30 April 2010

True Tales of Boston, Part 2

We now return to our Boston 2010 program already in progress… The tale of the race itself can be found here. Part 1 of the random stories of the day can be found here. And now, the second half of those stories. Enjoy.

Stupid Fast: In my race story last week I talked about how stupid fast I went out. How stupid fast was it? Well, it was so stupid fast that I actually hit 30K faster – by 21 seconds – than I ran the whole 30K race at Stu’s back in March. After that race I mentioned that I’d run the pace I wanted for a marathon, but knew there was seven and a half more miles to go. Guess what? I ran that pace, and had seven and a half miles to go. And they weren’t pretty. I hit the half in a smokin’ 1:26:06, only to follow that up with nearly an hour thirty three. Yep, no negative splits on this one, instead just an ugly pace chart, showing either a struggle to get my pace under control or a twenty-five mile fade – you be the judge. Not exactly a smart race strategy, but in the end, whatever.

Everybody’s Passing Me!
The first corral is a scary place to start at Boston. My number just barely got me into that club, and I knew they’d go out fast, so I put myself in the back quarter of the corral. Nevertheless – and despite my stupid fast early miles – I couldn’t escape the feeling that I was being walloped by everyone around me. Not until late in the race did I feel like I was holding my ground. And pictures show all those two- and three-thousand numbered folks all around me. Yet, if you figure that there are a hundred or two up front in EliteLand, my number 1948 hinted at a seed of 1100-1200 or so, and my final place, 1170, fell right into line. Moral of the story? Don’t believe it when you think everyone is passing you.

Old Friends, New Friends:
Boston has become an annual gathering of my ever-expanding clan of running friends. It’s like a class reunion, and the class keeps getting bigger. Shout-outs go to…
  • Co-worker Kerry on completing her first; I can’t take much credit but I’ll beg for a little in nudging her toward this life achievement,
  • Dave and his fellow traveler Mike, the Ottawa crew; I’ve been trying to meet Dave for a few years and finally did before they did two marathons in one day: Boston, and the drive back to Ottawa that night,
  • Mike from Carolina who ran a much smarter race than I and almost nailed sub-three, Vince from Florida, and the others from afar with whom I’ve been in touch and hoped to meet this time but still haven’t; we’ll do it again next year I hope,
  • My fellow club-mates from the Highland City Striders; for a club of a mere 50 people we fielded seven Boston runners, all finishers, way to go Rocket John, Krazy “Marathon a Month” Kevin, “Bet on it” Dan, Lovely Liz, Chris “The Gurn is Coming!”, and Paul, so sorry I cannot come up with a snappy nickname,
  • The Squannacook crew, Chris, recovered from a tough half marathon a week earlier to turn in a fine Boston, and Mark who PR’d with a 2:54 and change – outstanding!, and to the rest of their welcoming gang,
  • Mrs. Foot Doctor, to whom I owe the fact that Dr. Foot Doctor understood me when I first went to see him nearly two years ago and didn’t tell me to stop running,
  • To new friend Steve from Maryland, who lamented missing re-qualifying by a mere thirteen seconds; I hope that paper application idea works out and we cross paths again.
  • And to the rest, too numerous to mention…
The Reward! The reward? A few post-race days of R & R on beautiful Cape Cod, gloriously devoid of summertime crowds, and sporting just enough fellow Boston recoverees to make for interesting conversation including the lady from Sacramento and the gent from Germany enjoying our Commonwealth’s gorgeous beaches. I’ll excuse the couple who, while soaking in the hot tub, asked the classic, “and how long is THAT marathon?” question. Muggles.

Barefoot beach walking is perfect therapy for marathon-battered feet, like a miles-long foot massage. And the flatness of the Cape Cod Rail Trail was perfect for those rehabilitation runs. No hills this week, thank you. Perfect time to jog a few with my beloved, who yes, on her own accord has taken up the cause and is putting in a few miles.

