Last year when I ran the Cherry Blossom 10-miler it was the last gasp of my running season. I had already injured my left foot with an undiagnosed ailment, which to this day baffles my sports medicine physio, and had pulled myself out of the Boston Marathon. I figured at that point, and my doc agreed, that there wasn’t much more damage I could do so I might as well go and try and enjoy it since I had already dropped the money on it.
So, I ran the race like I would any other, except this time I did it with a few aspirin coursing through me to take the edge off the pain. Oh yah, by the way, it was freezing goddam cold, raining and completely miserable! Regardless, I go out and run the 10 miles with one of my favorite and most admired runners, Erin Strout, and the two of us pretty much gripe through the whole thing, pleading for it to end so we can go get warm and have some brunch. When it was all said and done and the aspirin wore off, the misery continued and had a nice piercing pain shooting through my left foot and leg for the rest of the day and night, just for good measure. The very next day I hung up the running shoes for two months or so.
Fast forward to April 2009, same race, but completely different set of circumstances. This year, Boston is on, but I once again found myself in a precarious physical condition, this time fighting off Overtraining Syndrome for, give or take, three weeks. My legs had been feeling drained, my lungs tapped and psychologically I was burnt out. During those three weeks or so I had shelved my original schedule and reduced myself to 3 runs (1 maintenance, 1 hill/speed, 1 long), 2 swims and 2 full rest days a week. The plan, albeit difficult to adhere to given my masochistic, gung ho mentality and desire to crush Boston, worked wonders.
Bill Risch and I took Bolt Bus on down to DC on Saturday morning under a dismal sky, but with glowing weather reports on all the weather stations for the race. When we hit DC the sky was blue, the sun was shining gleefully upon us and the wind was slapping us in the face telling us to go the hell back where we came from. I instantly thought, “Great! Last year all over again, minus the rain!” We exited the parking lot and proceeded to walk directly to the Expo and just get it done. We were also hoping to Tweetup with new compatriot IronmanBobby at the expo, but we got our wires all crossed and it didn’t really happen.
That afternoon we met up with my old assistant soccer coach, Bailey, whose father I was training for a short time in the fall, and my cousin Cyndi. We ended up going to Kramerbooks and having pie … a lot of pie … and there was much rejoicing! While we were sitting the woman next to us started asking if we were running the race and where were from etc., exchanging introductory pleasantries. As it turns out she is an author by the name of Kimi Puntillo who was signing her new book “Great Races, Incredible Places.” She told us how she had run a marathon on every continent, including the Antarctic and one on the Great Wall of China, which just sounded arduous and painful on all that stone!
Later that evening, after dinner with running super star Erin Strout, Bill Risch and his entire family, and a few of his cronies (a story in itself for another day), the Tweetup with IronmanBobby resurfaced and became a reality. We met at Starbucks in Dupont Circle, which provided us with a nice backdrop of local color that included, but was not limited to, a roaming Bachelorette party with the bride-to-be wearing an illuminated sash and tiara, and a gaggle of shirtless, frat pledges doing circuits of the rotary. This rendez-vous turned out to be a meeting of the minds and a podcast ambush as IronmanBobby explained that he wanted to interview me for the next installment of a series he has been developing about newbie triathletes transitioning to the sport from a background heavily in one of the disciplines. Apparently I am a representative from the runners’ side of the equation … who knew? It was a lot of fun talking shop and really discussing some of my concerns going into tri training and who is or when one can be considered an “athlete”? It’s an interesting question and one that I will let go until the podcast is released.
Getting back to the task at hand, the race, you really couldn’t have asked for a more perfect morning. There was just the slightest taste of a chill in the air. The sky was clear and azure blue as daybreak crested the Nation’s capitol. Bill and I jogged over to the start to warm-up and we had just enough time drop off our bag and get into our corrals to stretch a little before the starting gun.
My mentality heading into the weekend was simple: this is a test. I really needed to find out how much my body had recuperated over the last several weeks and see what I could do. To be fair and honest, I was really nervous about doing this race, simply because of the psychological blow I could possibly receive if I wasn’t anywhere near where I felt like I needed to be. I was bracing myself for that possibility; while at the same time reminding myself that if there is nothing risked there is nothing to be gained.
When the gun went and it was time to go to work I immediately went into game face mode and just went to work. As is the start with all of these massive races that sell out in a day or two, getting through the first mile takes a while and I reminded myself of that fact when I checked out my first split. I don’t know how there is always a few 60 year old runners in the first corral, who quite obviously can’t hold the pace that those in that group will drive out, but, as per usual, there was and getting around them was a bit of a chore.
After the first couple of miles, I believe, I ran up behind Strouter and bid her a good morning as I continued on past her. My pace was good, my stride was well balanced and even and it felt really good. Cruising through the course I focused on being steady, maintaining a good breath:stride ratio/rhythm, and smooth, efficient form. It must have worked, because my splits throughout the race were pretty much spot on, except where I took on water, where I lost a few seconds.
At one point during the last third of the race I noticed that my legs felt kind of funny, almost like they weren’t there, almost phantom-like. It was the strangest thing and I later found out that Strouter said she was feeling something similar. I mean, I was cruising and feeling pretty good and to be honest I was a little surprised at how good I was feeling based upon the last race I really ran. This was Worlds apart from that, thankfully in a much more positive light!
Mile 7-8 was really funny, because it was completely miss-marked and EVERYONE all of sudden clicked there watches at the 8-mile marker and instantly started talking, “Wow, either we’re really hauling ass or they have no idea how far a mile is?” It was true though, I checked my split and it was like a 5:47 mile by their markers and that would really have been something!
As we hit the last mile marker I did some assessment and acknowledged the fact that I was intact, holding steady, comfortable and actually could feel it in my legs and lungs that I could have pushed harder and still had kick for the finish. With a half-mile to go I came along side a Tri-guy, not sure what team he was with, looked at him and said, “Half-mile to go. It’s time to close the show. Me and you, let’s push this out.” And with that said he started to match me stride-for-stride, but it didn’t last. For those who know me, the sight of a hill climb in a race peppered with runners is like a shark smelling a flailing wounded seal in the water; I just start to crush it. Within 20-yards of starting the miniscule climb my finishing partner was dying and had faded. When I crested the hill and started to press through the decline I noticed that I was alone. It was really weird, there wasn’t a soul within 25-yards of me, in front or behind. I held steady and finished strong.
My official finishing time was 1:05:02 (6:31 pace). This was exactly what I needed heading into the final two weeks before the Boston Marathon, physically, emotionally and psychologically. To go out and blow out a nice run like that and KNOW that there was more in the tank for the entire race and still have that little bit of spring and kick at the finish that had been missing for weeks was fantastic.
I’ve been waiting two years for this race and this year I almost let it slip out from under me, but I’m not going to let that happen. The new plan has been working. My eye is still on the prize and only 10 days left.