"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. 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Lonely on Hains Point

Two days before the Cherry Blossom race, I took a last look at Hains Point, running 10 miles from my office in the afternoon. Saturday morning I ran an easy Park++.
Then came the race.

Never before has a PR felt so miserable. It certainly didn't feel like my best 10 mile. Every other PR I set, I do so with ease, but this one was a struggle.
I woke up at 3:30 and couldn't get back to sleep. The ride to the race was uneventful and easy. I felt fit and ready to go during the warmup, and figured out Evan, Wertz and Luke all wanted to run 5:20s. That seemed pretty ideal to me.

The first mile was a mess. Dudes with gray hair, idiots in costumes who started fast and were fading halfway down Independence Avenue. Evan and I cruised along, but I had a feeling the pace had to be too easy to be right. A shame, because I could have seen myself keeping that with no problem for 10 miles. I hoped there was a chance I was on pace and was in better shape than I thought, but as we made the turn to the Lincoln Memorial, the clock was passing 5:15 and we split 5:31.When we reached that point, Evan was ready to go, and I knew that staying behind would be a good way to lose my pacing help. We surged, launching around a pack getting onto the bridge and tracked down Dickson, moving closer on the cemetery circle and catching up on the way back to DC, splitting 5:14 for the second mile in the process.

We cruised up Rock Creek Parkway to the Kennedy Center and one of the unnecessary 180 turns that plague the course. We came through in 15:12 and hit the 5k in 16:30. I was hitting my goal splits of 5:20s, but we were obviously going a little faster, and I decided that running 5:15s with a group of people, which now included Wertz, Rich Saunders and Luke, would be a better move than trying to stick to 5:20s on my own.

We scooted down Ohio Drive and hit another 5:15. I tried to watch the race develop in the front with the Pacers. I couldn't account for everyone, but my attention was focused mainly on the pack we had going. Dickson had dropped us in the fourth mile, but I was now leading the group and still feeling pretty relaxed.

When we turned onto Independence, I pushed it a little bit and think I shook the pack up.I felt the slight uphill, but kept pushing, feeling like as soon as I stopped pushing, I'd start falling back. We hit the fifth mile in 5:27, but made it halfway in 26:40- dead solid perfect. I made up for the first mile's malaise and was in position to just pass the next five miles with this tremendous pack. Then the doubt crept in.

We actually started heading downhill a bit as we headed over to Hains Point. I remember my right arm suddenly flailing and nearly whacking one of the fences between us and Tom Jefferson. I fell a step behind. I heard Evan bid me continue, but I wasn't home to answer. I trailed by a few steps as we started toward the point, and even though I was close enough to lunge at one of the guys in the pack and tackle him, I was running a different race. My next mile was solid- 5:22, but the rest of the pack was 5:20, and the gap only grew from there. 10k in 33:10, mile seven in 5:34. I hit that awful turnaround at the edge of the peninsula that seems so excessive, when the old Marine Corps Marathon course turned through the parking lot prior. I don't really hate Hains Point, just the tip. I saw a runner pull over to the side shortly after. I tried to yell to him to finish, to help me, but I was wheezing and gasping and wouldn't have made much noise. I was going to be on my own. Mile eight in 5:35. I caught a few fading advance start women, and tried to reel in a guy who had fallen off the pack badly, but it wasn't happening. Mile nine in 5:35. At least I'm consistent when I'm dying. A crowd of GRCers waited near the turn toward 15th street, as encouraging as ever. Then, they started encouraging Matias. Oh man, I had no idea he was anywhere close to me. If there was any motivation left for my race, it was to avoid being outkicked, but this was going to be an effort. He was charging like hell, the bull that he is. The cheers got closer in comparison for him and me, like radar speeding up when the target gets closer. He charged up the hill near the Holocaust Museum and I climbed it like I was afraid of offending the ground by stepping on it too hard. He caught me and said it was time to go. I tried to pick my legs up but they wouldn't go. He told me again. I rejected his offer, with an  unspeakable oath for emphasis. He pulled away and we crested the hill and somehow I had a charge left to kick it in down the hill. That incline is a ball buster, but the slope is a hell of a gift. I somehow summoned the strength to finish in 5:31 for a 54:19 total, five seconds faster than 2010. As the public address system broadcast that I was from Falls Church, it only put an exclamation point on my fury and disappointment.
Yeah, I was having a rough time (pictured above)

I saw Nora standing near the chute waiting for Geoff and I unleashed my disappointment when she asked how I did. The whole thing had shades of Philly for me--I was ready to blow my old time out of the water and watched it fade away in the last miles. Sure, I PRed by five seconds, but that previous best was from two years ago, when I was just getting used to this training regimen. I am immeasurably stronger, but evidently in this sport, when you have a definite measure, it was only worth a five second improvement. Is that all I could improve in two years? I wound up 35th, it was a weak year. Two years ago I was 49th with practically the same time. How can I spend so much effort on something silly like running and not have more to show for it? Well, first of all, photos from Dustin Whitlow, Michelle Miller, Cheryl Young and Jimmy Daly, respectively.

With more time, I felt better. I realized that was the end of the fourth week since I started running again, a little more than two weeks after I came out from under the pall of my allergy problems. The first week back I was just trying to readjust to the impact and how it beat up my legs, the second I was constantly on the edge of feeling human. I had a solid 91 mile week two weeks ago, but in that whole month, I had one solid hard workout and one solid long run. Most importantly, my 27:39 second half was still faster than the 27:47 for which I got credit at Van Metre (when in reality I ran 28:17). So, I was able to run much faster for 10 miles than I was for 5 miles three weeks before.

Several people remarked that I looked solid whenthey saw me (they obviously saw me in the first half). I ran an easy five that afternoon to get the crud out of my legs.

Monday night I worked late and got home after dark, setting the stage for a Slade Run. I averaged 6:30s and did so with no regard for how fast I was running in the middle. I love that loop in the dark.

Tuesday night was the same situation, and I went out to the New Virginia Manor Loop, where I unwittingly ran 5:20s for the two four-mile loops sandwiched in the 13 miles.

Wednesday night, I felt bushed, and ended up just running six easy miles around BCC during the workout.

Thursday, I met up with Karl in Vienna and we took the W&OD west to the cross county trail. We stopped along the way to check out a parallel trail to the north, then caught the other trail. It was nothing short of marvelous. Soft, scenic and restorative. We eventually turned back and grabbed some greek food for dinner and ran back to his car for a total of about 13.5.

The office closed early Friday, so I had a little more sunlight for my workout- 2ks at McLean High School. It was a bit windy, though, and I misjudged my effort to fight the wind, coming through the first lap in 72, then calming down to a 4:55 mile and a 6:17 2k. Then I was a little more on track with a 6:19 second 2k. I hit the 1k in 3:06 for the third, right on, but couldn't breathe, so I gave up and took a long cooldown home for 12.5.