By week’s end the quads were back in business enough to somewhat foolishly pop in a ten-miler. A ten-miler four days later? Well, you know how it goes… Out onto the rail trail behind the hotel, I wanted to run into the next town to check it off my list like any nerdy engineer type would. Then, once there, it was only another mile and a half to the end of the trail, so, might as well… Suddenly, I’m five miles out and only one way to get back, so what’s a runner to do? Some speed, of course, culminated by chasing down a local runner who we’ll call Amy (since that was her name), and her version of the Wonder Dog (border collie), Echo.

A little banter made the trip back more interesting, as did Echo’s joyful sauntering. Echo seemed a fine companion until he (she? It?) decided to flush a squirrel out of a tree, which promptly flew a foot in front of Amy’s face, giving her quite the start, and landed on the trail immediately in front of me, not at all right-side up and therefore doing one of those hysterical righting dances that only squirrels can do, while trying to run away, of course in the same direction I was moving, well, just try to envision it. Four days post Boston, muscles still a little tender, and it was either dance or kill the little bugger. Yeah, you had to be there, but trust me, it was a real hoot.

Parting Shot: My wife captured a classic shot as I came through Newton Lower Falls at mile sixteen. Really I was telling my ladies that I wanted one bottle of Rocket Fuel, yes one, see that finger, one! Clearly it looks like something else entirely. I’m not showing off. Just trust me on this one.


26 April 2010

True Tales of Boston, Part 1

If you tried to package up everything that happens on Marathon Monday, you’d end up with something that UPS probably won’t ship in one piece. So now that I’ve dispensed with the excitement of the race itself in last week’s posting, let’s move on to some of the more interesting tidbits to emerge from that intimate little gathering in Hopkinton. Here’s Part 1 of two entries to this post.

It’s an Cozy Little Event, Really! With 27.000 registered runners, countless bandits, and hundreds of thousands of fans (estimated at over a half-million), how will we ever find each other? Yet somehow we do, and it keeps happening enough to convince us it’s karma. Dude, let me count the ways.

One: Rocket John and I drove together to Hopkinton State Park and boarded one of many BAA buses to downtown Hopkinton. Granted, this arrival route serves many local runners, but it also carries many out-of-towners who are staying in the western ‘burbs – probably a couple thousand in total. So it’s still pretty remarkable when the two ladies sitting behind us are from the next town over, and even better when one says, “Hey, I saw your picture in the paper!” Even better because, frankly, very few actually read that paper.

Two: Walking into the Athlete’s Village, tens of thousands of runners, you couldn’t find someone if you tried, and of course we almost walk into our friends from the Squannacook River Runners, including Chris, who provided the impetus for my writing this blog in the first place. Even better, having first seen Mark, clueless me didn’t even recognize Chris behind his funky hat and shades. Hey, it was a whole week since I ran with the guy, cut me a break. They made fine camp-mates at the village as we basked in rare golden sun for a change rather than the usual Hopkinton Shivers.

Three: Crossing the finish line, I had a social call to make. Michelle, the lady who directs the vaunted medical tent is a friend from my church and insisted I stop in to say hello. Conveniently, I had a wicked blister on the ball of my left foot that had been working up since mile fifteen, and miraculously hadn’t burst, but wasn’t at all comfortable, so getting a patch was a great excuse to stop in and say hello. Now, just having a friend at the end was nice enough, but – yes, that phrase again – even better, when I walked out of the tent ten minutes later, there was Rocket John walking by, fresh over the finish line (probably not the best choice of words to describe him at that moment, but you get it). Had I not stopped short I would have walked right into him. Out of 27,000, just like that. I swear you can’t choreograph this stuff. (Thanks to med tent photographer Justin Ide for the shots of me, Michelle, and that fine inch-and-a-half blister!)

Four: Hours after my finish, after the baggage bus, after the reunion with Rocket John’s family, after hitting the Squannacook post-race party, after a fabulous rub-down, after all this I am walking back to catch the BAA bus back to Hopkinton, and amidst the still swirling crowds I hear my name called not once, not twice, but three times in a half-block span. First by a co-worker out to watch the race (my bad, I didn’t recognize him, we’re relatively new colleagues), second by someone I’ve never met but knew me well enough through someone else to recognize me (a bit scary, really), and third by a club-mate. Hundreds of thousands of people, and you can’t blend into the crowd.

