"It's a little self indulgent..." - My mom
"After I read a sentence, I get mad at myself for caring what you're doing." -Karl Dusen

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Late-December lethargy

After dealing with the time change coming back from Seattle, I was pretty useless on Monday and took the day off, sleeping a lot. Tuesday I started to feel a sore throat coming on, but fought through it to run with Karl, heading east on the W&OD to the beltway and back. Wednesday morning, I woke up at 5 am unable to imagine sitting on the metro to go to work, so I took the day off and slept until 10, when some dudes started working on the porches above my bedroom window and ruined my opportunities to sleep. I spent the rest of the day watching Breaking Bad and flirting with the thought of running,despite my illness, which I passed on, ultimately. I did wake up pretty energetic the next morning, and did eight miles on a Westmoreland loop. I toyed with running after my office Christmas party Friday, but that ended up going longer than I had planned. Saturday morning,I ran down to Annandale and did a 10.5-mile loop thought Holmes Run Stream  Park and up Sleepy Hollow.It was ok, but not too exciting. Sunday I did a pretty quick reverse Westmoreland at 6:15 pace. The cold was still a problem, lots of congestion and coughing, but I was sleeping well. Monday evening, Karl and I ran out on the W&OD west to Sunrise Valley for 12.6 miles. It was the longest I had run since my trip to Difficult Run before nationals. I coughed like crazy on the way out but was better on the return.

I ran after work Tuesday, just around Hains Point, and the radio on my mp3 player died. Actually, the whole gadget died, which was a bummer. As much as I like the sansa clip player, it's not that durable. I got up on Wednesday to run before work, but I felt trashed before I hit a mile, so I just did an Idylwood for four miles.I took Thursday off of work and did an hour on the Pimmit Run Trail, definitely feeling out of it when I turned around before Old Dominion. Friday morning I did a Westmoreland ++ and found the new mile splits to be a little better.

Saturday I resumed the tradition of the annual WPIAL alumni run. For the first time in years, Lebo guys outnumbered Baldwin, with Costello, Rad, Sean and me compared to Sheehan, Quinn and Mazzocco. We also had Marco, Slosky, Hack, Anne, Taryn and her brother Nick,  Scott and Megan, Wu, Brandon G. I know there were others, but I can't remember right now. When we finished up, Mazzocco surprised me with the mp3 player I had left at his place when I was in Boston in April. It was a great surprise, and might yet save my winter running.

Sunday morning I did a 10 mile loop through the West End, Elliot, Sheraden, Chartiers City, and Windgap. Pretty hilly, I averaged 6:40s.

Monday I met up with Slosky, Marco, Ann, Maura and Slosky's friend Lauren and ran in Schenley Park. Toward the end, Brandon G showed up, the girls and Sloksy stopped and we sped up for a 3k loop.

Tuesday's 35-degree rain convinced me to take a reluctant day off to try and finish off my cold.

Monday, December 12, 2011


As much as I hate to quote John Madden, "All a prevent defense does is prevent you from winning." That's generally the rule in football, and this weekend I demonstrated its application in cross country running this weekend in Seattle.

In trying to maintain a minimum level of performance, I didn't take any risks at the USATF club cross country championships, but I didn't run a race worth of a cross-country flight for a race. I was a faded copy of the 25:19 runner I was a month ago. My confidence never recovered from the Philly Half, my mind was constantly on my right foot, I felt slow and literally had to carry more when I gained post-Philly weight. Had this race been a month ago, I would have been in a different position, but I just couldn't hold onto what I had. I wouldn't say I was burned out, but I was tired -- tired of waking up early or running late after work. I tried to preserve my enthusiasm with days off, but in the end I just felt more out of shape.

I slept terribly Thursday night, then woke up at 5 to be ready to go to the airport with Shredder. Once there, I had an awful chicken biscuit at Wendy's and sat on a plane for six hours to get to Seattle. The trip kind of kept going and going while we picked up a van, drove it to the hotel and checked in. I could seem to fall asleep before checking out the course. That 35 minute run was so rough that if we had been racing that afternoon, I would be a lock for the last 10 to finish.

