"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, April 24, 2012

Five years gone

Saturday (April 7)morning, I took the metro to Vienna, then biked down Nutley to Arlington Boulevard to the Cross County Trail.  I saw the trail and was dismayed because it was paved. I asked some walkers how far it was paved, and they said five miles, acting as though that answer would please me. If there's any way a trail through the woods can be ruined, it's by paving it. Eventually, though, it transitioned to gravel and dirt as the trail wove through a series of parks as I headed southeast along the beltway towards Lake Accotink. The actual loop around the lake was fantastic, rolling hills and a beautiful view of the lake through the trees and a majestic train trestle. I was pretty thirsty on the way back, and ready for the run to be over. At the end I had 16 miles, 95 for the week and a gift card for the Sweetwater Tavern nearby, where I had a delicious filet, thanks to the Van Metre Five Mile. 

Sunday's (Easter) progression did not start well. I felt cruddy in the first mile, though I managed to keep at under control, at 7:00. The next mile was not as easy- 6:00. I manged to drag it back down to 6:45 before I started the actual workout- 3 at 6:30, 3 at 6:00, 3 at 5:45 and 3 at 5:20. 
I was 6:00 for the first mile, way too fast, and it just never got better. I changed my plan in the middle to get 20 seconds faster per mile every three miles, but even then I was going too fast. I was hitting 5:30s when I should have been running 5:40s, and about a block from the end of mile 12, I stopped. I jogged it in, past a small park where a few kids were participating in an Easter egg hunt -- truly the sport of kings. I wondered, during my trudging last mile home, whether I had lost sight of what was important, and was clawing for every second I could at the expense of those little surprises I would find in a less structured life, the Easter eggs in a day without routine. No, I wasn't.

That afternoon I developed a new loop -- the Bolling -- that was seven miles long and looped through Falls Church. I like it.

I worked a little late Monday and did a Pimmit-Idylwood. The next morning I did a Bolling for 7, then planned to do the Hounds workout that evening in Pittsburgh, but my schedule did not work out that way in the end and I got there an hour late, so I ran a few laps of the oval while Jim, Brandon G, Mark and Ed ran their workout, then we did a cooldown and I had another 7 for 14 for the day.

My morning run Wednesday morning gave me great cause for alarm. I set off around Chatham Village for a few miles before I would wander throughout Mt. Washington, but two miles in, I felt a sharp pain in my right IT band that forced me to stop. I walked back to my mom's house and stretched, but felt no improvement. Throughout the day, I felt it being tight and worried I had somehow suddenly damaged my knee. I thought about trying to run again after a four-hour car ride back to Virginia, but I figured a little extra rest couldn't hurt.

Thursday morning, I felt only a hint of tightness in my knee less than a minute into a five-mile morning run, but just for a second. The rest of the run was fine. That afternoon I did a series of one-minute fartleks on the W&OD to Vienna, a loop around the library and school and over into Falls Church and back. After the first three I felt like I was done, but soon after I felt able to push through it. The next evening, I ran one of the Crystal City 5ks with Will and Elyse for her birthday, starting a minute after the gun and jogging through the crowds to finish in 26:01. Then I took another few miles to cool down, both of which were faster than my pace for the race.

Saturday morning I headed up to McLean High School for a long progression run, but I was feelin pretty dehydrated. I ran a mile or so, then figured I'd postpone the workout until Sunday. I ran home to drop off my flats, then ran a Bolling to total 13. That afternoon I did an easy Idylwood+ for 5 more for 90 miles that week. Then I went out to George Mason to watch a track meet. The Spiders took a small but solid crew up, and I had a chance to hang out with Molz, Steve and Lori and see some of the young guys go after their 1500 PRs. I watched Sam pull Webb along for two miles before the no-longer-bald miler took off for a pretty cheap win at a small college meet. 

The next morning I woke early for the workout I had scrapped. I headed to McLean but noticed undeniable stomach problems a little more than a mile in. I kept going anyway and eventually started the workout, but was too fast- a minute ahead of schedule at four miles. I gave up and headed home, then did some drills before meeting Melissa for a four mile run and brunch.

