17 June 2009

Crawlin’ With Cops

Yeah, it’s an overused joke, but this was no ordinary local police chase race. Sunday saw the 32nd annual Massachusetts State Police Chase, which draws law enforcement from across the state. It’s really quite a seriously excellent event. And for me, it was a heck of a chase. I’ll get to the race in a bit. First a little history.

The Mass State Police Chase – and the accompanying fabulous family fun & food frenzy day – isn’t really a fully public event. The public is welcome, but it’s not publicized outside of the law enforcement community. Fair enough, it’s their day and they deserve it. But one of our club runners is a state trooper, so we’re the thankful beneficiaries of his annual informal invitation, and get to enjoy the day’s hospitality, festivities, and feast. Burp.

But hanging with the Massachusetts State Police isn’t entirely foreign for me. Though none of my immediate relatives are in law enforcement, my wife’s family history makes us fit right in. Her grandfather, Charles T. Beaupre, Sr., was one of the earliest recruits to the Massachusetts State Police. He signed on with the first recruit class of 1921 – according to family lore, the second man to sign up (that’s him on the left of the motorbike squad, circa 1923). His career with the State Police spanned a dozen years and such notable events as breaking up a KKK rally in Sudbury and overseeing security for the famous Sacco and Vanzetti affair. But he also left a bigger mark, highly visible today throughout our fine Commonwealth.

Rising through the ranks, Beaupre was the second man to hold the highest uniformed office, Captain and Executive Officer, taking over from Captain George Parker, the first leader of the force, in 1925. Beaupre held that office until his retirement from the State Police in 1933. During that time the force attended to some of the finer details of their existence, and Captain Beaupre, recalling his fondness of the French military uniforms he saw during his service in World War I, selected the troop’s uniform style and now famous colors, French and Electric Blue. Adopted in 1933, they are to this day the distinctive color, instantly recognizable, of the Massachusetts State Police.

So the next time that state trooper pulls you over in Massachusetts, besides cursing your bad luck (perhaps deserved?), look in your rear view mirror and say, “What a fine set of wheels you’ve got there, officer, and I just love the colors!” And thank Captain Beaupre, a.k.a. Grampy to my wife.

I didn’t marry into a fortune, but marrying into history is much more interesting.

So amidst the antique MSP cruisers on display, after the kids ran their races, about 160 runners lined up for the day’s test. The Police Chase used to be a 5-miler, but like many other races, they shortened it to 5K to broaden the appeal. That decision might have been influenced by last year’s 97 degree heat and the ensuing misery it brought. This year’s course was a two-lap affair, giving us the fun of passing through the police headquarters grounds and the crowds at the halfway mark.

After my nineteen-and-a-half minute run on the hilly West Boylston 5K a week earlier, my goal was to get back below nineteen, the next step of my post-surgery recovery, and hopefully a stepping stone back to last year’s sub-eighteen. Placing and medaling weren’t high on my list of goals, but then again, you never complain if that happens. This race had a twist: there were age-group awards for law enforcement runners, but just one big open category for everyone else. Top five medaled, the rest went home with lunch and a T-shirt. Fair enough, this is their day.

Out the gate a pack of five bolted at breakneck speed well beyond my capacity. With no age groups, the fact that they all looked young, usually a comfort to us old farts, meant nothing. I settled into sixth, working harder than it seemed I should be for the unknown pace – unfortunately, no mile markers for splits – and with the sound of footprints close behind. Again, nineteen minutes, that’s all I cared about. But gosh, sixth is a bummer if there are five medals. But if only one of them is law enforcement…? With no way of telling, I just labored on.

Through the first lap we maintained our positions. The footsteps behind me backed off a bit, and one of the lead packers was lagging, edging slowly closer to me – his slowdown, certainly not my speed-up. I was closing on him, but didn’t expect to catch him, simply didn’t have much more in me, even though he was making the age-old mistake of looking back – a sign of weakness. Then to my shock, at the top of a small rise with less than a half mile to go, he stopped! That’s something you just don’t expect in the lead ranks. And I was past him, like that. But instantly I heard him start up again behind me, and I knew he was a youngster. Trouble.

At my age you don’t win the sprints, simple as that. You win through endurance. You win through strategy. You win with mental toughness. You don’t win in a knock-down drag-out lung-busting sprint to the line. And I knew that’s what I had coming.

Never look back. But I heard the cheers for him closer and closer to those for me. And rounding the last turn, 100 meters to go, someone shouted, “You’ve got company”, which of course, I knew. Here we go, kids.

Now, let’s remember. This wasn’t for the race. This was for fifth place. And yes, the top five medaled, but as I said at the outset, I really didn’t care. Sub-nineteen was the goal, and on the show clock I could see that sub-nineteen was nearly a foregone conclusion. But who doesn’t love a challenge? I couldn’t just let the kid take it without a fight!

Fight we did, mightily, mad dash, exchanging the lead several times, crowds cheering, mind calculating ability for more push versus likelihood of implosion, legs flailing, going on forever through what? – twelve seconds?

