July Triumphs

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For the first time since March 2017, I broke 100 miles in a month. And by a decently-sizeable margin, too. I know it’s an arbitrary threshold, but it still feels good. Especially considering what the weather here in Athens has been most of the month of July: hot (highs in the 90s) and humid (99% humidity in the mornings). It’s been brutal, but I’ve even managed to top out at a 12-mile long run this month. The milestone is particularly satisfying, given how brutally awful this year’s Peachtree Road Race felt; at the time, it felt like an auspicious start to what historically was an awful month for weather.

Fleet Feet Athens celebrated its 4-year anniversary. Part of the celebration entailed setting goals for the next year. The last thing I want is for my 125+ mile month to skew my self-confidence, but I shot for the stars anyway: the highly-elusive sub-1:40 half, and the equally-intangible sub-4 full (fun fact: I haven’t run a full marathon since Big Sur 2015. high time I changed that!).

Until we celebrated my Dad’s birthday earlier this month, I hadn’t bowled in at least 3 years. I honestly don’t remember the last time, but I know it was before The Lady and I moved to Athens. So color me shocked when I not only broke 130 in both games, but nailed a turkey (not my first, I’m proud to say) in the 10th frame of the first game.

I have to admit: it’s been a good month! Bring on August!

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They really shouldn’t let us out in public.

The summer doldrums aren’t all they’re cracked up to be

In this case, though: in spite of the brutal heat and humidity that’s been the near-constant in Athens since June, I’ve managed to maintain a decent level of consistency in my running.

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Took a 1-week break after the Scream half marathon in early July, but otherwise have been dead-on consistent in my weekly mileage for months now. Foot’s been cooperating, and evidently stress levels have been manageable: my blood pressure at today’s physical (first one in two years) was a positively delightful 118/77. I don’t recall it being under 130/90 since sometime in college!

Although my heart rate was 58. In grad school it got as low as 42. Oh well; we’ll get back there, as evidenced by my consistency of late.

This isn’t to say there haven’t been sucky runs; there have been a lot of sucky runs. The heat has been absolutely stifling–with few enough exceptions to count on just one or two hands, it’s been highs in the mid-90s, lows in the low-70s every single day since June began. Oh, and humidity approaching 100% with 70+ degree dew points.

Basically, a sauna for three months straight. Going outside has been awful.

But just in the past few weeks–and it took me a few weeks to even notice–I was more consistently ending runs feeling strong than I was feeling beat up and run down. Again, still plenty of runs where I wanted to die (just this past Saturday, for instance), but they’re beginning to become the exception, instead of the rule.

This is all to say that, following the entire second half of 2015 that was so inconsistent due to ongoing metatarsalgia, and the beginning of 2016 that was so stressful, all signs would currently seem to indicate that I’m actually finding a groove for the first time in a year.

I just hope I haven’t scared it away with this post.

I don’t have any races coming up, or even any planned races in the moderate future. It’s something of an odd situation; usually I’ve got at least one race per month, but this year I think I’ve run barely 5 races total, and one of them was a team relay. On the one hand, I miss racing, but on the other it’s been nice to just focus on the fundamentals of “me + road” and getting back in the swing of things.

Who knows, maybe the switch will suddenly flip when (if?) the temps start falling, and I’ll go right back to cranking out 20-minute 5ks!…yeah, probably not. But as long as I’m logging mileage, it’s a good thing.

Run-up (heh) to marathon training

Man, real life can be quite the time sink, #amirite?

At any rate, in the intervening weeks since my last update, I’ve since halted the run streak due to nagging pain under the knuckle of my second left toe. I’ve started seeing a PT, who looked at my gait and–I kid you not–said “I can’t let you keep testing, because otherwise you’ll break records that *I* set. Your gait is fine; take some time off and you’re good.” While I haven’t stopped running entirely, I have been doing a lot more cross-training (stationary bike, elliptical, weights, push-ups at work) and am still participating in the weekly Fleet Feet group runs, Athens Road Runner track workouts, and group long runs.

Still, it means my mileage has tanked somewhat; I barely eked out a 100-mile June (100.47, to be exact) for a 6-month total of 672.27. Very much on track to break 1000 miles again, but way short of the monstrous 1600+ I put up in 2014; I sincerely doubt I’ll be able to log 1000 miles in the next 6 months. Not without further injuring myself, at least.