Monday morning my legs were a mess after my first walking lunges in months. It was also well into the 80s by the afternoon, when I met Karl at the head of the cross county trail on Arlington Boulevard. He was stuck in traffic and we got a late start on a run to Lake Accotink. We immediate encountered clouds of gnats swarming around the trail. The heat was getting to me when we approached the lake, and luckily the water fountain was on for a reprieve, but with our late start, Karl acknowledged that we would have to push the pace to make it back before dark.

As it turns out, nothing short of cutting the trail short would have helped us there, and we ran the last 20 minutes in relative darkness, though we could see enough to run on the dirt part of the trail. I was falling apart, but would ease up for about 15 seconds before pushing the pace again. The end couldn't have come at a better time- I was pretty much out of gas when we made it back out to Arlington Boulevard.

I was able to get up the next morning for a very easy Idylwood+, thanks to both my legs being ridiculously sore and the rest of me still trying to catch up from running in the heat 11 hours before. That afternoon, the schedule looked clear for McLean's track, so I biked out there so I could do hurdle drills after my run, but I arrived to find the place swarming with lax bros. There couldn't have been a worse infestation. I locked the bike, though, and took off on an eight-mile loop up Balls Hill Road to the neighborhood I explored during my pre-Cherry Blossom long run- the Ben and Doug. It was really pleasant, though my legs were still lagging. I noticed, moreso this time, the absolutely gigantic houses on Benjamin and Douglas streets, the roads that give this loop its name.

Wednesday, I hit a Bolling in the morning and went to the track after work, concerned about my ability to break 6:00 pace. Luckily, a group was doing miles at 5:20 pace. I did three, leading the second precisely. On the fourth, I let Tender and New Sam take a 20 second lead, which I would try to gain on, but in the meantime, the guys doing 69 second quarters jumped into start. I was close behind them, and didn't back off enough and came through 400 in 70 seconds. I called it a day, happy to have those 5:20s feel as easy as they did, considering how lousy I felt before it all started.

Thursday afternoon I headed out to Fairview Park, which I hadn't seen in months. After a few laps of the pond, I took the trail around the office park to Falls Church High School and tried out much of the Jaguar 5k course. I liked the way it looked- rolling hills in a residential neighborhood, reminiscent of a lot of low-key 5k races I had run in Pittsburgh and Richmond. I headed home via Hollywood Cemetery, another route I hadn't taken in a while, and got 13.5 on a few missteps of a new loop I call, aptly, the Jaguar.

I woke up Friday needing a day off, and took one. Saturday I trudged through a pre-race run of the Park++, hoping for some relief from the heat before the George Washington Parkway Classic. Little did I know just how much relief I would get. 

I tried to find a comfortable niche on Mike Smith's futon Saturday night and get to sleep before the race. My mind kept running through a Bruce Hornsby song (not The Way It Is) that I routinely listened to on my drive to Hounds practice from work in 2007, particularly when I got to the corner of Beeler and Forbes and sat at the light next to Dan Ruef's old house. It invariably drew my thoughts to much of that year, one marked by a lot of solid running, and that it was five years since my best 5k, a 14:57 at the Genesis 5k. That year wasn't all great, my heart issues threw the feasibility of my journalism career into doubt and I found a few times to feel lost and frustrated, but it had long held an awful lot of highlights from my adult life, both in and out of running. Part of me thought I was foolish for even trying to run fast again, because I was nowhere near that shape for short distances. It also reminded me that I was no longer a young man, with 30 coming pretty soon. Why was I still doing this? It was one thing when I was running really well (at the time) for the effort I put in back then, but this was now 2.5 years into committing serious time every day into running. Is there something else I'd rather do? I was revisiting the doubts that came on Easter, after a broken workout. I felt it might be unfair to weigh it all on the results the next morning, but there was a chance I would do it anyway.

I don't know when I actually fell asleep, but when I woke up I didn't feel too bad. I walked down the street to Old Town in a slight drizzle. The bus ride up took a while, but got us to Mount Vernon at just the right time for a warmup but not enough time to stand around. I was kind of frantic to get my shoes on, the laces of my racing flats were a little tight, but it all came together. The weather was pretty much the best I could hope to have- cool, with a little rain and not too much wind, yet.

