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Trial of Miles

Let us therefore agree that the idea of eternal return implies a perspective from which things appear other than as we know them: they appear without the mitigating circumstance of their transitory nature. This mitigating circumstance prevents us from coming to a verdict. For how can we condemn something that is ephemeral, in transit?

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

I was being lazy, and maybe rushing at the same time, which isn’t a good idea because lazy and hurried are sort of contradictory efforts. And in my hurried lazy state, I decided to climb over a 7 foot tall chain-link fence to more quickly make my way to the IC track for my Saturday workout. My plan had been to do a simple tune-up for the upcoming track meet. Nothing too complicated, just 4 x 400m at goal mile pace with 400m rest.

Somewhere between vaulting my legs over the top of the fence and finishing the quick descent to the ground, I thought “maybe that wasn’t such a good idea… maybe I should have just walked the extra 200 meters and gone through the gate.” But it was really too late to make any practical changes, and I did my best to make a graceful Terminator-style landing.

Of course, I injured myself, but not in the way I would expect. Something strained in my groin/perineum as soon as I hit the ground, and whatever got pulled referred pain to everywhere in the vicinity. It knocked the wind out of me and I couldn’t walk for a couple minutes. The pain conjured images of brutally torn suspensory ligaments and strangulating hernias. After five minutes I could jog and walk again, and being the stubborn guy I am I decided to work out through the pain.

The plan called for 4x400m at 75 seconds each, and I (barely) pulled it off. Running 4 of those consecutively with no rest seemed a lot less feasible after the workout, but it’s good to know where you stand even when you end up standing somewhere different than you hoped. My 5-minute-mile days were a long time ago anyways.

So I was really, really surprised when I pulled off a 5:02 mile at the track meet last night. There was a part of me that was kicking myself for not pushing just 3 seconds more out of the last lap (I think the last one was actually my slowest). But I’ve only run one sub-5-minute mile in my life, and the fact that I’m even coming close again is really a wonderfully happy thing (I almost want to call it a blessing). Add to all this that various parts of my body were still slightly sore and swollen from that ill-advised fence-jumping, and my race becomes a promise of future improvement as well as a smashing success.

So track season is over, and now I look forward to cross country. I feel like I’m coming into a new phase of my running life, where some PR times may actually be possible for the first time in 10 years. And if not, that’s fine too. Running is a fantastic example of eternal return within a single life. You get so many opportunities to experience that high, and even the lows are productive. I’m running for life and it feels good.

 
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Posted by on August 20, 2008 in No Easy Days

 

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Swim, Bike, Run

I’ve been telling people that Sunday I did my first triathlon, but that’s sort of misleading, because I was actually on a triathlon relay team, so as Tony points out, what I did was more of an athlon than anything else.  The Cayuga Lake Triathlon was very cool.  Lots of people, lots of freebies, and well-organized.  I ran the running (anchor) leg on Team Minty Fresh Mice, and despite being inexperienced as a team, our individual performances were good enough to land us first place in the co-ed relays.

 

When I got my body-markings (a first, for me), the volunteer with the marker saw that I was on a relay team, glanced at my arms, and said “not the swimmer, huh?”.

One exciting part of all this is that this Sunday was the triathlon-sprint national championship race, so after winning we made the jump from “we won the relay”, to “we won the relay at the national championships”, and finally to “we are national champions”.  Again, this is a bit misleading, because triathlons are not actually team races, so the elite competitors were not in the relay division.  Still, we were very happy with the performance despite a few mishaps that I am still kicking myself over.

For example, I was trying to keep a vigilant watch for Eric, our cyclist, while waiting for his leg to end in the transition area.  Sadly, when he finally arrived I had taken up a conversation with a nearby runner who was also in the relay.  So I didn’t actually notice when Eric biked up behind me and started trying to get me to help him make the chip-transfer.  I guess Eric was too exhausted to say anything too loud so he just gave up and transferred the velcro anklet to me himself.  When I realized that Eric was grabbing my leg I jumped and helped him finish the job and then I was off, but I felt awful for wasting those precious seconds and for ignoring my exhausted teammate.  Later, at the end of the race I passed a runner who passed me back in the final few meters of the course, and I couldn’t help but wonder how things may have been different if I had been paying attention in the transition.