So if absolute mileage isn’t my goal for 2015, what is?

How about some PRs, maybe with some cross-training thrown in? To expound a little further:

  • The Lady and I are running the Peachtree Road Race in a few days’ time, and while we managed to get ourselves seeded at the VERY FRONT of the pack–wave A–I don’t think it’ll be a PR course. Still, I’d love to get under 44 minutes.
  • We’ve also registered for two half marathons in October: the Michelob Ultra 13.1 Atlanta, and the Ath Half right here in Athens. My half PR stands at 1:41 and change, and while I couldn’t come close to that back in March at the Georgia Half, I still put up a respectable 1:45. For October, I’m just going to lay it out: I want sub-1:40.
  • I mentioned marathon training in the title of this post. In just a few weeks, The Lady and I will start training for the Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon in mid-November in the foothills of the Appalachians. I’ve run three marathons with varied degrees of success–Philly was an implosion, Marine Corps was better, and Big Sur was still better even though my time was worst–and my PR remains stuck at 4:17: what I ran at Philly and beat by 8 measly seconds at Marine Corps. I want sub-4 hours.
  • I have a beastly Talus mountain bike that hasn’t seen the outside of our garage since we moved to Athens. I want to take Sybil out for a spin or several.

I’ve had some motivational issues over the last month. In fact, all things considered, my current nagging foot injury came at the best possible time: marathon training was still far enough away to provide plenty of time for a full recovery, and it gave me a good excuse to take a bit of a step back from running. I’d been enjoying it less and less; I still liked the idea of running, but whenever I actually got out there, I spent the whole run wanting to be done.

Effectively, “burned out” is the phrase I’d use to sum up how I’ve been feeling. So perhaps it’s time for a breather before training ramps up. The summer has been nice for settling into my 6-month-old new job, but with it came a brutal three-week heat wave: mid-70s and humid in the mornings, mid-to-upper 90s in the afternoons…and no rain for that entire period. Every run, especially the evening group runs, was painful and grindy. Pulling back a little has helped, but I’m still working on shifting my mentality (and getting more sleep; it’s been a very busy couple of weeks and my sleep has been iffy) from “avoid pain” to “haul ass“. I still have a lot of work to do, but I’m hopeful that I’ve been taking small steps in the right direction.

Wish us luck this weekend, as we join 60,000 of our closest friends to run the world’s largest 10K!

Have a very happy and safe 4th of July!

Ragnar Trail Relay: The Monsoon, Teamwork, and the Second Leg

The weather continued to intensify. The rain had stopped just as I’d entered the Exchange Tent, but only a handful of minutes later resumed. And got worse.

And worse.

Driving, torrential rainfall hammered our tents. Our “common area” under our rented tailgating canopy was soon under three to four inches of muddy water. No exaggeration–the water came up to our ankles, fully submerging our bare feet (and bare feet was the best mode of transportation–we needed the shoes for the trails!). It felt like an anvil landed in my stomach when we discovered we’d pitched camp on something of a flood plain: water was flowing through our campsite as it drained. And, we later found, soaking not-insignificant portions of the insides of two of our four tents.

The veritable monsoon continued unabated for over an hour. We were glued to our smartphones, risking the rapidly-dwindling battery in the hopes that the green/yellow/red-colored sheets smothering the radar images on our weather apps would begin to fade soon. Quite the opposite: predictions for the end of the storm kept getting extended. 8pm. 9pm. 11pm. Midnight.

After eating a quiet dinner with The Lady as the rain howled, my mood more and more reflected the sour weather. The knowledge that I’d ignored some nagging doubts about the location I had picked for our campsite was gnawing at me. At this point I’d already seen that the water had managed to sweep through and soak about half of our 6-person tent; not only would it be difficult to get in and out of our tents with three inches of muddy water swirling around the entrances, but the fact that water had swept into some of the tents themselves was grating.

It was barely 9pm, and while only a few hours ago I was bubbling over with excitement from having kicked ass in my first leg, I was now physically and emotionally exhausted. I cleaned up as best I could, found a dry corner of the 6-person tent, and tried to get some rest.