Luckily, we had about 20 hours, so after going back to the hotel and having a pretty poor dinner, I went to sleep at 9 and aside from a few tosses and turns, slept soundly until 7:30. Breezy and I took a 15 minute jog and had breakfast. I killed some more time reading and we headed to the course for the race.

I felt decidedly better during the warmup than I had the day before, but still not ready to race. Watching the women's team race was fun, though I never saw Jess' sister, and totally missed both Gretchen Speed and Jessica Winter. I took a lot of great photos, but then somehow lost my camera at the meet.

Despite a steady but light rain, I wasn't cold when it came time to undress for the race. The starting boxes were tight, and we lined up pretty much in single file. I was pretty strong at the beginning, getting into a decent position, I felt, in the first half mile and just going with the flow.
I came through 1k in 3:09, faster than my goal for my average, but right on what I wanted to get started. I cruised on through the rest of the first lap, despite Outlaw telling me I had to move up. I told him to shut up, I was running the race the way I wanted, and that meant really going for it in the last 4k. I came through 2k in 6:25, more like it, and kept moving. Somewhere in lap two, though, I must have slipped, something locked up and I felt like I could barely push off with my right leg. It wasn't my hamstring, and it took me a while to diagnose the problem. Eventually I started feeling my hip again and figured out that was the problem. I passed 5k in 16:42, and extrapolating that I was very unhappy with the position in which I put myself. A month ago, 31:30 seemed reasonable. In the intervening weeks, sub 32 was more like it, but now I just wanted to break 33, and I was a long way from that happening, given the way I felt.
Then I saw an aqua singlet to my right and realized it was a Pacer. Not just a Pacer, but 43-year-old Edmund Burke. Like Lisa, he selflessly dropped down to the open race so his team could score. He might be a fine fellow otherwise, but I sure as hell didn't want to lose to him. So, despite my beaten up body and confidence, I started surging. I'd lose him for a while, then get complacent and he'd come right back. We came through 6k right around 20:30, I think, and soon after I surged again. There was a slight hill, pretty muddy, and I bounded up it and when I got to the top, I took six strong strides, just like Steve exhorted us to so many times at Rosslyn. This time the hill was only a fraction of what we dealt with there, so it was easy. I kept my pace up and started to pass people until I found a good group that was moving. As I hung along a long curve, Outlaw was there. "SEND EM SEND EM!!!! You're crankin' now!" This time I actually was, and I didn't want to punch him. I hit 8k in 27:10, almost two minutes slower than my PR, but considering the condition the course was in, I think being one minute slower than my PR would have been satisfactory, given how things were going.

I just wanted to close it out. I didn't like the way the first 60 percent of the race was going, but in my race plan discussions, I emphasized that I wanted to be opportunistic in the last 4k, and that's the way things were playing out. I didn't catch my 9k split, but at that point I started targeting people and blowing by them. I stayed focus by counting them. First they were on their own, then I started passing clumps. I finally caught up to this skinny dude in green who kept grunting like Chris Sloane at the end of a race. I buried him. With 400 meters left, I tried my best to forget feeling tired, too old for this shit, fat, lazy. I just wanted to pass everyone I could. I got up to 38. I saw the clock passing 33:35. I would be guaranteed to be at least a minute slower than the Great Race, not good. I was sure I could reach the finish line, and all of a sudden I saw two guys who weren't as confident. So, I kicked them down and thanked Joe Pesci it was all over. A few seconds later Murph came came along, having been, I think, the only person to run faster this year than last, in Charlotte. Jason and Jimmy followed soon after. I wasn't there for it, but Jason exclaimed his surprise at the race's difficulty to Dave, "Luggage" Wertz who reportedly said, "Yeah, this ain't no chocolate run!"

For some reason, I was the only one out there soaking in sweat. I actually felt okay while cooling down, but for the rest of the trip, I felt the full brunt of my ultimate uselessness.

