28 July 2015

Chasing and Racing Away the Summer Slump

Summertime, and the living is…so far as running goes, usually associated with a slump. It happens every year, and though I’ve learned to expect it, it never fails to alarm me that once again, this could be the Beginning of the End, the start of that inevitable slide to oblivion (which is rather presumptuous of me to maintain that I’m not in oblivion already, but…). By the numbers, July hasn’t looked all that bad in terms of average training pace, until I cast off the rose-colored glasses and acknowledge that there have been more days of “no time” in the log than days where the run felt good enough to make it worth worrying about how quick the day’s miles passed.

And so we do what summer demands: run slow, run at ungodly hours of the morning to avoid the heat, run in interesting places to substitute fresh for fast, and of course, shake off the cobwebs with a few races. The slow part is easy. The ungodly part, not so much, but I’m getting better at rolling out before six, though I swear I’ll never enjoy it. The interesting places part comes by the luck of the schedule, earlier this month hitting three other states in a ten-day stretch, including a jaunt to my native Upstate New York for a family wedding. It seemed like a cool idea to run up the roads to the top of the Watkins Glen gorge and take the rim trail back down, and the deer and fox crossing my path on the way up seemed good run omens, but the reality of a muddy winding trail with a fatally high and unprotected drop into the yawning canyon on the left just didn’t work out as planned. Interesting? Yes. Fresh? Yes. Comforting? Not by a long stretch.

Which leaves the last bastion of battling the blahs, the summer race. And what better place to race than on a reasonably shady course in a beautiful park alongside ponds filled with blooming water lilies, that is, well, in a somewhat less than garden community of the Commonwealth. OK, so you can’t have everything perfect, but if it weren’t for the Level Renner 10K, I’d probably never have the adventure of going to Brockton. Truth be told, I can’t tell you if the rest of Brockton lives up to its reputation, but D.W. Field Park is a pretty nice place. Of course, two thirds of it is in Avon anyway.

By just my second trip to this venue, it’s become a favorite. It’s mostly because the folks from Level Renner who put it on do it solely for their love of the sport. That shines through. This is a by runners, for runners race. They’ve dispensed with the crap and focused on the important stuff, notably including actually reporting on the race as a race first – pretty rare in this age of overpriced and over-swagged corporate for-profit events and endless 5K runners-look-like-ATMs fundraisers. Instead, you get reporting on the race with videos and commentary on the action, interviews with the winners, and actually paying attention to the fact that our sport, while inclusive and welcoming to all abilities, is at its heart, competitive. Thanks to that attitude, while not a big event (though they doubled this year over last), the field oozes quality, and quality provides the competition that inspires better performances.

All that was great, but overhanging mini-Grand-Prix-style motivational atmosphere was an entirely different kind of atmosphere, a crushing one with heat pushing the mid-eighties and humidity close enough to fully saturated that my warm-up left me a soggy sorry sight. Probably two thirds of the course is indeed shaded, which technically helped, though we were too far gone even before the gun sounded to truly appreciate that positive aspect. So, into the woods, but bring a paddle or a bucket or something because it’s wet in there.

The bad news is that a camera malfunction left Dearest Spouse with only a couple of shots of the tail end of my warm up with training partner Issam, also known as He For Whom a Blog Name has Never Stuck, and a few burst shots of the start, including a bit of goofiness (see zoom) when I noticed her snapping away. After that, kaput.

The good news is that a camera malfunction left Dearest Spouse without pictures from later in the race. The videos posted on the Level Renner site make clear you didn’t want to see that, anyway. It wasn’t pretty.

The last I’d see of my training partner was during that warm-up, after which he blew my doors off by a couple of minutes and erased my local club masters 10K record. Ever humble, he’d typically not even report the feat to the record master, but to my view, records are there to be broken, so once I managed to recover the ability to speak afterward, he gained my lauding, admiration, and insistence on recognition of his feat. The guy is just plain tearing it up.

Meanwhile, back in the cheap seats, I duked it out with perennial rival Bad Dawg. To call our relationship a rivalry at this point is my second sin of presumptuousness in a single column since it’s usually a rather one-sided contest these days with me on the short end, unless I can catch him on a tough day. Never more than a few strides off my flank, by about a mile and a half in, with the temperature gauge already pointing toward overheated, he slipped ahead – my only question being why it took him so long – and settled thirty to forty feet up. Over the course of the next four miles I watched in frustration as he first stopped by his parked car to take a slug from a cached bottle, then stopped at not one but two water stops for the full ingestion approach, and despite my uninterrupted efforts, I still couldn’t catch him. On some dimension somewhere, that’s just wrong.

But with under a half mile to go, with not just my feet but also those of the runner nearest me exuding resounding squishes on every stride from the absurd amount of sweat drowning every inch of our beings, my ersatz rival succumbed to what I’d learn later was in fact his tough day – he having raced a mere three days prior. On the last turnaround, literally working not to slide out of my inundated insoles while cornering, I slipped past him. But with the third and final ascent of the course’s sole hill between us and the end, no part of me expected it was over. Utterly tapped, that climb seemed so absurdly slow that I couldn’t fathom why I had yet to be overtaken. Only when topped out did I dare break my cardinal rule of never looking back and do so, knowing my opportunities to come out ahead on this scorecard were mighty few, and being damned if I’d give it up in the last tenth of a mile.

I know I placed a lot more importance on that micro-victory than did he, since it’s been a somewhat rarer occurrence to put a check in my column, so learning just how big the gap was at the end took on a somewhat irrational urgency. Dearest Spouse, who’s Priority One was to corral my wilted remains into the shade post haste, didn’t immediately connect that that my seemingly dazed wandering back toward the chute was in fact entirely lucid behavior with purpose. As noted, irrational purpose, but purpose none the less. Pointless, too, since I didn’t see the gap anyway.

Two minutes prior to my finish I’d lost my local club’s masters 10K record, but to my pleasure, on a day that could make molasses flow (or perhaps just rot), I’d sliced a fair chunk off my local club’s seniors 10K record, one that I already owned, but one that I made a little bit harder for my training partner to snatch away when he gets old and crusty like me. Combined with surpassing my target time and age-graded performance, it was a fine even if disgustingly sweaty way to break through a couple layers of that summer slump.

How long is it till September?

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