The rest was probably helpful; however, sleep did not come. I could hear people walking around outside, the mud making sucking noises as their feet sank several inches into the murk with each step. I heard my team in the common area, making the best of the glum weather by enjoying each other’s company, watching shows on an iPad, and in the cases of Ellen and Tim, civil engineering the shit out of the surrounding murk in an attempt to divert the aforementioned drainage rivers from going through our campsite. I’m not entirely sure if it worked, but it was nonetheless an impressive effort.

The rain slowed, then restarted, then slowed again. It seemed to stop completely just shy of 10pm, with radar indicating that the worst appeared to be over. I still felt bummed, but I tried to keep this feeling to myself; I can’t tell you how proud I was of the team. If anyone else felt like I did, nobody showed it; everyone was chatting away, or building moats, or generally being awesome and trying to keep everyone’s spirits up. It was truly heartwarming.

Resume

Around 10pm I heard the announcer echoing over the campground, restarting the delayed event and sending out teams again according to the order in which they’d been held up. Danimal, our 8th runner and anchor, headed out first. Our leadoff runner, Alys, headed out for the Red Route after, accompanied by Ellen. One of the [many!] cool things about the Ragnar Trail series is that your runners can be accompanied by a pacer. In this case, Ellen had been scheduled to run the Red Route right after my return; this way, she still got her Red Route in, and kept Alys company in the utter blackness of night and with the extremely slick trail conditions. The Lady was the next runner, and Lara–our #7 runner who had also been skipped earlier–accompanied her as well.

The pairings were clutch, I think. The utter darkness of near-midnight coupled with the deafening silence of the trails and their downright dangerously slick conditions were arguably substantially mitigated by having our runners pair up.

Around midnight, I gave up on trying to sleep and came back out. At this point, anyone who wasn’t out running was also trying to get some sleep. I kept company whoever was still awake, though I dozed a bit when things got quiet. At this point, staying warm was becoming a problem. The rain had dropped the temperatures several degrees, and having our bare feet perpetually submerged in several inches of water wasn’t helping. Kelly was borderline hypothermic. Fortunately, she was able to get her second leg in to stay warm, and Tim pounded out the Red Route as I prepped for my second leg.

It was around 2am when Tim departed, so I was expecting to start my Green Route sometime between 3 and 3:30am.

Leg 2: Green Route

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Right on schedule, Tim arrived just shy of 3:30am and handed off. In the pitch blackness, it was difficult to make out much of anything in front of me, even with the high-lumen headlamp. Furthermore, I knew from both my own experience and from our previous runners that the trails were in complete disarray. I knew I wouldn’t be able to replicate my performance on the Yellow Route, so I settled into something resembling a comfortable pace and plodded along.

The trail was every bit as bad as I’d feared. The first mile was ok; it was a wide double-track that was mostly flat, and save for a few large puddles it was in decent shape. However, after the first mile, the trail effectively became the Yellow Route: single-track, winding, and highly technical. In such conditions, I could either point my headlamp straight at my feet to see the condition of the mud, at the expense of anything resembling a running pace, or I could sacrifice resolution of the mud to instead see further down the trail for technical changes like turns, roots, and rocks, lending myself additional speed with the possibility of wiping out if I wasn’t careful.

I chose the latter, banking on my experience of six winters in Pittsburgh and the sensation of walking across frozen sidewalks; if I felt my feet slipping, I’d slow down immediately, hopefully before skidding out. Plus, everyone was going slowly; it’s not like I was a speed demon.

It largely worked. The only hiccup was during the second mile: my heart starting beating somewhat irregularly, making me feel short of breath. So I pulled up and walked for a bit, evening out my breathing for a few seconds, then resumed. From then on I felt perfectly fine; it was most likely fatigue given I hadn’t caught any sleep yet.

My strategy of plodding ahead seemed to pay off: with only 1 “death” at the very start, I netted 21 “kills”, many due to the simple fact that I was running–quite a few of the kills were from passing walkers. I certainly wasn’t going very fast, but I will say there are times when size 15 feet come in handy: the small increase in friction afforded by the increased surface area of larger feet can really come in handy in slippery conditions; same goes for snow and ice.

Soon enough, I passed through the 0.2-miles-to-go checkpoint and pulled into the Exchange Tent. Ellen was waiting; I handed off the team bib, and she headed out! For the 3.8 miles of the Green Route, it took me just over 40 minutes for an average pace of over 10:30. Amusingly, Green was a full mile shorter than Yellow, yet I ran it only 5 minutes faster than I’d run the Yellow Route several hours earlier. A testament to the effects of darkness and the extremely slippery conditions.

