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Still Learning

April 16, 2012

2012 Rooney’s 5k

April 14, 2012
Bib Number: 234
Overall Placement: 150 / 924 (16.2%)
Age Group Placement: 4 / 74 (5.4%)
Gender Placement: 35 / 510 (6.9%)
Chip Time: 23:42

Little G and I decided to run six half marathons in six months kind of on a lark, halfway through the racing season last year, when we realized that we had already run one half marathon each in October and November and could easily squeeze one in in December–our local event–to finish out 2011. We already had a half marathon scheduled in March, so all we had to do was find one in the months of January and February to make the project a reality.

At the time, we hadn’t given much thought to the actual training. Our speed goal event was the November race, and the distance goal event was the March event, which was part of a 30-mile, 4-races-in-4-days event, so we knew we could run the rest of the half marathons fairly easy. We’re both fairly regularly committed to the double-digit long run anyway, so we didn’t think that running one half marathon a month would change the way we trained very much; realistically, we’d have been running about a 13-mile long run once a month anyway, but nobody would have been handing us water as we did it, or charging us  money for the privilege.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the races did end up getting stacked a little in the calendar; we ran the first three races in the span of five weeks, then had seven weeks off, then ran the last three within five weeks again. We trained well, hitting the bridge for hard, concerted hillwork in the first half of the season and then concentrating on interval work in the second half of the season. We did lots of long runs, especially double long runs, peaking the week we covered 10 miles on Friday and 16 on Saturday.

I knew, as I ran the half marathons, that I was in fairly good shape. Though I never ran a personal best at the half, I felt strong running each race. I was able to pick up the pace each time and finished well, in spite of adverse conditions like heat and wind, and though I was disappointed to have missed my chance to run better than 1:49, I knew a season like this was an achievement in itself. I knew I had accomplished something when I finished my last half of the season in 1:58–after racing a 15k and a 5k the day before–then turned around and ran an 8k in 45:10. I knew that meant my legs and my brain were trained for endurance.

This Saturday, Little G and I did it again. We signed up for another race on a lark. It was a local 5k, run on the streets we use a lot for training. It required tweaking our training plan a little, since we were planning to run short on Friday and long on Saturday and racing meant (a) canceling the Friday run to spare our legs and (b) changing the Saturday long run to a race. We knew we weren’t going to do great because, since we hadn’t planned to race, we’d run the bridge on Tuesday, tiring ourselves more than we would have otherwise. Though Little G doesn’t love 5ks, we know they’re good measuring sticks, and we figured it would be a good reintroduction to the short-distance speedwork that’s been sorely lacking in our training program of late.

The race start was about two miles from my place, so Little G drove over about thirty minutes before gun time. The sky was ominous, which is about par for the course for every race we’ve run this season, and the winds were howling out of the west, which meant they’d be at our faces on the home stretch of the race course. We ran to the start line as our warm up and got there in plenty of time.

I didn’t do this one particularly well. I said I was going to take it easy. I knew I’d done the hills on Tuesday, then run a tough 6½ on Thursday during which my heartrate felt way too high for an easy run. My legs, I figured, were tired. I figured I’d run at an easy 8 or 8:30 pace and call it a day. But then, then gun went off, and so did I. Little G and I were standing pretty close to the mats because we were told we’d only get a net time, so we went off pretty close to the leaders. I knew better than to get caught up in their 5-minute pace, so I was getting passed pretty steadily. Still, I knew I was working too hard for mile 1, and trying hard to steady myself. Little G went past me early in the race. I told myself I generally have her in short distances, and let her go. Mile 1 came in at 7:32, with my confidence in the tank.

Though I run these roads every week, they seemed longer on race day. The rain hadn’t started, but the winds were strong and contrary, and I wasn’t enjoying myself. I was working hard, which I expected, and I remembered that this is why 5ks are hard–there are no cruising miles like there are in a half marathon. You just work hard the entire distance. We hit a water station and I saw Little G go right by it. I was working too hard, and getting too hot, not to get any help. I swooped in and took a cup, not to drink, but to pour over my head. The relief pushed me on, and I noticed that I was starting to pick some people off. Up ahead, we came upon the turnaround, just going around a cone, and Little G was only a few people ahead of me. We grinned at each other as we went around. I kept working not to lose her, and mile 2 came in at 7:39.

The third mile in a 5k can be a march of death, and it very much was on this day. People around me were beginning to fade, and I swore I wouldn’t be one of them. Though in some races I can begin to push at the last mile, I knew I didn’t have enough gas for a mile-long push, and I determined to just try to hold a steady pace instead. As we passed the 2.5-marker, I tried to push a little, and started gaining on Little G, passing her around the 2.8 mark. My face started getting flushed, and I knew I was risking a migraine or worse. The only turns in this race are at the end, and I pictured taking them smoothly and quickly, finishing mile 3 in 7:41. All around me, coaches and spectators were encouraging their runners, and I appropriated their words for myself as I left everything I had, and finished that last little bit at 6-something pace. I have never been so thankful not to bend my head for a medal.

As you can see, it wasn’t my best execution–I generally speed up as I run, and I didn’t do that Saturday (in fact I slowed down each mile!). Having said that, though, I still remember passing people on the way to the finish line, so the slowdown on this race was particularly ominous. It remains only the second time I’ve broken 24 minutes, and since I wasn’t looking at Garmie the entire time, nor training for the distance–or, in fact, training at all, really–it was an incredible shock when I saw the clock at the finish line.

I know I’ve probably said it before, but I’ll say it again, and maybe it’ll be useful to someone: racing six half marathons in six months has been the best training plan I’ve ever stumbled upon. It’s kept me honest in my training, and brought speed to my legs, strength to my psyche, and endurance to my heart and lungs. I doubt I’ll do it again this year–I’ve got other things in mind–but I’d love to do it every year if finances, time, and the body could endure it.

I’m going back to my not-in-training laissez faire attitude for now, taking the day off today with a sore knee. March and April are my off months, and I’ll begin base building in May and June. At least that’s what I’m telling myself now.

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