Five and More: And there were other such encounters, edited for brevity, not to mention the numerous shouts from the crowd during the race I already mentioned last week. It’s intimate and cozy, I tell you. And somehow, there’s always someone around that you know.

I’ve Got His DNA Right Here! I completely missed the opportunity last year. Being in the first corral, I had wormed my way to the front to see the elite men, but they weren’t out yet, and knowing I’d be slow, I didn’t want to get caught up front when the rush went off, so I faded to the back of the corral and never saw those vaunted heroes.

What I didn’t realize last year is that there is a fenced corridor along the north side of the corral which the elites use to come from their secret church basement lair to the front of the pack. All you have to do is sidle over to the left, and you not only get to see them all, there’s a lot of high-fiving going on as well. I started the race with a little Ryan Hall, a little Meb, and a lot of Kenyan and Ethiopian DNA smeared across my right hand. I’d tell you I haven’t washed it since, but that would be a lie. Perhaps some of it might have soaked in and melded with mine? I’ll have to let my hair grow and see what happens.

And on that topic of the legendary Ryan Hall hair, my daughter, standing at mile sixteen, got one of those one-in-a-thousand lucky shots as Mr. Hall of the Hair flew by. Check out her picture – this is unedited, uncropped, uncompromised in any way. Way to go, Emily!

Media Star? Notwithstanding the obscure pre-race newspaper photo publication referenced via the link above, it was a banner year for media face time. Usually I time it just wrong. They’re always talking to someone at the times I pass the TV cameras, or if I make the shot, it’s during a commercial when they’ve picture-in-pictured the coverage to a miniscule size. Not this year. My timing was perfect: a full shot climbing Heartbreak, a long shot laboring up Hereford Street, and a final shot coming down Boylston, ironically ending with me checking my watch only three blocks from the finish but still not convinced I’d make it in three hours. If I was truly in the high-tech media age I’d have screen shots, but I’m not, so I don’t. Come on over and I’ll pop in the real live antique VHS tape!

The Honor of Addressing the Troops: I’d mentioned that the head of the medical tent is a friend. I was honored that she broadcast my kind words to her staff out to all of them. They’re saints, they deserve to know it, and I’m oh-so-pleased to have had the opportunity to tell them so.

To be continued…

20 April 2010

Boston 2010

[ Ed Note: As is often the case, this marathon tale is longer than my usual postings. As I usually say, deal with it! ]

Rocket John was absolutely convinced I was going to hammer this one. Not just sub three hours, but he went so far as to predict a Boston, if not a marathon PR for me. I wish I’d had his confidence going in. Then again, perhaps I’m glad I didn’t. Then again, maybe I secretly did.

No denying that at both Stu’s 30K and the Tri-Valley 15K, I clocked in with very confidence-inspiring results. But without a truly strong twenty-plus-miler under my belt, my nagging fear was the high miles, the classic fear of every marathoner, the fear I’d conquered at Bay State in 2007 with buddy Ron’s famous, “You’re going to speed up!” comment at mile twenty three. Quite frankly, in my post-surgery days, that fear was back. I fully expected a strong eighteen miles, a-la-Stu’s, and a mighty struggle beyond.

And as it went, that’s pretty much what I got. While the end result wasn’t as dramatic as Rocket John called for – there were no PR certificates being handed out at day’s end – it was as satisfying as I could have hoped for: a return to the sub three zone, and fully intact at the end, to boot. There was no face plant this time, though it took a lot of will to assure that didn’t happen again.

But here’s the funny part. While my confidence in being strong through those high miles was close to nil, my confidence in being able to cope with them was as high as ever. That’s the confidence of age, experience, and perhaps a few grains of stubborn stupidity. I knew I’d been there before, and save the Wineglass tragedy, come out the far end not much worse for wear. It was that confidence that allowed me to go with the flow at the start, go stupid fast, put some time in the bank, and make that 2:58 possible.