Upon my return to our camping area, I cleaned up as best I could and took another crack at getting some sleep. This time, I passed out within minutes of my head hitting the pillow. It was nearly 4:30am.

The Bright Sun Rises

I awoke sometime around 7am, but stayed in bed for a good extra hour as my senses slowly unfurled. I heard people walking around outside, I saw the sun peeking through the fabric of the tent fly, and I listened to my teammates outside chatting. It looked like it was going to be a beautiful day.

Around 8am, I dragged myself out of the tent. Sunlight! The skies weren’t perfectly clear, but the sun was out and shining with nary a hint of storm cloud to be seen. There were still a few inches of water in the ground, but at least the flow of water through our campground had stopped. Once I got some food and was caught up on our current runner status–Alys was out finishing her final leg–we started brainstorming how to take advantage of the impending sunlight and make our campground a little more inviting.

We worked for the next few hours, effectively picking up and moving our entire campsite a few dozen feet away from its current spot; it wasn’t completely dry, but the ground was solid. We laid out some of the tarps flat on the ground to maximize the sunlight they’d pick up, pulled the flies off the tents, and exposed everything we could to the light of day. As the sunlight grew stronger, we could see the effects very quickly: the tarps and tents dried up, and the feeling of our feet on solid ground was unparalleled. Some of the pictures of our now-former campground were incredible; to think we’d actually been sitting and sleeping there!

The Lady finished up her final leg (Red), followed by Kelly (Green) and Tim (Yellow). At just short of noon, Tim rolled into the Exchange Tent and passed the baton to me. It was my final leg, and the longest one I’d run yet. I was as rested as I’d been since the event began, but I knew from our previous Ragnar that the third leg is anyone’s guess: you’re running on empty at that point. I just wanted to enjoy what was left of the event; plus, I’d been told by The Lady and the other folks who’d run the route that it was beautiful. With all that in mind, I set out for my final 6+ miles.

Race Report: Georgia Half Marathon

The Lady and I registered for this race shortly after moving to Athens. We anticipated using the race as a check-up on our Big Sur training, and to start getting to know the South we’d just moved into a little better. The last time the two of us had raced in downtown Atlanta, it was Thanksgiving morning of 2010 and we were about to kick off this grand running adventure of ours with our first-ever half marathon.

More than anything, we were excited for a quiet evening to ourselves in a lovely hotel. It had (and continues to) been a rough couple of months of training. We’d both experienced extremely bipolar weeks of training, where one workout would feel fantastic and the subsequent workout would be a miserable crash-and-burn. I was just hoping to get sub-1:55; even sub-2, to my battered running psyche, seemed challenging.

Needless to say, while we were definitely excited for the race, neither of us had the sunniest of dispositions going in.

Saturday, March 21

First things first–we had to make the roughly 90-minute drive from our abode in Athens to the downtown Atlanta area.

[ASIDE: When folks ask “How’s Atlanta treating you?”, while I know what they mean it’s still an irksome question, given the cities’ geographic and cultural distances. It’s akin to how folks used to ask “How is Philadelphia treating you?” when we lived in Pittsburgh. Yes, we were asked that question many times.]

We arrived in the early afternoon and checked into our hotel room immediately. It’d been a busy week, and we just wanted a few minutes of quiet before strolling out for the Expo (which was all of two blocks away; score!).

Our hotel room's balcony overlooked Olympic Centennial Park, and the start/finish lines. This came in handy later!

Our hotel room’s balcony overlooked Olympic Centennial Park, and the start/finish lines. This came in handy later!

The Expo itself was fairly uneventful, and even kind of disappointing relative to other expos we’ve attended. The Air Force and Marine Corps expos, for instance, seemed to have a lot more booths for other races as well as general apparel shops. Not that this expo felt sparse, but at the same time there just wasn’t much that piqued my interest. So after picking up our bibs, swag bags, and looking around for a bit, we headed back the way we came.

