07 September 2009

Nix the Zone

The comfort zone is a wonderful place, if it’s the place you want to be. If not, nix the zone. Getting out of it, and getting to another place, works wonders on the head, even if the body protests in the short term.

It’s Labor Day and that means my club ran our annual Laborious Labor Day Ten Miler, a rather hilly and challenging benefit race where the entry fee is measured in cans of food for the local food pantries rather than dollars. We have a great time putting it on, the runners love the concept even if they’re not enamored with the considerable climb at mile eight, and a good time is had by all.

In a typical year, this race isn’t a question. Sure, I help out in putting it on, but I take an hour and a few minutes and run it, too. But this, of course, isn’t a typical year.

I know, I know, moan, whine, whine, moan. Yeah, but that’s all over. I banished my mental slump on September 1st. No, I still don’t feel as strong as last year, but tough nuggies (how exactly is that spelled, anyway?). Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. Nevertheless, it’s still not that easy.

I needed a decision on go / no-go for the fall marathon, so Saturday morning I hit the roads early for a 20-miler to see what condition my condition was in. It was going, well, not bad, not great, until the need for one of those stops, yeah, one of those stops, hit around thirteen. Afterward, all momentum was toast. The next mile was like restarting a seized engine. And once the engine was running again, the last four miles were uphill. It’s not a good day when I have to verbally yell, “Finish it!” to get past each turn which gives me an opportunity to cut the run short (fortunately that day, only to myself, I don’t think anyone heard these utterances and I wasn’t hauled off and committed). I really wasn’t a happy camper, though my average pace wasn’t really that bad. But stuff hurt, multiple stuff, and hurt pretty good, so our light & easy club run looping around a local pond on Sunday was welcome respite.

Against this, a hard ten this morning? I vacillated till the last minute – not even my wife knew, because I didn’t either – whether I’d race this morning. Indeed, she and the kids walked down the street to see if I’d pass by. But against my usual hell-or-high-water attitude, I elected not to risk breaking something, and didn’t race. I’m still not sure if this was prudence or timidity or laziness. But I didn’t race.

Yeah, but I still wanted to run. Something light, something casual, something easy.

After last year’s race was in the books, a bunch of club-mates went out to run the course, and I expected I’d have that opportunity this year to get my run in today. But alas, they were all in blue jeans or the like, no plans for sweating amongst them.

Except John.

John, who lives a mere mile from me, yet rarely can our schedules line up to run together, and with whom I haven’t run since before the whole Wineglass and foot-slicing adventure. John, who pretty much as two speeds: stop and banshee, and doesn’t really have any warm-up period between them. John, with whom I’ve turned in some of my more memorable training runs and to whom, via these runs, I credit a large part of my breakthrough to the sub-3-hour marathon world last year.
John had just raced the Ten Miler just under sixty four minutes for 5th place, so I figured it was a safe bet to pop in a few miles with him. I’m not where I was last year, and I warned him of that, but knowing he’d just spent a few thousand Runner Energy Units, the pace would have to be reasonable, good for him, survivable for me.


Zero to Banshee in about 150 yards. Before I knew it, we were climbing out of the park at a mighty clip. Sure, we kept saying we’d slow down. I should have known better. John is the kind of running partner who’s either magic or poison, depending on your perspective. There’s some sort of weird chemistry that prevents us from being reasonable.

OK, after all, most of the outbound was downhill. We said we’d back it off for the climb back up to the park. Yeah, right. Later scientific analysis showed that our return pace didn’t vary much.

John actually did tire. Considering he ended up with an almost twenty mile day, the first ten of which were at race pace, no surprise there. Funny thing though, despite my not having put in a training run like this, well, ever this year, not having run this pace for this distance outside of the Boilermaker race, I had more in me at the end. Who knew?

John swatted me right out of the comfort zone I’d fallen into, the zone that said I didn’t have that pace in me for training, the zone that persisted even after the mental right hand turn I made September 1 to break out of the August Blues. I most certainly can still train like that. I just need to line up more often with guys like John, and get out of that zone.

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