And that’s how it went. Stupid fast at the start, followed by three Mighty Struggles. A Mighty Struggle to get my pace under control. A Mighty Struggle to survive even the mid miles. And a downright Heroic Struggle, if one is allowed to attach the word heroic to one’s own exploits, to withstand the final three or four miles. Yes, you’ll notice that I didn’t attach the phrase mighty struggle to the famed hills of Newton. They were there. Yeah, so what?

Boston never offers rational weather, and Monday was no exception, with the exception that it was gorgeous for a change, high 40’s, sunny, though with a fairly stiff cross breeze. Near perfect, but still, standing in the starting corral, surrounded by bodies, sun shining brightly, Kelley green club shirt on, I was downright hot. And within two miles, sweating far more than expected. Boston strikes again. But once underway, the temperature resumed ideal range under delightful sunny skies which politely turned somewhat overcast at some point late in the race – a change I didn’t notice until somewhere around twenty or twenty one when I realized just how comfortable it was, and how hydration never became a problem.

The wind, on the other hand, was both fickle and divine. It’s interesting how twenty four hours supplements and solidifies one’s memory. At race’s end, I remembered that a nasty headwind hit me just as I started up Heartbreak Hill, and how that seemed such a Boston-appropriate insult, yet how each time I felt at my lowest and weakest, there always seemed to be a not-so-subtle kick in the pants from what I termed the Divine Wind. These memories were strong enough to make me question how much of my sub-three was delivered via this gift. Twenty four hours later, however, I remembered the rest of the race, the long miles through Framingham, Natick and Wellesley where I repeatedly wished for someone handy to tuck in behind to escape the frequent frontal gusts, and how those drafting opportunities never arose. Divine at times or not, I’d have to call the net effect nil, or perhaps even in the minus column.

Last year’s first corral start meant getting out of the way. This time, I was there to race, though knowing that I most likely still wasn’t really up to first corral standards, I wasn’t stupid enough to put myself in the front of the corral. Even three-quarters back in the corral, the first mile was a crazy 6:14. Did I mention that for my 2:56 in 2008, I went out in 7:03 in traffic and made it up? Did I mention that as a four-time Boston runner, I know how everyone gets sucked up and goes out too fast? Did I mention that I was smart enough not to do that? Yeah, right. OK, don’t panic, it’s downhill, you’re strong, it’s early, just slow down. Mile two, 6:17. Yeah, that was slower, but not the 6:40’s I was targeting. And thus began the strangest – from a pace standpoint – marathon I’ve ever run.

My goal in a marathon is to set a steady and strong pace, a little ahead of target, and stick to it as long as possible, knowing that either I end up with some time in the bank to give back as needed in the high miles, or, on those rare days, bring it in consistent or faster. My worst case scenario is a slow degradation of pace, an apparent weakening, dying on the vine, slower, slower, slower, until… But here I was in a situation that through two, three, four miles (mile five clocked in at three-hour target pace only due to an, umm, pit stop), struggling to fight the excitement of the pack, struggling to get the pace down without making my body feel like I’d broken it by forcing it into a slow pace so early on. Had I felt comfortable early on, this might have been possible, but fact was, I was toast in this race from about mile five onward. It wasn’t the fast pace, it just didn’t feel quite right. There was never a groove. It was work the whole way. I reminded myself of Buffalo 2008, when at around mile nine I had to remind myself that it wasn’t going to feel easy, it was going to be work, that’s just the way it was, get used to it. That day in Buffalo turned into my PR. It was a good lesson to relive. Mighty Struggle Number One resolved itself over time, but in doing so instilled fear, because by gradually bringing my pace back to sanity, which was good, I knew I was gradually slipping slower, slower, slower, which was not good. My pace graph shows it remarkably consistent. Was it a gradual regaining of control? Or was it a twenty-five mile fade?