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After a quick conversation with the Brooks rep outside, we settled on Waffle House for our midday pre-race snack; it was too early for dinner but we were already starving. It was actually fantastic–the staff were incredibly cordial and friendly, and the place was already swarming with other runners. We took it easy on the processed sugar and stuck with plain waffles, and spent the next hour chatting with a lively Manhattan-ite runner-turned-corporate who was organizing some of the post-race goodies. After a lovely conversation and walk through the park on our way back to the hotel, we stopped in at the hotel’s own restaurant, which was running dinner specials specifically for the runners: lots of pasta! After a brief wait, we were seated and enjoyed a delicious pre-race dinner.

We felt pretty good; surprisingly, not too jittery. Probably because we’d set expectations so low leading up to the race. I kid you not, we spent the remainder of the evening working on wedding thank-you notes (because we are woefully behind; we celebrated our 1-year wedding anniversary last week…). It took a little while to fall asleep–not used to sleeping with downtown noises outside anymore!–but I felt calm and good and sleep came reasonably soon.

Sunday, March 22

Daylight Savings had literally just hit exactly two weeks previous, so it was dark when we woke up at 5am (which was a lot later than we usually wake up for races; booking a hotel 10 feet from the starting line FTW!). We took our time getting dressed and eating our pre-race breakfasts, and making sure all our gear was charged, packed, and ready.

One small wrinkle: it was raining.

You better believe I busted out the GT banner!

You better believe I busted out the GT banner!

It wasn’t raining hard, nor was it terribly cold out; the closest I can describe it would be a “steady drizzle” with zero wind and temperatures in the low-50s. Standing in the rain was a bit on the chilly side, but not painfully so; at the same time, since our hotel was literally at the starting line, we could camp out in the dry parking deck all of 20 feet away until the last possible moment.

The Lady and I decided we’d run the race together, barring anyone spectacularly imploding or fantastically sprinting. We told ourselves we wouldn’t have a time goal, that we’d “go by effort” and “have fun.”

I’m still trying to figure out exactly what those mean in the context of “currently standing at the starting line of a race,” but that was our plan. I was still thinking 1:55 would be nice. I was also thinking how all the other runners in Corral A (oh yes, we were right at the front) were probably going to pass me up in the first few minutes.

Here’s where I have to give major, major props to this race and its organizers: every single aspect of this race was flawlessly planned and executed. The corrals were clearly marked, volunteers were omnipresent and helpful, and they weren’t kidding when they advertised a 7am start time:

Dead. On.

Dead. On.

Thus, in pitch darkness and steady rainfall, the race began!

I wish I could say that I settled right into a rhythm and rode that to the finish. The truth is a lot messier. My brain would not shut up. I felt pretty awful at the start and it didn’t much improve for awhile. I couldn’t stop mentally taking my temperature: My legs are on fire, am I going to implode? I’m breathing every other step instead of every three steps, am I going to implode? I just got passed, does that mean I’m about to implode?

I was helpless before the onslaught. I haven’t been doing nearly enough yoga, which has really helped me in the past get my internal monologue under control. I was out of shape, at least mentally, and I’d had enough bad workouts this training cycle to generate just enough doubt that I couldn’t simply dismiss the thoughts as fatalistic nonsense.

Georgia Half Marathon course. A nice tour of the downtown area.

Georgia Half Marathon course. A nice tour of the downtown area.

So I tried to make peace with it. Acknowledge the thinking, let it do its thing, and try to enjoy my surroundings.

7:47, 7:51, 8:05

The Lady and I were cruising along at a decent clip. It was a touch too fast for my liking, but I more or less said “the hell with it” and put keeping up with her as my primary goal. I felt blah, but not in a rapidly-falling-apart way, more of a “yeah this hurts but I’ve been here plenty of times before, I know I can keep going” way. Hard to explain.

It didn’t help that the first few miles were pretty effing hilly. But soon enough we entered the Little Five Points residential area, which featured at least a bit more rolling landscape. It was at this point that started feeling noticeably better, noticeably calmer.

It was pitch black until about 8am.

It was pitch black until about 8am.

8:13, 7:56, 8:04, 8:13

The Little Five area was even more beautiful than I remembered. Maybe it was the overcast morning coinciding with the now-damp surroundings, though I also noticed several parts of the trail that I knew from memory used to be slums had now been (or were literally in mid-process of) being gentrified. It all looked amazing! I couldn’t believe how much of it had been built up in the better part of the last decade. I had fun trying to identify which parts were familiar, and which were completely new to me.

