13 April 2015

Positive Side

It’s easy to look at last week’s race and focus on the fact that in this year’s edition, my fifth go at this local classic, I ran a Personal Worst time. It takes a little more thinking, and some would say over-rationalization, to find the positive side. But I’ve done that thinking and I’ve found that positive side – indeed, several of them. Go ahead and paint that label of over-rationalization across my face. I’m happy with the day, and I’m stickin’ to it.

The ambling party du jour was the Tri-Valley Front-Runners Frank Nealon Boston Tune-Up 15K, which winds through the up and un-up undulations of Upton. This race is a winner. It’s a club race held for runners, by runners, and priced to recognize that we’re runners, not a ready source of cash for a charity we don’t care about or a for-profit promoter. It’s well run, supported by a terrific team including a guy named Gary – who can’t love that? It’s a superb course, scenic, quiet, and moderately challenging, well matched for its timing just before Boston. It draws a reasonably strong field inspiring a solid effort. And lastly, oh, the goodies! So many post-race comestibles, with…soup! I’m smitten with any race with soup, and this one doesn’t just have soup, but a plethora of volunteer-made varieties warming with multiple flavors. Fittingly, rather than yet another shirt to stuff in the overstuffed shirt stuff drawer, this year’s giveaway was a soup mug.

OK, you get it, I love this one, which is why I’d run it four times previous (which would’ve been five consecutive save for a conflict last year). It’s also why returning is a tough prospect, as that strong field, excellent course, and brothy post-race incentive have eked some decent outings from my aging legs. So I did my homework, mined my logs, listed those four previous circuits, and seeing what I was up against, groaned. The worst of them rang in at twenty-two seconds per mile faster than my previous ten-miler Amherst outing in February. The best seemed entirely out of reach.

And as it turned out, not only was that best performance indeed entirely out of reach, but I didn’t even equal the worst – and that worst was only as bad as it was since that particular year I’d lost a bunch of time with an errant shoelace. So yes, this year’s was a Personal Worst, but there was no question this race had a big positive side.

Let’s start with the fact that while I needed – and failed – to pick up twenty-two seconds per mile from my Amherst pace to match my worst Tri-Valley, I did pick up…twenty-one. Yeah, it was close. You can quibble about this versus that: Amherst is unquestionably a tougher course, with its hellacious hill at mile three – which at least offers payback at six – but then piles it on deeper with another at eight (and let’s not forget the mud and snow). But Tri-Valley sported high winds which, as is usually the case, never felt as though they were behind you, but instead knocked you for a loop at the worst moments. Said zephyr spun up precisely at the hill at four and a half, utterly demolishing anything resembling good form, and later lined up perfectly to entirely negate the usual final mile pace-enhancing sprint. I can’t claim any scientific analysis, but times across the board seemed a bit slower than usual on that course. So call it a draw, or at least recognize that the course didn’t give up those twenty-one seconds per mile. I had to buy them with a bit of old-fashioned pain, or in other words, six weeks bought me a pretty good bump.

Though satisfied, I wouldn’t characterize this as a strong bout of racing. Once the positional dust settled by mile one, I’d went minus two for the duration, giving up two spots and gaining none. Armor Chink One came quickly by mile three, and though I was able to keep in contact, even closing a bit late in the race at least until he noticed and responded in kind – I really had no race in me. Armor Chink Two, around mile six, wasn’t even a contest. Hot youngster seemingly bounding with energy swoops in effortlessly, knocks me out of the top ten, and cruises on toward his next victim. Hey, at my age, what can you do about that? But then again, at my age, I’ve got at least twenty years on the dude, so there. And I did hold off another challenge in the final half mile to walk away with some racing pride, seal eleventh, and take ownership of the trophy for the fifties – an aptly themed engraved soup ladle (well played, Tri-Valley!). But that was the extent of the racing for the day. It was mostly an exercise in gritting it out against gravity and the elements, battling tired legs – but being able to keep those tired legs in overdrive.

But hey, at my age, I also have the joy of leaning back on the glorious age-grading tables, and you’d better believe I take that advantage. And the answer to that riddle is? By the Holy Tables, this wasn’t a Personal Worst after all, but rather smack dab in the middle of my previous four outings, with a rating just north of the golden eighty-percent, the first time I’ve cracked that barrier since the day the bombs blew at Boston. I’ll bite on that one for a positive side.

All statistics aside, the reason I’m attaching the positive side label to this is easy: Hard Core March, which was truly a lot of hard work, appears to have paid off. First in the breakthrough run on the Boston course a week back, then in dropping the pace so much at Tri-Valley compared to a mere six weeks back, and just for a bonus, with a few other tellingly positive recent workouts. Experience has taught that my aged bones require a spin-up time between turning up the training heat and seeing the results. January and February started turning the corner from the injuries and breaks of last year, and probably, in hindsight, made Hard Core March possible. March appears to have delivered.

None of this is any guarantee of a good Boston. But whether the payback appears on Patriot’s Day or not, the satisfaction of knowing that even with a few more years on the odometer, I’m battling back again toward competitiveness after this latest round of setbacks, is reward unto itself.

[ Ed note: Thanks to Ted & Mary Tyler for the photos via JimRhodes.com / Coolrunning. ]

No comments:

Post a Comment

Humor me. If you read it, if you liked it, even if you didn't, let me know!