Thus Mighty Struggle Number Two, just getting through the bulk of the race. This one was never easy. It was fun, but it wasn’t easy. This being Boston number four, I was surprised at the expansion of my “fan base” – both those I knew would be out there and a number of surprises. More than a couple of times I heard people shouting my name, and no, my name wasn’t emblazoned on my shirt or any other body part, nor was the crowd thick enough in my part of the pack for there to be any mistaken identity. Often I never found the source of these calls, on occasion I did yet couldn’t place the face, but every one was appreciated. Meeting my family – er, pardon me, my Ace Support Team – in Newton Lower Falls at sixteen, I hollered that I’d gone out too fast even though I knew there could really have been no other way.

The hills of Newton? The famed, feared, dreaded, hills of Newton? A non-issue. Not a mighty struggle. Sure, my pace poked above 7, even as high as 7:20 on Heartbreak, but the hills didn’t kill me. The building heaviness in the quads, the knowledge of five and a half to go after Heartbreak, that darn near killed me.

I denied myself the pleasure of the mental exercise of calculating the pace I needed to make the three hour barrier until I was over Heartbreak. Don’t even think about it, because if I only needed eight minute miles, I couldn’t assure myself that I had eight minute miles left in me. But over Heartbreak, crossing the mile twenty-one marker, the mental gyrations began. Thirty-eight and three-quarter minutes left. Allow almost two minutes for that last 385 yards. That leaves nearly thirty seven minutes for five miles. About 7:25 per mile. Not a foregone conclusion.

In my mind, I’d slowed to somewhere between Dog Slow and Thick Lava. But despite my mounting agony, twenty two dropped back into the 6:40s, and the next two hovered near 7. Math time again, not that the math gears were working all that well by then. At mile twenty four, eighteen minutes to go. Eight minutes a mile. Again, simply not a foregone conclusion.

Memories of Wineglass floated through my head as my legs grew so heavy, so weary, and my being became not quite wobbly as it did at Wineglass, but clearly in a place where wobbly wasn’t far away. Between prayers, I found myself actively willing myself to remain upright. Coming to the final insult – the tiny incline at mile twenty five where Beacon Street rises and crosses the Massachusetts Turnpike, I looked at my watch and decided I had enough in the budget to avoid disaster and take a tenth of a mile walk. No Wineglassing today, thank you.

While the break probably saved me, it certainly didn’t make the finish seem easy. Only a mile point two, through Kenmore, dipping under Massachusetts Avenue, the famed right on Hereford left on Boylston zee, and everlasting agony. Each minute checking my watch, four and a half left, three and a half, even halfway down Boylston I could not say it was a foregone conclusion that I’d make it in under three hours, that I’d make it in standing up. It was that much of a Mighty Struggle.

Over the line, a minute and a quarter to spare, handed off between four red-jacket medical volunteers to keep me walking, back to lucidity, back to sanity, back to full functionality, back to the sub-three zone.

[ I’ll recount some of the fun anecdotes and tales of the day in a future posting or two ]

19 April 2010

Boston Flash

Just a quick update now, stories of this adventure will follow in coming days. In a nutshell, woo hoo, we’re back at the races. It was a gorgeous day for running which saw a stupid fast start, a mighty struggle in the high miles, and a result to make me smile. I’m back in the realm of the sub-3 world, snuck under the bar at 2:58:47, and most importantly, my face is intact this time. Yes, it was a good day. Film at eleven.

18 April 2010

'Twas the Night Before Boston

‘Twas the night before Boston, and all through the house, I couldn’t help but scurry, since it seemed there was just too much to get organized, set up, planned, schemed, prepared, eaten, rested, packed, put to bed, whatever. Why does it always seem to come to this? It’s just another race in the morning. Yeah, but…

We have a confluence of events around this time every year. Boston happens to fall right around my dearest wife’s birthday (that’s not to imply there are other wives not so dearest, but you knew that), and this year the two coincide – yes, she was indeed born to the Shot Heard Round the World. No further commentary on that. But somehow my daughters and I have to scheme to provide a decent birthday celebration after the race, which means more than the usual logistical planning today.