The pack thinned out quickly, and I found myself in the middle of it. I knew it was going to be fleeting, though. I knew how fast a lot of these guys could go, and it would have been ill-advised for me to try to hang with them too long, lest I be left on the side of the road. We went through the first mile in 5:06, jarringly slow, given then downhill, but I think people were playing it safe in regards to the rain on the ground. I eased up and let the pack go but still came through two in another 5:06. In three I started to feel the effort I was putting in and I gradually eased up into the uphills and came through in 5:19, with an African in blue ahead of me. I caught up with him and passed, which he did to me a few minutes later. Matt Barresi blew by us but didn't intend to wait. We yo-yoed through a 5:24 fourth mile before I caught the African in the fifth, for a second, I hesitated and waited for him to join me, eager to have someone with whom to run on this wide open course. 
Thank you, Cheryl Young
Then I thought about something Steve observed while we were watching the track meet at GMU. He noticed that there was no fight in the eyes of one of the runners that night, no indication that anyone trying to pass was a concern. Maybe that runner was focused on hitting splits, but Steve said that person didn't look ready to race. I thought about that in that split second in the drizzle on the course. Was I just going to run this race like a time trial? No, I was going to race, and that meant I had to get rid of this guy while I felt I could. I surged and put nine seconds on him before the five mile mark (4:27- 26:23). 

From then, I just kept pushing. 5:10, 5:25. I was starting to get dark spots on the bottoms of my eyes, but I realized there was a safe balance somewhere. If I fell over one side, I had my roadID to identify me Once the trees stopped shielding us, the wind from the Potomac was right in our faces. I saw a dude in a Pittsburgh Half shirt running the other way on the Mount Vernon trail and couldn't stifle my smile. 5:28. Dave O'Hara was waiting at a bridge, getting me ready to tackle the hills. I ran parallel to a bus that was driving through a narrow lane, marked off with cones. He was hitting pretty much every cone.

The wind was getting silly. I had a brief respite at the end of mile nine, but that also included a sudden climb over a hill -- 5:35. Down the hill and around the corner, I was headed right into the wind again. I saw what I thought to be the finish line ahead, and I started to kick, but I really had no idea how far away it was. I was squinting into the wind and just trying to leave enough energy so I wouldn't fall apart out there. The finish chute finally made sense to my depth perception and before I knew it, I was there in 53:22, with a 5:18 last mile. It sure seemed like I was going a lot faster than that.
I outkicked her

So, I had a 57 second PR, and a race much more along the lines of what I wanted to do three weeks prior. Part of me wants to credit the course, which, while rolling, did lose elevation, but I also ran most of it alone, and the last few miles into a healthy headwind. I'd say it all balances out. I cooled down a solid two miles with the O'Haras, then stood around in the rain for the awards and got very cold. I didn't feel much warmer throughout the day, so I decided not to go out in the downpour in the afternoon for a second run.

Monday night, I went out for a New Virginia Manor. Though planning to take it easy, I hit 24:45 and 24:25 for the two four-mile loops and ended up averaging 6:10s for a very hilly 13. My mind was thinking ahead to what late May could feel like if I keep my training moving. The race did more than give me a new PR and $50 for being the fifth American, it renewed my confidence that I was headed in the right direction. As recently as Wednesday, I was wondering if I was over training, when I was really just feeling sore after doing drills again. Things are coming together now. Maybe not the way I dreamed in the winter, but in a way that it challenging and rewarding. 


  1. Congrats on your race! I caught some good pics of you at mile 2 (http://youngrunner.smugmug.com/Sports/Races/Parkway-Classic-10-Miler-2012/22570391_Qjkgcb#!i=1806837682&k=Rcddrrk)

    and 7 (http://youngrunner.smugmug.com/Sports/Races/Parkway-Classic-10-Miler-2012/22570391_Qjkgcb#!i=1807192078&k=9DRs4zJ)

    You looked strong, Congrats!

  2. Confidence is a weapon. For those that question the significance of consistent training, here's the proof. Way to reap the rewards! Keep the Ban train rolling. Five star blog post.