11 January 2012


In retrospect, I really didn’t need this race. It was a somewhat foolish race. I’d raced twice the week before, I’m racing the week afterward, I didn’t need yet another. But it sounded like fun, if your idea of fun is subjecting yourself to pure agony for a while. And it was fun, at least other than the agony bit, and other than a few days later feeling in real life what I appeared to be in a photo taken by Dearest Daughter the Younger: Splinched.

For those unfamiliar with the term, splinching is Potteresque (from J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter world) for accidentally leaving a bit of yourself behind when you pop into or out of one place to somewhere else directly, skipping the pesky spaces in-between. Efficient transport, if it could be done for real. Apparating and disapparating as it’s known in that space. But if not done just right, you splinch, which is not a good thing, unless you like parting with an arm or a leg.

DD the Younger recently saved her pennies to treat herself to her very own digital camera, which Dear Old Dad thought was a bit odd since there was one in the household at her disposal, but her artistic side wanted to experiment with video and image features that the stock unit didn’t provide. In short, it wasn’t cool enough. OK, Dad can handle that, set a goal and execute. Fair enough. One said feature of said new gadget was the ability to take panoramic photos without the annoying need to paste together eight images that inevitably don’t match up due to lens imperfections and operator tilt. Push the button, scan the scenery, and the camera locks on to stable points as you pan, meshing many strips of image together into one glorious whole.

If you’re a runner, or the offspring of one, or, in this case, both, this leads to an obvious question: What happens when I aim this at Dad as he races past? And the answer is really rather amusing. Most of the time you get a mess, but now and then you get the timing just right, and you get Dad, or at least parts of him, many, many times (twenty-five in fact as seen here, click on this one to see it larger) as he slogs on by. And he’s never in those pesky spaces in-between. Indeed, not knowing any better, you might think he was apparating repeatedly. And sometimes, when only bits of him appear – a leg here, an arm, half a chest without a back – you might say he splinched.

I found this picture to be quite amusing, and a couple days later I found it to be downright prescient. Because a couple days later my hamstrings were screaming in a way they haven’t screamed in a long time. I’d better back up a bit here…

Running with Greater Boston hasn’t really enhanced my training, since I don’t live in Boston where most of the workouts occur, and the time and logistics of getting there make it relatively unworkable. But racing with them, even in this short time, has brought plenty of new and interesting adventures: cross country races including the trip to Nationals, returning to the track for the New Year’s Eve mile, and this past weekend, a chance to hammer out a 5000 meter on the track. Ponder: Why is it that we never call it a 5000 meter on the road, and we don’t call it a 5K on the track?

By any name, this was to be the first time I’d ever run 5000m on the track, and even though I knew I’d be slow relative to the field of youngsters, in light of recent racing personal bests, I smelled a breakout. I consider this distance to be a sprint, and it’s been pretty much constrained by what appeared to be a natural speed limit. Put it on the track, controlled environment, following on the quick mile of a week back, and perhaps it might be time…?

The simple answer is that it didn’t happen. The emotional answer is that it was a poorly executed race. The complicated answer is that it still could have been my best five kilometers, despite not being the ultimate fastest, and despite having come in dead last.

Yep, dead last. So far behind the young fast guys (who lapped me incessantly) that they were lining up the next race when one of the officials happened to notice that, Hey! There’s still a guy out there! Now, considering they had an official dedicated to counting our laps, and he was dead accurate, I can’t quite figure out how this got by them, but whatever. They moved out of my way, and I crossed the line dead last, nearly dead. Not so bad as dead last in a road race of hundreds, this was merely seventh of seven, the result of a thinned field of numerous no-shows and the eighth guy, the only other master in the race and someone I would have bettered, dropping out in a generous gesture to give me the honors.

Poorly executed? First lap, too fast. First mile, too fast. Second mile, on target but now lagging, gasping. Third mile? Flesh barely congealed to the bones, falling apart, grunting, pace falling through the floor. Final result? No PR. Four seconds over my best. But we’ll get back to that.

I’d though the track would be a controlled environment, a way to even the pace, remove the vagaries of the road, reel in that breakthrough. Instead, it was relentless. With no ups or downs, it offers no momentary rests for the weary bits. And on a two-hundred meter oval, twenty-five laps, one or two seconds per lap cause an insurmountable change in the result. You’re constantly and cruelly reminded of how you’re falling apart, the difference between cruising and falling apart being separated by mere seconds. When the laps rose to forty-four seconds with nothing in the reserve tanks, I knew I was toast.

But the irony is that being four seconds off my best on a guaranteed accurate course makes this arguably my best, despite my dissatisfaction with the course of the event. My fastest was on a net downhill course. And numbers two and three, both two seconds between the fastest and last weekend’s, were on the same course known to be wildly inaccurate, those times resulting from my best estimate adjustment courtesy of Google satellite photos; in short, they might be quite wrong.

Matters not. Like the mile a week prior, I now have a track 5000m under my belt, and a place to work from. Clearly more track workouts are in order to improve that speed limit. But the adventure of trying this new event was what attracted me from the start. What we runners see as fun is a little different from the rest of the world. No regrets.

Now about that splinching bit… I can only theorize that racing a full five kilometers in the Hot New Shoes, the Saucony racing flats / spikes is to blame. I can only guess that the lower heels on these minimalist tires changed my leg geometry enough to stretch the living daylights out of everything on the back side, resulting in hams on rye a couple days later. Slice my legs out, I think they’ve been splinched. And in this condition, I note, a half marathon coming in three days? Yeah, whatever, bring it on. It’s what we do.

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