7:56, 7:41

Around mile 10, we arrived at the part of the race I was most excited about: we were running through the main artery of the Georgia Tech campus! Right as we approached the 5th St Bridge, this song from Big Hero 6 came onto my playlist; I almost sprinted through I was so pumped up.

Unfortunately, the lovely rolling hills of Little Five had come to an end, as our arrival at Georgia Tech also heralded the return of downtown Atlanta and its gnarly hills.

8:09, 8:00, 8:07

Mile 12 was truly the first time the whole race I’d felt in pain. While on one hand it was a pleasant surprise I’d lasted for so long, on the other this last mile was really going to be rough. The Lady started pulling away, and while I tried to keep up I nonetheless loosened my grip somewhat.

We turned a corner, and overhead I could see the Omni Hotel sign. Almost there!

7:47

I don’t know if it was because I suddenly saw how close I was going to be to 1:45 (I’d been consciously ignoring my watch the entire race, focusing almost exclusively on just sticking with The Lady), or because I really wanted to catch up to The Lady, but I threw everything I had left into that final 0.1, averaging a 6:30 pace and finishing the last couple hundredths of a mile at a 5:10 pace.

The face(s) of pain.

The face(s) of pain.

I didn’t quite beat 1:45, but I did get 1:45:08, which was easily 5-10 minutes faster than I’d been hoping for all week. It was good enough for 61st in my age group (83rd percentile, w00t), 349th of 2,587 men (87th percentile, w00t!), and 459th overall (92nd percentile, WOOOOT!).

Postmortem

The finish line was all of 20 feet from the starting line, so we pretty much rolled ourselves back up to our hotel room to get cleaned up. Though we did take advantage of the balcony to watch the finish line for a bit and cheer on the other half marathon finishers, as well as the full marathon finishers who had just started to appear:

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Check-out wasn’t until noon, so we had plenty of time to relax, recoup, and enjoy the feeling of having performed way better than we’d expected (The Lady stayed one step ahead–she finished 2 seconds before I did!).

While I hurt pretty much the entire race, it was manageable. It was one of the most evenly-paced races I’ve ever run. The majority of my half marathons, even my current PR, show an unmistakable slowdown around mile 11 before the final push kicks in during mile 12. There was no such yo-yo-ing here; any fluctuations in pace were largely a result of terrain.

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The mental self-talk is still a problem, one I haven’t yet found an answer for. This spring has been such a bear getting settled in our new environment, that while I have no doubt marathon training has been a net positive, it’s been difficult to keep the motivation and the positive attitude when all I want to do is sleep. It was a big relief to throw down a very, very solid performance in the midst of mediocre-at-best performances. A 1:45 may be 4 minutes off from my PR, but it’s nearly 8 minutes faster than the last half marathon I ran back in October 2014, and on a much tougher course.

Sub-1:40 remains elusive, but if nothing else this shows I still have some fight left in me. I’ll get it eventually 🙂

Race Report: Spring Thaw

Once I typed the title into WordPress, I noticed the permalink had a distinctive “-2” at the end of it. Sure enough, I have an identically-titled post of the same event from last year. Feel free to read it for the background of the race.

The upshot of the race is this: it’s a 5-mile loop that can be run two (10 miles), three (15 miles), or four (20 miles) times. What’s neat is that you can literally change your mind mid-race: if you’re running the 10 but decide you’re cruising so well you want to keep going, you can! If you’re running the 20 but decide today isn’t your day, you can drop down to 15!

Spring Thaw 2012 was maybe 20 degrees. Maybe.

Spring Thaw 2012 was maybe 20 degrees. Maybe.

Historically, despite the name, this race has been absolutely frigid. Two years ago there was a ton of snow on the ground and the temperature was nowhere near melting. Last year, there wasn’t as much snow, but it was just as cold.

This year! This year was a break, and it actually deserved the words “spring” AND “thaw”! There was still a surprising amount of snow on the ground, and the wind was actually pretty brutal–20mph gusts were the norm–but the sky was crystal clear and the temperatures swung upwards of nearly 50 degrees. Contrast this with the deep freeze we’ve been under since mid-January, and you have a recipe for a lot of very excited runners.

This year: completely clear skies, temperatures well above freezing. A lot of wind, though.