I wound up 6th for the team, 204th overall, in 33:51. I was the only GRC runner who had no bearing on the team scores, just kind of sliding into obscurity. I didn't take enough of a risk early in the race to really put myself in a good position, but I also didn't fail and fall apart. I was insurance in that if something had happened to Lug and I had finished fifth, we would have been no worse in the team standings. Luckily we didn't need me.

I was not too in the mood for celebrating afterward. The gluttony I promised myself after the season was over felt revolting, and I just wanted to go to bed. Our morning run was ok, but unremarkable. I thought about running after work today, but as I got close to home, I just wanted to lie down. So that's what I'm going to do now.

P.S. Bigfoot's dick.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Damned foot

The intermediate week between Philly Half recovery and club nationals preparation was tense. A few weeks ago, a shaky-legged woman on the metro lost her balance and stepped on my right foot and bruised it pretty badly. She never apologized, just said "there's nothing I could have done!" That bruising has continued for a few weeks and pierced my confidence. It hadn't hurt while running until my track work the week before Philly, and I thought it was just because I tied my spikes too tight. Initially, I thought it was a stress fracture, and I often do when things start hurting despite having only had one in my life, but having dealt with this before in 2007, I relaxed a bit.

That assuredness did little to restore my confidence when my footsteps started hurting during my runs. I met up with Karl at the Vienna metro and we ran out to the W&OD, though throngs of families on Church Street. With a warmup beforehand, I got a total of 11.

Tuesday night I planned to do the New Virginia Manor loop, but I wasn't feeling great after one loop so I headed home and just got eight miles in.

Besides that 5:30s I had run the previous Saturday, I hadn't really tested my hamstring on anything actually fast since Philly, so Wendesday's track workout was bound to be either pleasantly surprising or a sober reminder that Philly could have lasting physical effects to go along with the mild psychological scarring. I led the first two miles, 5:15 (despite being way too fast on the first 400) and 5:02, stayed in the pack for 4:55, then dropped out less than 200 m into the 4:45 when my left calf got tight. The foot definitely hurt there.

Thursday Karl and I did another 10, out to Hunters Mill on the W&OD from Vienna. A little foot pain.

I was so tired at the end of the day Friday that I just took the day off, in hopes that I would be better off for the cross country workout Saturday. Well, if that was the case, I would have hated to have run the workout after running Friday. It was a pretty simple fartlek, but I fell apart fast. I stuck with Diddy, Witty and Karl for the five minute interval, and dropped in the four after a little more than three minutes, but the three minute drill was awful. We switched into spikes for the last two, and that aggravated my foot bruise. The two-minute drill was a waste for me, but I managed to pull my shit together for a minute of hard running. I definitely need new replacement spikes for my eight-year-old Zoom Fats.

Several people asked if I was interested in the Hot Chocolate races at the National Harbor, and after hearing about the fiasco that ensued there, I felt vindicated in my decision to stay away, though what I saw about the race beforehand couldn't have imagined the magnitude of what happened. Since I wasn't there to witness it, I can't comment on that, but judging from the things I saw in the days and weeks before the race, this is why I expected it to be a poor experience.

First off, since I don't regularly drive, the lack of metro proximity was a huge detractor. I had run out around the National Harbor last fall and it was pretty miserable, I'm not sure why anyone would want to run there, to be honest. After hearing from Dickson, Michelle and Dave how lackluster the last few miles of Wilson Bridge Half was More basic to the entire endeavor, the race seemed to be driven more by the marketers than anyone accomplished in road racing. Most tellingly, the tagline, "the sweetest race" referred to the promise of hot chocolate and fondue afterward. The website lauded the "awesome race jacket." If these are the draws, those giveaways, I can't imagine anyone could have confidence in the race's competence. Then again, if people need things like that to get them to a race, they probably wouldn't know the difference from a poorly-executed race. Perks like that should come on top of basic competences, like a decent course and aid stations. Maybe it was the out-of-town race manager, maybe it was everything else I detailed, but it definitely looked like a race I was not disappointed to miss. That something near 30,000 people showed up is a shock to me, but I guess I give people too much credit.

