I feel rather sheepish. Staring at the yawning chasm of nearly two weeks since last writing (I know all six of you readers are sitting on the edge of your seat in anticipation) I’ve been trying to conjure a way to accurately describe my state of being since officially declaring Slump. Indeed, things dropped so low that things actually started dropping, to the extent that Tuesday night while running a hill workout with my local Strider buds, I took it almost literally on the chin when a large avian being bombarded my left shoulder (it must have been large by the scale of the result). OK, not my chin, but close.
Everyone told me when that happened that I should run out and buy a lottery ticket. I admit it, I didn’t. I could’ve been a multi-millionaire by now, or more likely just a dollar poorer. But you have to admit, it was a rather rare event. In my forty-nine-plus years it’s never happened to me, and considering how much time I spend outside, that’s somewhat surprising. But there it was, a wet, darkly evil-looking splattered mess released from above with devastating accuracy. Yee-umm!
In the mood of, “Can it really get worse?” (to which the answer is, “Of course it can, you fool!”), I spent the next couple evenings trying to wax poetic about this excremental event. Surely there must be a way to knit such an omen to my stiff, pained, and slow status, and find a ray of sunshine to cast upon my readership! But by Friday, all I’d come up with fell clearly into the corny column. With a big race pending in the morning, I abandoned my lonely writer’s garret to await Saturday’s results, expecting them to be tinged by slumpiness, giving further ammunition to weave an even deeper and wiser tale.
Except that it didn’t happen. Saturday turned in about as big a surprise as what hit my left shoulder on Tuesday evening. Perhaps it was telling that when the gun fired, I wasn’t paying a bit of attention. Time to go? Really? Surprise! What transpired in the next half an hour is what brought on the sheepishness. I know you’ll never believe me when I say the word slump again.
The much-anticipated and, due to my training funk, somewhat dreaded event was the next in the series of USATF New England Grand Prix races, this time the 34th Carver Cranberry Five Miler. Recalling what happened in Bedford New Hampshire back in May, I had zero illusions that the field would offer anything in the same league as the word forgiving. Even had I been at the top of my game, I knew the competition would be crushing. Add to that the fact that I’d volunteered to act as team manager for Greater Boston’s men’s masters team, raising my visibility within this club of fast guys, made me just the tiniest bit concerned that a slump-induced train wreck might just happen to get noticed. Not that they’d get worried or upset or anything, it was just me having a good fret. Hey, it’s a free country, I can grow my own worries if I want to.
Which is why it was probably for the better that after a rushed warm-up, feeling more or less crappy, already soaked from the hugely humid but mercifully mild morning, I was entirely taken off guard by the gun. In smaller races I’ll toe right up to the line or close behind, but not, as I learned at Bedford, in a Grand Prix,, where only human Ferraris dare to tread. Not being up front, and with an odd lack of pre-race announcements (or perhaps I was simply oblivious), I truly had no idea – BANG!
There was no forgetting Bedford. I fully expected a huge field consisting of every ringer in New England to precede me through the cranberry-bog-laced countryside. But even with that expectation, the scale of the humbling shellacking was impressive from the outset. If there seemed to be a brigade in front of me at Bedford, this time it seemed an entire army. That’s no surprise in a big race like Boston, but in a race of just under six hundred, it’s disconcerting.
As at Bedford, I missed the first mile split, and had no idea how fast this train was rolling. But mile two confirmed we were on the Tokyo to Osaka bullet express. I thought back to the stride workout I’d done Thursday night, eight-hundreds on the track at a little faster than five-K pace. With only forty hours till the race, I’d wanted to feel race pace but not overwork, so these weren’t interval- fast, but solid, with a few minutes recovery between each. I knew that the real goal would be to string six together back-to-back sometime to finally nail that five-K personal best. Here at mile two in Carver, I’d just strung four. Except this was a five-miler, not a five-K, and it was obvious that stringing ten wasn’t in the cards without immediate defibrillation available afterwards.
It’s a dangerous point in a race when, early on, you know you’ve got so much time in the bank that a great day is possible if you can just hold on. You’re faced with the choice of just holding on or pressing for gold. In a Grand Prix race, where medaling is really out of the question, and your team, while important, isn’t likely in the running to take the crown, pressing for the gold with every iota of effort is a tough order. But just holding on is a downright, well, cop-out.
Two pictures tell the story. Early in the race, a shot that I’d be happy to show my mother. Late in the race, form failing, mouth agape, brow sunken, essentially looking like hell. Laughing at myself at how I matched the bit I’d read in a running tips book (to be the topic of a future post) where the author commented that at 100% effort, race pace, you’re unable to wipe the spit off your chin. But still knowing that barring collapse, a personal best was in the offing.
And then it was out of the offing and into the bag. And to make it sweeter, it wasn’t just an official personal best, but also ahead of the interim split, my previous unofficial personal best, from Bedford. And my age-adjusted rating matched that of Bedford, tying this for a best-ever race.
Of course, place-wise, I got utterly slaughtered. Even worse than Bedford. But hey, it was a Grand Prix, what do you expect?
If I feel crappy this week, you’ll never believe me if I tell you I’m in a slump.
Thanks to Krissy Kozlosky of krissy.smugmug.com for the early race shot, and Ted Tyler from www.Coolrunning.com via www.JimRhoades.com for the horrid late race shot. Not that Ted took a horrid shot, of course, it was all my fault.