Overall an awesome day, including an 18:58 5K.  I would definetely do an athlon again.

 
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Posted by on August 5, 2008 in No Easy Days

 

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Boilermaker 2008

The porta-potty line is not where you want to be when the they announce that there are 4 minutes left until the start of a race with 11,000 registered runners.  It’s like one of those scenes in superhero movies where the hero needs to choose between saving their sidekick and their love interest, except also their bladder is also overflowing and it’s really hard to think about anything except Niagara Falls.  Sure, there’s like 75 stalls, but when at least 15 people are ahead of you in your line, some mental math will quickly tell you that the situation is hopeless, that the porta-potty just wasn’t in your horoscope today, and that you might soon be forced to make an executive decision about just how important going to the bathroom before a race is (FYI – it’s pretty frigging important). 

So this morning before running my second Boilermaker race in Utica, NY, I made a mad dash into the woods (where I saw at least two-dozen other men and women), used the spacious facilities of Nature, sprinted to the start (vaulting over one of those ugly plastic mesh fences en route), and had just enough time to re-tie my shoes before the gun went off.

Races with thousands of runners tend to start slowly.  So slowly that it can take several minutes to cross the actual starting line after the gun goes off.  You do a lot of work initially darting into spaces as they open up in the crowd, and you get a lot of mean looks as you frantically cut people off in an effort to actually start racing.  Given the initial crawl, I wasn’t too surprised when I passed the first mile-marker and the humongous digital clock read near 9-minutes.  But after that, the speed picked up pretty fast.

I don’t like wearing watches in road races because I try to just focus on pushing the pace rather than thinking about splits.  I’ve been known to dislike wearing watches so much that if I’m accidentally wearing one at the start, I’ll immediately hand it off to an arbitary person in the crowd (with my fingers crossed that I’ll be able to find them later).  Today, however, every mile of the race had a huge digital clock burning my splits into the back of my brain, and I couldn’t help but calculate how fast each mile was.  I won’t break down the splits here, but I will say that the fourth and fifth miles were both around 6 minutes/mile, which actually frightened me a bit during the race, especially given the course elevation profile.

Boilermaker Elevation

Boilermaker Elevation

I ran these quick miles after a pretty decent starting 5K (22:48).  Yeah, mile five is way downhill, but mile four is the steepest of the race.  After I hit the 10K (42:44), my body started giving up and I struggled through to the finish.  It is totally ridiculous and unbelievable to me that after running 90% of a race like this, thoughts of stopping will creep into the edges of my consciousness.  Why then, when the finish is practically in view?!  But I didn’t stop, and finished in a happy 62:58 (gun time), at least four minutes faster than the last time I ran this race.  The post-race party was awesome (fortuitous, considering it took me over 2 hours to find the people I drove up to Utica with).  I feel sort of tight and tired now, and I’m looking forward to an easy recovery run tomorrow!

(By the way, I’m super glad I got to write a longish blog post on Embrace Your Geekiness Day).

 
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Posted by on July 13, 2008 in No Easy Days

 

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Hill Work is Hard Work

The final race of the XC season took place Sunday. It was a gorgeous 8K at a local community college. I knew ahead of time that this would be a tough one. Since I injured my ankle earlier this season, I haven’t done a single run longer than 4.5 miles. An 8K is just under 5 miles, so I was under-prepared by definition.To my surprise and despair, it was not the distance that wrecked me so much as the humongous hill in the 4th mile of the course. I’ve been selectively avoiding hills all season, since that’s the one activity that still messes with my achilles. Luckily none of the previous XC races held significant hills, and my lack of hill training didn’t affect me too much. Sunday my luck ran out.