This year: completely clear skies, temperatures well above freezing. A lot of wind, though.

As for the race itself, The Lady and I had some pretty lofty goals. We started our training for the Pittsburgh half not too long ago, and we’re also still keeping up with the run streak (88 days and counting!). We didn’t want to push our mileage too high this early in training, so we both opted for the 10-mile option, thereby seamlessly folding it into our training program as this week’s long run (and only the second long run of our training cycle).

We both wanted to run the 10 miles at our goal half-marathon pace. Hers is a 7:49 min/mi, putting her right around a 1:42 finishing time. Achieving this pace in March’s Just A Short Run would give her qualifying credentials to apply for a seeded position at the Pittsburgh half in May, which would be pretty freakin’ badass.

My goal half-marathon pace is a 7:38 min/mi, which is exactly 1:40. I know it’s still beyond my abilities, but I wanted to see if 10 miles (instead of 13.1) at my goal pace wasn’t insurmountable. However, I knew I needed some help. Just a couple of weeks ago, The Lady and a friend of hers ran this same track and I tagged along. I barely eked out an 8:30 pace, feeling like crap just about the whole time. I knew I was in better shape than that for this race, but knocking a full 10 minutes off was going to be challenging no matter what.

Enter Mark (who I affectionately call “cranberry dude”).

Mark is right in the middle.

Mark is right in the middle. The Lady’s (557) running buddy was 623. All are awesome folks (except for the creeper in the back).

He’s a 3-hours-and-really-no-change marathoner. He was originally on the fence about running the Spring Thaw this year (he, like myself and countless other runners, have a hard time running “easy” when there’s a clock going), but I convinced him to do it as a pacer for me. I told him my goal was a 7:30 pace for 10 miles. He agreed.

Thus set the stage for one hell of a ride.

5-mile loops through North Park.

5-mile loops through North Park.

Mark is highly active in the Pittsburgh running community, and my request for a pacer sparked a deluge of similar requests. As I lined up with him at the starting line, there was a solid handful of other folks with us as well. Amusingly, there was also an “official” 7:30 pace group, but they took off and we lost sight of them after the first mile. Fail.

The Lady was also running with a friend of hers who is similarly matched, and they were gunning for a 7:49 pace. We wished each other luck at the starting line before splitting off in our respective groups. Soon enough, we were on our way! (sans some equipment malfunction***)

The first couple of miles were spectacular. The group of us just talked, enjoyed the beautiful weather, and Mark gave me occasional pointers as we went (he used to be a running coach in his spare time; in particular, he kept reminding me to stick to the tangents of the course, as “those extra steps will come in handy later in the race.” Boy was he spot-on). Most of the “unofficial” pace group were folks training for marathons or ultras; I was the only one for whom a 7:30 half-marathon pace was a reach (one guy’s goal marathon pace was 7:30…I can only dream).

Coming into the race, I knew I could do the first 5 miles at 7:30 without a problem. It was the next 5 I was worried about. As we crossed the starting line for the second loop, I told Mark “this is where my race begins.”

Yeah, it definitely did.

Miles 6-7 felt pretty good, too. Mile 8 was where the pain really started hitting, and hard. Up until then, my breathing was extremely regular and not at all labored. Very quickly, things got hard and I was sucking wind. I knew I could finish, but the question was whether I could keep pushing at this pace. The final two miles have two hills that, in the first lap, were energizing: they’re not big enough to be really challenging, but they’re just hilly enough to be motivating. This time around, though, they were just plain taxing. The second one in particular at the end of mile 9 really knocked me back; I started falling off my pace, slipping into the low 8s.

I knew I could do this, if my brain would just shut up. Mark and some of the other guys were yelling encouragement, which given my days of football from high school, was actually helpful. Mark asked at the top of the hill if I had anything left in the tank; I shook my head no, but after rolling downhill into the final straightaway (a 0.75-mile straightaway), I suddenly felt a rush and started pushing things. I don’t know where the burst came from, but at the very least I wanted to make up the time I’d lost on the hill.

I crossed the finish line at 1:15:22, a solid 7:33 pace and 10th in my [extremely competitive] age group. Check out the video on the official results to see how much pain I was in as I crossed the finish line (apparently at a 5:55 pace!).

The face of pain (Mark is off to the left in blue, continuing on for 20 miles).

