles, right on my heels.

After that, the increased pace brought people back to me. I was not passed by anyone else after about mile 7 and started picking people off.

Going up the hill in the 10th mile, there were some cyclists riding right at me, and this was right after I passed the guy that had repeatedly bumped and cut me off. I was frantically waving them out of the way. The guy said to me 'You're wasting a lot of energy.' I didn't respond. Instead I cranked up the engine and separated on the hill, got a gap, and then at the top of the hill blistered down, catching more guys. I didn't see him again until the chute.

I ran those flat last two miles really hard, never backing off and not feeling like crap like I usually do at the end of the race.

At 12 miles, I could clearly see Wantuil Souza. He looked like the heat had gotten to him- he'd been far out ahead of me and I just set my sights on him and caught him before the turn and then took that last turn and really ran as hard as I could the last half mile or so.

When the guy that had told me I was eating energy crossed the line I put on my hand and shook his and then asked him what he'd been saying about 'wasting energy...'

I was surprised a few hours later when I got home- Ian wanted to leave right away so I was gone before the race was even two hours old- that not only had I won my five year age group but I was first master- that was a pleasant surprise. Although it was my slowest half this year, I felt like it was one of my better races.

And I enjoyed running it...

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Running in the Heat

It's 95 degrees here in the heat today and I have to say that unlike most people, I love it. I can't wait to get out and run on these hot and humid days. But it's not easy, and you have to do it the right way. So here are some tips humbly offered.

Throw the GPS in the drawer 
It's so easy these days to track every step, analyse the distance and speed of every workout, and of course, when we do that, we start to develop specific expectations. Despite being the first person to post his routes and times to facebook, let's face it, you're the only person that cares how far or how fast your workout was. Don't get me wrong, self-expectations can be great, but on an extremely hot day you should always run for a set time, not a set-distance. Why ?

Lower your expectations
It's important to moderate your expectations, especially this time of year when you might be running in extreme heat for the first time. The heat will affect you because it's not physiologically possible for you to completely ignore it. When it's 80 and you go out and start your run you'll feel the heat eventually. When it's 95 and you step out the door it will hit you in the face the first step. And keep hitting you.

I recommend picking either a different route that you usually run or doing a strict out and back with the goal of turning around halfway through the run. Don't try and negative split. I went out today and picked a route I knew I could normally easily run in under 75 minutes with the goal of running it in 75 minutes. You are not going to run as fast. Accept it. Start the run with the goal of surviving the run.

That may sound lame but 95 degree weather, especially humid 95 degrees is no joke. It's more than most people can handle. Add the fact that this kind of humid heat invariably drives down air quality and you have every reason to reduce your expectations.

Carry a full-sized water bottle, not a fuel belt
I'm a big advocate of a full-sized water bottle under all circumstances, but in the extreme heat, I think it's a must. This is just a question of mass and um, kinetic energy (?) 4 small bottles with 6-8 ounces of fluid will heat up very quickly, where as a single 20 ounce bottle will stay cool longer. Keeping your fluids cool as long as possible helps provide maximum benefit when you drink them. Drinking 85 degree sports drink is not cooling to help keep your core body temperature regulated.

I know for a lot of people, carrying a water bottle is not something they like to do, but my advice is to do it anyway.

Stay in the shade
Try to pick a route with a lot of shade. Shade is 5-10 degrees cooler (or more). Every minute you spend in the shade improves your chance of success. It's not wimpy or anything, it's common-sense smart.

The first 10-20 minutes of the run may not feel very good. You are going to run slower. Live with it. Settle in and run steady- running fast is not what you are looking to do. Don't think about the heat, don't think about the low air quality. Getting panicky will raise your heart rate 5-10 beats a minute and by far the most important thing is keeping your heart rate down. Don't push, don't time your miles, ignore any other runners out on the road.

Concentrate on Your Form
One of the best ways to stay relaxed and get the most out of your run is to work on your form. I'm not a very zen type of guy, but with the heat, your muscles and joints are going to be lose and it could be your best chance to run with really good form. Really good form in turn makes you more relaxed. Being relaxed in turn keeps your heart rate down. This is especially important on hot days. Cardiac drift is going to work in an accelerated fashion on hot days and keeping your heart rate low is essential. If your form is good you will run strong, and if you run strong you'll feel confident.