I took a nap and went out and did a Seaton six and actually felt a lot better. No foot pain, and a lot more energy.

Looking ahead, I will want to keep up my high mileage, so I need to keep my loops fresh. Running with Karl from Vienna helps because I can focus on conversation rather than where I'm going. With the weather as nice as it was on Sunday, I felt like there was no better way to spend the time than to get a zip car and drove out to Difficult Run. I went 21 minutes out on the CCT almost to Leesburg Pike, then 19 back; then 25 out around the Ridge Trail and back. Once I hit Old Carriage Road, I just started punching it and kept it up for about 10 minutes.
I know Jerry wants to keep us fresh for nationals, but I needed something to reinvigorate my love of running--without that, all the freshness in the world couldn't help. Running along the Ridge Trail, I felt like there was nothing better I could possibly be doing with my time. It made me miss the Mon Ridge trail of which I am so fond in Swisshelm Park. The foot felt fine, and I felt ready to take on this last race of the year.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Hills again, but that's Pittsburgh for you

After the long ride back to Pittsburgh after the half, I had trouble getting to sleep. I might have gotten to bed around 2, then slept until 10. I did some work, then headed out for a run. I left my mom's house, went down Shaler, up Kearns, around Clearview and Strathmore, Berry, Stafford and West Carson, then up the McArdle Roadway and home for 12 miles. My calves and hamstrings were still wrecked. I had originally planned on 15 miles, with a loop up William and Boggs before coming back, but I was tired.

It rained all day Tuesday, and I didn't care enough to run, so instead I ate a lot of mint chocolate chip ice cream and watched movies. I spent a lot of that day bemoaning my Philadelphia race, at one point congratulating myself for coming so close to my PR despite the poor execution and latter-mile injury, then alternating to realizing that if I ran that fast considering how much went wrong, I had the opportunity to run much faster if I had done things right. In short, I spent the whole week sitting around my mom's house, pissed about the race and relegated to traveling on foot or arranging rides with friends.

Wednesday morning I picked myself up to run around Mt. Washington and added to it by running the new trails along the face of the mountain. It was wet, covered in leaves and mostly clay. For someone who wants to take a walk, it's ok. For a runner, it's a dangerous disaster. I twisted both ankles was on the brink of slipping off constantly. That said,the trail afforded me some great views of the city and I got about nine miles.

After 12 years of running the Downtown YMCA Turkey Trot, I put an end to it. Although it's very popular and had its best attendance ever this year, it's value as a road race has plummeted in the last few years. It's now a series of out-and-backs starting and finishing on the north side and just a mess of people. Great for the YMCA's fundraising, but its quality as a race has plummeted. I was on the race committee in 2008 when construction limited a lot of the courses the race had used from 2003-2007. Given the restrictions we had, we could only do a 5k but I hoped to be able to bring it back to the five mile course when possible. Then I moved, then the director left and took the focus on quality with him.

I did it for two more years, but also started running Dan Holland's Gutbuster race in Frick Park. I am not exaggerating when I say it's the hardest race I have run. Alternating up and down hills on trails that are often slippery. What didn't help was that I ran a 5k one year and a five mile the next before coming to the Gutbuster, so I was already wiped out. Last year's freezing rain made it miserable. This year it was dry for once, just warm enough, though it had rained all day Tuesday and it certainly wasn't dry.

The first mile is almost entirely uphill, with a flat stretch in the first 200 meters or so. I stuck with a decent pack that included Luke Briola, Jim Hommes, Nolan Wildfire and a little kid who looked like a short Andy Webster. We chatted up the hill, until Webster tried to take off near the mile mark, which we hit in 6:57. I bolted ahead of him and immediately opened up my stride on the loop around the fitness circuit and the sledding hill. I headed back down and saw my mom heading up, the two mile was not supposed to go this way and I told her as much. She just said "I know."

