02 April 2012

It's Baked

Why wouldn’t I think I was ready to go? Lessee, since October, a marathon personal best, a 10K best, a 5 mile best, two solid halves, a twenty-mile paced well beyond any previous trek in that distance class, then a 30K best and a few more goodies in the mix. It’s really been quite a ride the past six months. Yet there’s always the training run after, when I feel like stale crusty bread (or worse), and wonder how the heck will I make it to Framingham, let alone Boylston Street.

OK, it’s time to quit whining and accept the fact that it’s baked. My training is in. I’m ready as I can be. Saturday pretty much nailed that down beyond a reasonable doubt.

The Tri-Valley Boston Tune-Up 15K is usually the weekend before Boston, and being a Saturday race (I love Saturday races, no church conflict), that gives you nine days before the Big Boston Party. Really a nice time slice between a last hard outing and Boston. Yet for some reason, this year’s thirty-second running was moved up a week. I forgot to ask the organizers why. Matters not, two weeks out is still a nice time slice between the last hard outing and Boston. Thus we trundled down to Upton (or perhaps up to Downton?) this past weekend for a slog in what threatened to be up to three inches of snow, a rather cruel joke coming two weeks after our eighty-degree scare.

For picnickers it was a dreadful day. For racers, it couldn’t have been better. I think back to that miserable day at the Wineglass Half last fall when forty-one degrees and a wind-driven rain made for a truly dreadful (yet still fast) day, and marvel at how this thirty-eight degree day with a mild drizzle was oh so different. No wind. And somehow a warmer thirty-eight. Hard to pin down why, but it worked.

And the Tri-Valley course is right up my alley. Very few flat spots. Several notably non-flat spots. My favorite spot where a homeowner has posted a street-sign-like-sign reading “Entering Heaven” right atop a significant climb. Indeed, about the only thing I’m not crazy about is the downhill finish, tough for we who prefer the climb to the free-fall, especially the final sprint combined with free-fall.

Coming into this race I had little reason to believe I couldn’t top my best or fifty-eight and a half, set two years ago since last year an errant shoelace cost me twenty seconds. What surprised me is by how much it happened, and, I hesitate to say but must, how relatively easy it was. Not easy, but relatively so. This wasn’t Stu’s, which devastated me for two weeks. Granted, this was only half the distance of Stu’s. But still, there were really no lasting effects whatsoever. Hallelujah!

With the mark to beat being six-sixteens, and the plan being to nail six-tens and go home happy, we embarked into the gray morning. Now, a year ago, if I went out sub-six for anything longer than a 5K, I’d think I’d killed it in the first stage and wait for the inevitable crash. Saturday, when we hit the mile in five-fifty-two, it was a “yeah, that’s cool” moment. Perspectives change. I knew I’d ratchet it back a bit, but the bearable zone was in the six-ohs, easing up to the teens only on the miles with notable climbs. No mistake, it was hard work the whole way, but manageable.

Mental math told me I’d banked enough to mail it in from the halfway point for the personal best, but when I hit six miles on 10K personal best pace, crazy thoughts germinated about not just going below fifty-eight, but below fifty-seven minutes. Tri-Valley always brings a decent crop of solid competitors, but it’s still slim enough that the higher miles are usually lonely. Pleasingly, this time I hadn’t lost contact with those in front. Around mile seven, Dan, a frequent though young rival from the Central Mass Striders, started creeping back till he was in shooting range. Knowing his lack of advanced years, I really didn’t care place-wise whether I took him, but knowing his competitive nature, I knew that if I threatened, he’d respond, and the battle would drive us both to better times.

At eight and a quarter I pulled up on him and grunted the possibility of sub-fifty-seven. As expected, he responded, and I dogged him for a half mile as we crested the last rise before putting on a small burst to overtake. Expecting his return, it was all hands on deck, dropping to five-thirty-something for the last downhill third of a mile and holding seventh place across the line, dissolving the fifty-seven minute line, slicing nearly a minute-forty off, and burning 15K at my 10K PR pace.

Frequent readers know that I usually eschew specific numbers when I commit these tales to virtual paper. It’s not about my numbers, because every reader has their own. Instead, it’s my intent that every reader be able to relate to the underlying story, unclouded by their impression of the absolute results. This time, however, the numbers mattered. The numbers, especially relative to the effort, drove home the reality that it really is time to quit whining. It’s time for Boston. It’s baked.

[Photos by and courtesy of Ted Tyler of Coolrunning. Thanks Ted, even if I do have that usual Death-Warmed-Over look!]

Finally, here’s a post-script on last week’s diatribe on the luck of not losing an eye to the Killer Roadside Thorn of Lincoln Street. A couple days later, bad things happened, literally seeing spots, or at least a spot, but in the other eye – the one I didn’t think I’d hit. As we typically do, the mental race was on, c’mon, remember, what happened at that moment? A response of alarm from my friendly local optometrist with instructions to see a specialist immediately didn’t help. Shades of Wineglass, another, “What have I done?” moment. Angst. Not, as my daughter likes to cite, teen-age angst, but real-live, grown-up, I might have just killed half my sight major-league angst.

Well, no, I didn’t kill anything. Nothing dead, and I didn’t do it to myself (I swear!). No real damage, and to my utmost relief, an assurance from Herr Eyedoktor (he was a bit German it seems) that the blunt-head-trauma-by-Hawthorne-branch wasn’t to blame, nor would my continued training up to and through Boston contribute to continued woes. Just age. Which, considering how I actively deny that concept in most other aspects of my life, I suppose just has to try harder to pop into my field of attention. Age, you won this round, and you will win the war, but now it’s time to put you back in your box and ignore you. I’ve got a marathon to run.

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