And I’m always amazed at how much logistical planning is involved in any race, let alone Boston. When I travel for a race, I generally throw just about everything I own into the car so as to be ready for any weather eventuality or wardrobe malfunction (thank you, Ms. Jackson, for that fabulous contribution to our lexicon, it rapidly became a favorite). Once there, it’s no big deal to pick what you need at the start. But for Boston, there is no car. We leave the safety of our automotive cocoon at the parking lot of Hopkinton State Park, and once we board the BAA-provided bus to Hopkinton Center, we’re self-sustaining. And it’s not just about being equipped to stay warm and ready up to race time with only what we can wear, carry in the BAA-provided baggage bag, and are willing to part with at the start, but we’ve got to think about needed gear for warmth and comfort (of both ourselves and those unlucky enough to be around malodorous runner-types) at the far end where it’s often notoriously windy and cold. And all of it has to be stuff we’re willing to never see again, because as good as the BAA logistics are, well, you never know. In a word, it’s complicated.

Fortunately the weather forecast is on the upswing, which you’d never know from today’s psychotic downpour-to-sunshine-and-back-again-in-five-minutes routine, simplifying things somewhat from previous years. There’s no rain forecast for tomorrow, and though chilly, the temps are predicted to stay in an ideal zone with a strong enough wind, mostly at our side but slightly behind us, to possibly stave off the all-too-frequent head winds that like to greet us as we top the hills of Newton.

So the race is complicated enough, but let’s make it more fun. Having spent pretty much the whole day yesterday gallivanting into town to the expo and madly trying to find that last merchandise prize for my wife’s latest solar lap, in addition to having made the near-fatal mistake of showing my daughter the course by driving it (backwards) out of the city at an average clip slower than I expect to run it tomorrow, well, yesterday simply vanished. All that planning, logisiticizing (yes, it’s a word, I just decreed as much), and so on has fallen to today. And I’ve made it harder by submitting to the marathon weekend spirit and inviting a few out-of-town runners over to my home for pasta tonight – guests whom I should note I’ve never even met beyond the confines of email (“Can you send a picture so when you show up at my door I know you’re not the mass murder from the next town?”). That’s what happens with the excitement of marathon weekend, and that’s the beauty of it all. And that has to fit in with my stint of coaching the kids’ track team practice tonight. And the nasties like attacking that plugged drain. It’s enough to drive one batty, I think I’ll just go for a run.

All that aside, most bits are in working order. The left Achilles irritation has never really totally vanished, but it’s pretty far below the threshold of worrying. A few calf twinges, possibly an issue by 21, but we’ll worry then if it happens. And the pesky right ankle that only likes to hurt itself when doing totally non-running things acted up a little yesterday. I’m pretty confident through 18 or so, then all bets are off, my long outings haven’t been great. Whatever. Damn the torpedoes. We’re going for a run tomorrow, and it will be a grand time even if it isn’t a grand time.

11 April 2010

The Final Tune-Up

And that’s it. The tune-up is done, it’s in the books, and I couldn’t be happier with the results. Well, of course I could be, but I’d have to be Kenyan or bionic or something. Hey, wait a minute, I am partly bionic.

Saturday marked nine days to Boston, so by my taper formula, that meant a nine-miler, max. OK, we won’t count the warm-up, but the Tri-Valley Front Runners Boston Tune-Up 15K was, just as they advertised, the perfect length for a hard workout, just about the perfect timing before Boston. I’d say it was a perfect day, but it only looked like one. Brilliant sunshine, crisp and cool in the high forties, but a nasty, gusty wind that played tag with us throughout the morning. We’ll settle for close to perfect. During our warm-up we joked that it might be beneficial to turn the race into a 20K and tack, sailboat style, back and forth across the road to catch the crosswinds. Wouldn’t have worked. Those gusts were fickle, hitting us from every angle on every part of the looping, rolling course.

