20 May 2012

One Two Three Four PRs

Almost lost in this weekend’s excitement was Friday’s excitement. Or perhaps it was Thursday’s excitement, as there is reasonable debate over the date. I’d considered weaving an article about this controversy, but along came Saturday, and the Thursday-Friday stuff seemed rather trivial.

You are wondering what that was all about, so I’ll cover it off first, quickly. Thursday marked Day 365 of the Streak, comprised – by my rules – of a run of at least three miles every day, stretching since the 19th of May 2011. A year! Or perhaps not? After all, this is a leap year, so I didn’t really knit up the calendar year until Friday, the 18th of May 2012, Day 366. So which day marked a year? A year being roughly three hundred sixty five and a quarter days, or any number of variations per Wiki, is rather hard to pin down. It’s not, as the cast of Rent would have you believe, five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes (to the great dismay, I am certain, of my daughter). What it is, on the other hand, well, who cares, Thursday came, Friday came, both were relatively uneventful, no celebrations occurred. And the fact is, the last time I did this Streak thing, when I was seventeen, it also happened to be a leap year, so any doubts sort of cancel out. The bottom line is that it really won’t matter until I break that thirty-two-year-old streak record, slated to happen in about a week, if nothing breaks between now and then.

Far more interesting is what happened on Day 367.

Here’s a study in contrasts. Last weekend, B race, B effort, B performance, absurdly large trophy. Walked away pleased with a fun day, but more or less ambivalent. This weekend, A+ race, A+ effort, A+ performance, no hardware, but an absurdly large confidence boost. Walked away shaking my head at what just transpired. What a difference seven days makes.

Saturday’s event was the Bedford (New Hampshire) Rotary 12K, yes, 12K, or 7.46 miles for you translational geeks. I’m told that 12K is actually a recognized distance, raced in, for example, international cross country, and the age-grading tables list it (which is a good thing, as you’ll see), but it’s not a distance that pops up often, and certainly not one I’d raced before. As a result, I was guaranteed a personal best just for finishing. Instead, I walked away with four personal records (“PRs”), even if only one really counts, because this race, being one of the USATF (USA Track & Field) New England Grand Prix events, sucked me into a place I didn’t know I had a ticket to enter.

You can race for years and not know of the existence of the Grand Prix series. I was entirely oblivious of these events for years, then only mildly aware of them, and now am frankly in awe of the talent they draw. This series, run here in New England and replicated (I would presume) in each region of the country, identifies a group of events over the course of the season spanning a plethora of distances ranging from five kilometers to the marathon. Both teams and individuals accumulate points toward the annual Grand Prix championship. The result is that every ringer in New England shows up for these races. Just showing up for a race of this caliber gets your heart pounding. Racing on the Greater Boston master’s team meant it mattered.

A week ago I wrote of a local race, a fine event to be sure, but clearly of local caliber. The starting line was peppered with people who had no idea that they shouldn’t be standing directly on the starting line. By the first turn, the lead pack stood at three. On this week’s fine and sunny (if a bit warm) Saturday in Bedford, I knew darn well that I had no right to be standing directly on the starting line. It was that obvious. This was the major leagues. I felt out a spot about six or seven deep from the front, and eyed the runners around me trying to get a feel if I’d be held back in a crowd or simply trampled by an unfathomably fast herd.

My positioning guess turned out to be fairly accurate. I nor anyone else I knew of was gored by the running of the bulls. But oh, did they run. Trouble was, I was really quite clueless as to just how fast they were running. This was no lead pack of three. This was a lead pack of an uncountable hoard, so many that I questioned whether I’d started racing. Am I really slugging this out so slowly that I’m this far back in the pack? Or is this simply an absurdly talented field? Or both?

Awaiting the mile split to answer this dilemma, my brain remotely registered a cacophony of watches chiming. It wasn’t till ten to fifteen seconds later that it dawned on me that I must have heard everyone’s GPS (save Luddite me with my simple Ironman) hit the mile. But a quick glance at my watch quickly dispelled that theory, as even ten to fifteen seconds later the time it reported was too quick for the first mile of a 5K, let alone for the distance we had in front of us.

Still questioning my pace, sanity, or both, and assuming I must be flagging to be so far back in this pack, I locked onto the lady ahead of me to avoid losing contact, while searching for the second mile split, by now realizing I’d missed the first. When a tiny “2m” paint mark passed, another glance at the time told me once again that this couldn’t possibly have been the second mile.

The enigma broke only when GBTC teammate Doug, whom I’d assumed had started ahead of me, arrived from behind shortly before the three mile mark (which again, I failed to see), and by the benefit of both his and my adopted pacer lady’s GPS they clued me in to the reality of the day. This was no slog in the park. This was, at least for me if not for them, flying low.

Last fall, I scratched my head over Kim, the young lady with whom I ran the Bay State Marathon, who wanted nothing to do with splits, pace calculations, and so on. Didn’t want to know. Don’t say a word. She just wanted to run. Saturday, I figured out her mindset. Hearing the pace we’d run for the first two miles, I was glad I hadn’t known. Indeed, I consciously put what they said out of my head. I didn’t want to know. Had I known, had I believed it, I would have cranked it way back after the first mile. Criminy, there’s still six and a half to go! But I didn’t know, and now we hit three miles, not quite at that first mile pace, but not far off, and, well, so what? This was what I was running, and it was really quite manageable. And though I didn’t know it at the time, using Doug’s GPS readout and some very conservative estimates, later I’d figure out that I’d just run my PR 5K, nailing a time I’d set as a goal for this summer. In a 12K.

Running with Doug at the five mile mark, where for the first time I saw the milepost, this time I was aware as it happened – another PR at five miles. A mile later at six, again a visible milepost, a clean split time, and easy extrapolation later turned up yet another PR at 10K. And though the only disappointment of the race came shortly after, another cramp (two weeks in a row!) which slowed mile seven, I held on to click off the 12K in sub-six pace. And since those aforementioned age-grading tables do indeed recognize the 12K, I was treated to seeing this scored as my highest rated race ever.

Oh yeah, and there were still over eighty people ahead of me. An utterly awesome field!

One of the mantras I would constantly tell the kids I coach is that you have no idea what you are capable of. I sucked up a little dose of that myself this weekend. Who needs a trophy when you can walk away with a carton of confidence and satisfaction, instead?

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