And he got me by a nose. Luckily not the same kind of nose effect as last year at Wineglass, just a real live inch or two difference at the line. Beaten fair and square, and not at all unhappy about it, just thrilled to have had the chance to race the kid like that. Wow, that’s living!

Of course, he sauntered through the chute while the race officials rushed to me with that look of, “Oh crap, we don’t want any deaths on our hands” on their faces. Being an old guy and racing like that does that to people. Given a couple minutes of wheezing, I was, of course fine. And happy. Ten seconds below my goal, and sixth place of 160, six months out of surgery. As far as I could tell, places one through five were all open division, no law enforcement, so no medal, but no worries. Had a nice chat with the kid who beat me – a babe of 17 – who admitted he’d screwed up and didn’t realize he had a second lap to go, messed up his pace, and cramped at that small rise. But of course still had plenty on recovery to kick my butt. Ah, youth.

And a funny thing happened later. They gave the winner a trophy, and then gave out five medals. So I got one anyway. And let me tell you, the Massachusetts State Police Chase medals are high quality, customized, extremely cool, simply the best. Thank you, officers.

12 June 2009

Fully Integrated

Back in the dark days of non-running, after the foot surgery on Mr. Big Toe, Dr. Foot Doctor told me that it would take six months for the tendon repair to become “fully integrated”. Well, a week ago, June 5th, marked six months since The Big Slice. I am officially fully integrated.

I’m not entirely sure what it means to be fully integrated. Six months after the slice, my lower right appendage has a new definition of normal, which will never be the same as the old. I’ve pretty much given up on curling Mr. Big Toe. Persistent stiffness and mild ache after hard workouts are part of life. But I’m running, and I’m getting back into the neighborhood of the pre-snap-twang-there-goes-Mr.-Big-Toe days.

Being slightly obsessed, I track my “Average Training Pace”, and being the neighborhood spreadsheet jock at the office, of course I’ve got it graphed and analyzed. Call me nuts, but this data has proven very useful and enlightening.

Somewhere around two years into my Second Lap, I pondered the value of this information, built the spreadsheet, and spent a few hours going back through my logs to fill in the historical data. Determining the pace of a workout wasn’t always possible, and some workouts, slow for social reasons, skewed the data, but what emerged was a striking trend of increasing fitness leading to increasing mileage and a steadily decreasing average training pace (the yellow line in the graph, note there is no axis for the pace, it’s just a relative number adjusted to fit on the same graph):

OK, at this point you’re convinced I’m a loony and should be locked up. Yeah, maybe, but perhaps I’m still just a geek at heart. And we all remember that the geek got the cheerleader in Revenge of the Nerds. Right, enough of that, onward…

So I’d been riding this train, faster and faster, when off the side of the trestle we fell, or smacked into the mountainside, or, pick your favorite metaphor. Four and a half months off, reset the clock to zero, and start again. Did you notice I cut off the right side of that chart? Now we reveal, as Paul Harvey used to say, the rest of the story.

March was agonizing, and April not much better, save for the joy of the Boston Marathon. My average training pace rocketed up to levels not seen since I started running four years earlier. And worse, despite being slow, those miles felt pretty awful a lot of the time. I wondered if it would take me as many years to work it back down as it did the first time.

But a funny thing happened. In early May my body simply started going faster. It was like a switch got flipped. I wasn’t really working harder – or if I was, I wasn’t noticing it. But that runner’s metabolism kicked back in, and my pace dropped from the eight minute range to seven and a half just like that, nearly overnight. They say it takes 6-8 weeks for your body’s metabolism to adjust, whether you’re starting or stopping a major fitness program. Whoever they are, they’re right. Again, the chart – this time the whole chart – tells the tale:

The pace drop in May was dramatic. Now a week and a half into June, it continues to slide closer to the previous definition of “normal”. I still don’t know if I’ll really get back there, nor will it be a big deal if I don’t – after all, one must get older someday – but it’s nice to be back in the neighborhood.

A week ago I got the 5K back down to nineteen and a half, on a tough course and having turned a speed workout only 36 hours prior (a fact that I truly regretted about a mile and a half in…), and took 5th of the 160-runner field. Nineteen and a half is well off my best last year of a bit below eighteen, but it’s progress.

A couple days after the six-months-since-surgery milestone I accidentally turned a course PR on one of my commonly run training courses. I felt like crap the day after, but it still felt good. It felt like, even though my foot gets uncomfortable, things are working again.

Perhaps that’s what fully integrated means.

On another topic, Shout Out to Chris: I can’t fail to recognize Chris Russell for his ongoing podcast series. I don’t own an iPod, and I’d fallen behind in listening to his work. But my 1100-mile adventure to Belleville and back with a detour to mom’s place in a CD-equipped car (hey, it may be common in your life, but it’s exciting to someone who until a month ago drove a ’96 Corolla with a cassette deck!), gave me a chance to catch up. The interviews were great. The grunting bits while running, a little weird. The comic bits, brilliant. Mr. Obsessive Mileage Man? That one was clearly for me. And the bit about the Equality Race, where talented runners get bogged down with weight belts and are forced to run longer distances, well, I had to play it for my wife when I got home. Great work Chris, keep it up!