Seeing as the last 15K I’d run, the Boilermaker last summer, clocked in at sixty and a half minutes, I targeted sixty flat for my day’s goal, 6:26 pace. A Second Lap 15K PR was certainly a goal, but since the Boilermaker takes seeding times for corral placement, a solid time would carry double benefit. Of course, not being a GPS kind of guy, and being amidst a quality field not entirely unlike that at Stu’s 30K last month, when we took to the roads I had no idea what pace we were hitting before the first mile split. But I figure a little mystery in life is a good thing. Call me traditional, but there’s got to be at least a little uncertainty or life gets dull quick. Give me a surprise to look forward to. Surprise, we hit the mile in 6:05, a little hot. But the bank account now had a 21 second positive balance, and we were off to the races.

We settled in, moderating the pace a bit on a few rolling hills. A gent named Jason teamed up with me for the first three before he cranked it up at four. But once he left, things got pretty lonely, pretty much just me, the wind, and more than half the race left. And I was already questioning the wisdom of that aggressive start. My lungs were fine but my legs were feeling the pace, growing leaden at the sight of a evil-looking grade looming at four and half. I knew the course turned, but I couldn’t see where the turn was, and as it became apparent that the turn wasn’t before the hill, I hit the mental low point of the morning. Aw, crap, this is going to hurt.

But the cool thing is that it really didn’t. Yes, we had to crank-u-late about two thirds up the hill before the sweet relief of the turn, and yes, it was a laborious crank-u-lation, but once over that hump, the fatigue stabilized, then, to my pleasure, subsided. The human body never ceases to amaze. As I crossed five miles something struck me as familiar, and I later realized I’d hit that mark in exactly my time from the Freezer Five in January. But that was a five mile race, flat out to the finish, and here, I was on that pace with another 4.3 to go, and surviving.

The next few miles held steady a bit under target pace, and just as that tenth Yasso 800’s morphed from impossible to contemplate to a confident breeze last Sunday, the seeming insurmountability of holding pace all the way to 15K melted into the reality that mile eight had arrived, then nine, and I felt strength and a kick and there it was, over the line in 58:31, a kickin’ minute and a half below target. Mental low to spiritual victory in the span of thirty minutes. What’s not to love?

Now, while the goal-crushing PR was intensely satisfying, and the possibility exists, however remote, of a corral bump for this year’s Boilermaker, the interesting technical thing about the day was that while my muscles balked a bit at the pace, aerobically I was feeling strong at the end. And that’s exactly what I need for Boston, where I can slow the pace a few notches to keep the legs happy, but need that aerobic capacity.

Bring it.

One another topic… How remiss of me not to mention that my previous posting was number One Hundred! One hundred articles, all of them somewhere between monotonous and brilliant, you be the judge. For the brave few of you who read regularly or occasionally, I thank you. I do this because I love it, not for the million dollar advance on the book deal I expect any day now. Because I’m sure at least one of you must know a publisher with nothing better to do…

09 April 2010

Rollercoastering to Boston

Funny how this blog thing works. I get an idea for an article, then something gets in the way and it doesn’t get written. This one started off with Boston being three weeks away. Now Boston is a mere ten days away. Tomorrow is my final pre-Boston race, so I’d better post now before tomorrow’s stories stack up in the queue.

Spellchucker, that beloved process which insidiously inserts the wrong words just before Your email departs for the world, insists that “rollercoastering” is not a word. I non-concur. Seeing as how nearly every other noun has been verbcized of late (another non-word, sue me), why can one not rollercoaster, the act of rocketing wildly up and down? And if one can rollercoaster, that act must be rollercoastering. Right. There’s an “-ism” in there somewhere too if it becomes dogma. Enough wordplay. I’ve been rollercoastering, so I know it’s real.

The point is that Boston creeps closer and I have no idea what to expect. Some days I’m convinced I’m ready to fly, other days I’m doubtful I’ll make 19 before the Death Shuffle overtakes my once-proud form. That’s rollercoastering, no matter how you spell it. After ten of these things you’d think I’d know what’s coming, but I don’t. Life, and the human body, are just like that.