The face of pain (Mark is off to the left in blue, continuing on for 20 miles).

I hobbled off to the side, feeling like I was going to lose my breakfast. That was the hardest and longest I’d ever pushed, and I couldn’t have run another step at that pace (I was grateful indeed for sticking to the tangents of the course!). It took a few minutes before my stomach calmed down, and I could revel in my victory.

Rock-solid pacing.

Rock-solid pacing.

The Lady came cruising in at 1:18 flat, nailing her goal pace solidly on its head as well. We congratulated each other and waited for other friends of ours to finish.

Holy shit guys, we ran our goal half-marathon paces for 10 miles straight! I know I couldn’t have done it on my own, and I definitely couldn’t have held the pace for another 3.1 miles, but then again, it’s the very beginning of training; of course I shouldn’t be able to hit my goal just yet! Just a month ago I staggered through these 10 miles at an 8:30 pace; at this race, I knocked a full minute off each mile and felt about as good (maybe even a little better). Who knows what another month (or two!) will bring?

It was an all-around solid race. Great confidence boost, great effort, great people. I can’t thank Mark and his running buddies enough, and I couldn’t be more proud of The Lady for nailing her goal.

Two successful races, one very happy (and very tired) couple.

Two successful races, one very happy (and very tired) couple.

***A scaffold holding up the chutes fell at the very start and hit some runners, one of whom is a dear friend of ours. From what I hear, one runner was even carted off in an ambulance (not life-threatening, but serious enough to warrant an on-the-spot check). I’d love for Elite Runners and Walkers, an organization I’ve come to love in my 5.5 years in Pittsburgh, to reach out to these runners to see if there’s anything they need. The comment on their Facebook page was a good start; a formal post would be even better, and personal contact with the injured runners would be ideal.

Freakishly Run-Streakish

Including today, I have logged at least 1 mile for the last 57 days straight.

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I’ll admit, it’s tough at times. I certainly don’t want to go for a run the day after doing lots of squats when my legs are incredibly sore and stiff. And I certainly don’t want to lots of squats immediately after running!

But probably the biggest challenge to the run streak has been the weather. Oh my Lord, the weather.

What a delightful troll.

What a delightful troll.

Seriously: what the hell?

Here’s an interesting tidbit, however: I’m pretty confident that if I wasn’t run streaking, I would probably hardly be running at all. This weather kicks you in the pants; all I want to do is sleep. But run streaking changes your mentality; it changes the terms on which your inner dialogue operates. Rather than debating whether or not to even run, you consider the best time and place to get the miles in. Skipping a day doesn’t even enter into the equation.

It’s kind of cool. Scratch that, it’s really cool.

Kind of like being super-busy in school, it forces me to more carefully budget the time I have for working out. For instance, rather than sitting in the locker room for 20 minutes staring at the wall, I skip up to the treadmill and hammer out a couple miles before my two workout buddies arrive and we hit the weights. By the time we’re done working out, I have to get to work, so if I want to get my miles in it has to be before they arrive.

Which brings me to another point: time of day for working out or running.

At this point, I’d say I run in the evenings all of 1% of the time. The other 99% happen before noon, and most of that before 9am. Everyone has their own preferences and schedules here, but I personally find that after a day full of sitting on my ass staring at a computer screen, when I get home all I want to do is…sit on my ass and stare at a computer screen.

Me after a day at work.

Me after a day at work.

Plus, when it’s this bloody cold out and the treadmill seems the infinitely more attractive option, I don’t want to fight for one of the seven treadmills with the 381 undergraduates who show up in the evenings. The mornings have their own crowds too, but they’re significantly smaller and, frankly, more familiar with general fitness etiquette. Not that I have anything against newbies or resolutioners–we were all there once, folks!–but I don’t typically have the patience after waking up at 5am to deal with folks who wear dress pants on the treadmill and talk on their phones while walking 1mph with -1% grade.

That’s pretty much my shtick. The run streak has been a boon for keeping me honest and active, and I’m absolutely loving it. With how busy this year is going to be, changing the mental terms of engagement is useful beyond measure. Determining when and how I’m going to run, rather than debating if, has been a game-changer.

That said, I have a number in mind. If and when I reach that number, I’d be ok with ending the streak. But I want to see if I can hit it first.