Back off on the hills
Your heart rate is always going to elevate on hills. In the extreme heat, you have to be especially careful not to let your heart rate get away from you. If you push a hill, your heart rate will soar, and you may not be able to get it back down. In the heat, your heart rate will stay elevated longer, perhaps significantly. Don't charge up a hill only to have to walk after you crest it, or spend the entire rest of your run with an unproductively elevated heart rate.

Don't let the fact you're feeling good goad you into anything
15-20 minutes into your run, even if you felt like crap at the start, you may start to feel really good. That's great. Don't start pushing hard. That's your body settling in. If you start pushing as soon as you start feeling good, you will stop feeling good. Again, cardiac drift will occur. That good feeling, at the same intensity, will leave you in the dust later. Keep your intensity level the same, run and enjoy the fact that for a few minutes, you feel good. Don't fall into the trap of thinking that if it doesn't hurt it's not hard enough.

Listen to your body
Normally I am the first person to tell my body to go frak itself. But on an hot day it's essential you listen to what your body is telling you. If it says you need to walk, walk. Heat stroke is not some kind of weird joke, it's incredibly dangerous. Runners and triathletes sometimes get a little superman complex going. Don't. If your body says slow down, even walk, it beats an ambulance ride to the ER.

Replenish, then reward
It's essential that you replenish as soon as you get done runner. I recommend two scoops of Recoverite in a glass with cold water.

My rewards are: Red Bull, @stepehenathome's American Dream, or a Root Beer.

Get some calories in right away. Then sit back and put your legs up and rest and relax.

You earned it.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Marathon that Wasn't

Sometimes you go to a race, and something goes wrong. It happens to everyone. It can be a 5K in the middle of nowhere with 100 people where they don't really mark the course right, it could be an Ironman where your tire blows up in transition 15 minutes before the race starts.

It could be a race that's a throwaway or the race that you spent six months training for and at the end of the day, random chance, your own penchant for the occasional mistake or something else can step up and bite you in the ass.

I'd been training for the Lake Placid Marathon, well, since the day after the Disney Half Marathon. I started out the year with a 1:21 there, trimming 5 minutes off my last half-marathon in September, went on to win 3 races in the spring, and then got in the type of training a lot of people can only dream of finding the time for- a 22 mile run in the middle of the week,  5 10-plus miles runs in 10 days. I was ready to run this race, my legs were in good shape, mentally I wanted to be in the top 5.

I don't know that I'll ever write the actual race report for this race, because well, I didn't run it.

I ran most of it. Over 25 miles of it, but that's not a marathon.

Due to an odd fluke of the course the turn-around is not at 13.1 miles but at around 12 miles (or something).

I had it in my head exactly where the turn-around was, and when I got there, I turned around and headed the other way. There were some super-sized cones at the turn-around, I saw the lead runners going the other way.

I had a brain fart. This was an epic one, the biggest race-day mental error I have ever made.

I didn't know it, really know it, until I ran past the actual turn around.

Wow. I finished the race, I talked to the runner closest to me when I made the turn, I sat on the bumper of the timing truck for a minute, and fought back a few tears. I'm a bit of neanderthal, I don't guys should ever cry, but that was pretty close.

I went to the timer, gave the my pull tag, and told then I'd missed a turn. They wanted to really check it out and make sure I was wrong. I told them I was sure, and went back to the hotel.

I don't deserve a pat on the back or anything for that. I totally frakked up out on the race course. Plain and simple. I made a mental error you just can't make. This race has three turn-arounds and you have to get all three right. Going to the timer and disqualifying myself wasn't something I could decide whether or not I wanted to do.

Physically, I felt like I'd run a marathon. Mentally, I'd faced the same challenges, the fatigue and the self-doubt. Emotionally, there was no satisfaction.

I can't say it didn't suck. I can't say it didn't remind me that this was the same place where I'd passed on what is probably the only Kona spot I'll ever earn. I can't say I wasn't stupid embarrassed.

I can say that I got showered and took Ian and played 18 holes of Pirate Golf (I won). I can say that the next morning I signed up for the Branford Road Race and the Fairfield Marathon.

I can't get that race back. I can't forget that what I did was stupid, but I can't let it affect me either. I have raced before and now, after this morning, I have raced again.

And that is all you can do.