I didn't see anybody for a while, and I had a pretty solid lead. I came down the second mile in 5:17 (where was that when I needed it on Sunday?), then up the next hill in 6:44. I didn't see a four-mile mark, but I think I was a little over 24 minutes. I went back up the first hill and hit miles 4 and 5 in 12:43. I started seeing the people behind me coming down the hill and I was climbing, and I start giving high fives, essentially celebrating with almost half of the race left.
I apparently had no reason not to, my lead appeared safe. The next mile was 5:21, a little slower than mile 2. When I hit the Tranquil Trail, I was a little flat, but I figured I could afford to slow down, mainly because when I tried to run hard, my right hamstring didn't respond.

Again, I figured my lead was safe, so this obstacle shouldn't be too troubling. I saw Leslie and Pete near the bottom of the Biddle Trail, and they didn't say too much. That trail was the hardest part of a really hard course, the steepest section, half of the trail was a creek and the other was jagged rock. I slipped at one point and looked back and suddenly Jim Hommes was on my tail. I was shocked- I had no indication anyone was anywhere close to me. I hadn't seen anyone when I made turns, and I didn't hear Leslie and Pete yelling for him. That leads me to several possible conclusions- 1. he did most of the catching up on the hill 2. he told Pete and Leslie to be quiet so he could sneak up on me 3. I didn't hear them cheering for him.

We were in this same position in 2003 at the Turkey Trot, back when the race was worthwhile. I held him off there, but by that point I had a stronger lead. And I hadn't raced a half four days before and run myself into the ground over the last 3.5 miles.

For a few seconds I felt as though I was going to lose, the surprise that he was there, when I was feeling the weakest, nearly broke me. Jim's one of the toughest masters runners around, and his focus has always been exemplary for long races. I felt like there was no way I could fend him off anymore. I ran like an asshole and I was getting my comeuppance. Until I didn't.

I got to the top of the trail and turned onto another uphill, but less steep, trail. I started charging ahead, hoping to put a lot of distance between us before he joined me on the smoother trail. I split 6:53 on the seventh mile, not unreasonable given the lack of a push I had before I saw Jim. I kept cranking up the hill, then pushed a little more back down the hill. This trail was slippery, so I had to run with more caution than I had before. I also had to navigate around walkers and the runners in their fifth and sixth miles. Once I got to the bottom, I had a clear path to finish, and split 5:22 for the eighth mile to finish in 49:16. I think I had a 20 second lead over Jim, who had run a 50k a few weeks prior.

I would have liked to run under 48 minutes, but I could argue with winning, considering the way the prior few days had gone. Mom had fun doing the four mile, and I was left excited about making the Gutbuster my solitary Thanksgiving race in the future. I don't know if it prepared me for cross country running at nationals, but it was certainly tough.

Friday morning, I tried to go for a run on the Seven Springs golf course, but my hamstring felt incredibly weak. I got about two miles of running in before I realized I was better off resting.

Later, after I was back in Pittsburgh, I drove out to the Richard and did my Standard Beechwood loop, averaging 6:05 for 10.5. I finished right before dusk. I felt much better than in the mountains, and to be able to average that pace on those hills was relieving.

Saturday, I was once again without a car, so I ran from my mom's house down to the jail trail and out to Four Mile Run. I hit 11:01 for a two-mile stretch, but slowed down afterward. I made a rare trip up the Panther Hollow Trail, up Neville and over onto Bayard, past the Huff's old place, before turning onto Craig and Bigelow. Now, Bigelow is not a frequently traveled road for pedestrians. There's a sidewalk, but it was overgrown with dry weeds. Things open up a little bit in Frank Curto Park, then shortly after that the sidewalk ends and suddenly I'm on a busy almost-highway. That lasted about two-to-three minutes, then I was downtown, looping around to Gateway Center and back up the Boulevard of the Allies to the Liberty Bridge and Mt. Washington for just under 13.7 miles.

Sunday morning, I ran a little more than seven miles with Jess Gangjee on Mt. Washington before going back to Virginia.