The numbers have been posted and I squeaked back into the first corral despite last year’s tourist-style finish, courtesy of Boston’s 18-month window which allowed me to qualify for this year’s race based on 2008’s Wineglass. Imagine that – 18 months since the big foot tendon snap. Having lived so many twists and turns spawning from that adventure, it seems simultaneously like yesterday and a lifetime ago.

Starting up front is an honor that I hope to live up to a little better this year. As always, I don’t go public with my real goals, but you can pretty much guess what I’d hope will happen that Monday. Last fall’s 3:13 at the uber-hilly Mount Desert Island Marathon wasn’t too shabby, but it hurt like hell, and I’d like to think I’ve put in some good workouts and elevated the readiness reading since then. But you never know until the gun goes off, or even a couple hours later. I’ll publicly say only that I’m going for a nice run from Hopkinton.

Everyone who toes that line questions the efficacy of their training. This spring I’ve put in a pair of 20-plus milers; not enough in my mind, but both at paces comparable to my better long jaunts, hinting readiness. But both left doubts. A few weekends ago I clearly faded on a 21-miler. But hey, maybe it was the fierce headwind on the return leg, leading into the late hills? But hey, Boston hits you with headwind off the water when you cap the hills of Newton. But hey, going solo compared to the adrenaline of the crowds of Boston is a different game altogether, right? Two weeks ago I hammered out 16, targeting race pace. It was quick, but not race pace. Wind? Going solo? The mild nagging cold I had at the time? The coaster sailed downhill.

Of course I know I worry too much. It’s genetic. Get real. After all, Stu’s 30K went downright swimmingly. Stu’s told me how ready I just might be. The coaster cranked up the big hill that day.

Only to rocket back down the other side last weekend. Being Easter weekend, a time when my family makes church a contact sport, I took Good Friday off and headed out mid-day for an intended relaxed 20, just to finish feeling good. Instead, I came home after 15 feeling utterly crappy. The sun shone brilliantly, but the forecast was downhill on the coaster.

While trying to avoid tacky religious parallels about rising again, Easter Sunday brought me back up the next hill. Normal people coming home from church on Easter think, “Ham”, Runners, on the other hand, coming home from church on Easter, passing the high school track on a perfect morning, say, “Intervals!”. I called my club buddy and made a track date for that afternoon, then headed off for a relaxing afternoon with the clan. No ham, mind you.

Too relaxing, I’d say. After a slow garden stroll with the family on a warm sunny afternoon, I felt about three heartbeats from away death and only one from a long snooze. You know the feeling, that overwhelming exhaustion that hits precisely because you haven’t done anything strenuous. But I had a track date in 20 minutes, and so dragged my snoozing sack of cells to the school.

An hour later I was back on top of the highest hill of the coaster, flying, soaring, ready for anything. Club buddies Dom and Bill joined me for a set of Yasso 800s just because we’d never done them before, indeed none of us had ever gone north of five or six of them let alone the Yasso set of ten. The first was agony, the body in half slumber even after a warm-up, the goal of ten seeming insurmountable. But as each passed, rather than wearying, we grew stronger. Number ten clocked in faster than all the rest, each of which had been faster than our three-minute target. Whether he’s right or wrong about his Yasso 800 theory, we laughed about being a bunch of Yasso Yahoos and left the track with the confidence of being back on top of the hill.

Since then, so far, it’s stuck. Monday evening was a quick Urban Run race at our favorite Irish pub in Worcester with our neighbor-club CMS friends. Wednesday night, another quick one, sub-7 for eight and a half despite absurd 88-degree heat on an early April evening. For fun, a trail run with podcaster-extraordinaire Chris on Thursday (which, to be fair, produced a few bruises, but all in good fun). Feeling good all week. What a difference from one week ago.

Tomorrow is my final tune-up, the Tri-Valley Front-Runners Boston Tune-Up 15K. Of course I have a goal in mind, but that’s my problem, not yours. I’ll just tell you I’m going for a run, and hoping to end up on the top of the rollercoaster hill, not the bottom. I want to save all that downhill coasting for the 19th.