Since this was the championship race, I did not have the luxury of running with my most evenly-matched demographics, the masters and veteran men, who were split into a separate race. For this reason, the pack thinned quite early. Still, I felt strong in the 3rd mile, and even passed three people. Once we reached the huge hill in the 4th mile, I attacked it and managed to pass two more. But once I hit the first plateau I was destroyed. I wrote recently about angels and demons that speak to us while we race. There was none of that when I got to the top of this hill. Both the angels and demons were all dead, and all my mind could do was process the pain I felt. If you’ve ever struggled up a hill in an XC race you probably know what I mean – hills hurt in a different way from the rest of the race, and it’s scary if you’re not used to it. I spent the next half-mile chugging gradually uphill at a barely perceptible pace Finally at the 4-mile marker I seemed to remember “Oh – I’m in a race!” and pick it up until I reached the finish. I put on a strong kick and finished happily.

Since I had so much time off this season I’m going to turn instantly to training for indoors. I’m trying to commit to running consistently this winter, and that starts with a consistent basis built through the rest of 2007.

 
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Posted by on November 20, 2007 in No Easy Days

 

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Racing Focus

This weekend I ran a 6K race on a course that I had raced approximately 1-year ago. When I ran it last fall, I was going through some rough times, having recently broken up with my girlfriend of six years, and was generally preoccupied with desperate thoughts. I have been known to complain about not being able to focus in races anymore, but back then I had abandoned all hope of being able to concentrate on anything. I literally couldn’t even focus while tying my own shoelaces.

But I’ve healed quite a bit since then, and this time my head was mostly in the game.

xc_start.jpg

At the start I went out very slowly to protect my weak ankle (nothing like going out dead last in a race that includes competitors over twice as old as you). After the initial sprint I keyed off one of the veteran runners on our team – an impressively fast man we refer to as “Coach” – who was running about 100 meters ahead of me. Coach was wearing a fluorescent yellow long sleeve t-shirt, which helped me catch up with him just over 1/2 mile into the race. Again playing it safe, I decided to just hang with him for once rather than powering past him for a mile only to be passed in a humiliating way later on.

Coach is a consistent runner, and running consistently hard felt uncomfortable to me. I imagined for a moment that I was the comic book hero Spawn, and could summon the chains of the underworld to anchor me to my enemies. From then on I was attached to Coach by steel bonds, and I didn’t separate from him for another two miles.

When you run a race, there are constantly angels and devils whispering into your ears. The angels say “you can do it! pain is temporary, glory is forever!“, while the devils simultaneously whisper “the pain is too much! nobody will know if you slow down.” I listened to them both at various points in the race, but with half a mile left to go I was listening to the devils, who were saying “if you slow down now, then that man in black ahead of you won’t be close enough to catch at the end, and you won’t have to work as hard.

Because I tend to run races near people who are significantly older than me, I usually don’t get passed in the last quarter mile. In Sunday’s race, Coach passed me with about 600 meters to go, right after I had succumbed to the sweet advice of the racing devils and let the man in black get away from me. Something woke up in me then, and the voices of both the angels and the devils were gone. I put on a short spurt to catch coach and hang on his tail.

Coming down the final stretch I knew it was just me and Coach — I had judged from the cheering that our closest competitors were 30 meters back. With 300 meters left I was ready to drop the hammer and tear though the grass between me and the finish like an out-of-control tractor. But something strange happened. The world got quiet, and I decided to just finish with Coach. I had a Zen moment where the refractory bit of glory gained by burning down the final stretch was replaced with the satisfaction of running a smart, hard race with one of my teammates.

Maybe the devils were speaking to me then too, telling me that there was no need to work hard to pass my own teammate, but I think that I learned something important about racing, patience, and teamwork this weekend. I ran the 6K course 12 seconds faster this year, and that’s after taking four weeks off from running to heal my ankle.

 
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Posted by on November 6, 2007 in No Easy Days

 

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