After racing the 3000m Friday afternoon, I felt pretty good about the mile on Saturday. My only complaints were a rawness in my throat left over from breathing in so much dry air during the race and a slight pain in my right calf that didn’t seem especially serious. I felt ready for a decent race, and only wondered who I would be racing the next day.
Handicapping the field
This is what it feels like to be a baby boomer: there were more entrants for the mile among men 55-59 (my age group) than in any other. There were so many that, whereas other age groups were combined to keep the meet moving along, our age group had to be split into two sections to accommodate all of us.
On paper, the race was much more competitive than the 3000m, but in a different way. The top two seeds were Paul Fragua of New Mexico, the 2013 outdoor champion for 55-59 in the 800m, who was seeded at 4:54, and Casey Carlstrom of Ithaca NY, who had only just celebrated his 55th birthday and had run 4:55 in January on a flat track. Both the guys who had beaten me in the 3000 were entered, Fram at 4:56 and Wood at 5:00. Then there were a bunch of other guys who figured to be in the mix, including Henry Wigglesworth seeded at 4:57, Mark Rybinski at 4:59, Michael Mooney at 5:01, among others. I was nestled in there at 4:56.60, but I had run that on BU’s lightning fast track in an evenly paced “time-trial”-like race, and I figured it didn’t mean much for a tactical race.
In Masters track and field, a lot can happen between entering and actually starting. So I shouldn’t have been surprised when what had looked like a really deep field started springing leaks. First, Fram decided that he was satisfied with his one national championship and skipped the mile to rest for the New Bedford Half Marathon on Sunday. Next, the fastest entrant in the race, Fragua, never showed up. So now the field was Carlstrom, me, Wigglesworth, Wood, and Mooney, with times at or just under 5:00, and another half-dozen with times between 5:05 and 5:20. Carlstrom figured to be very strong, and Wood had already beaten me once with a big kick. I felt like I really needed to execute a good race plan to have a chance to medal.
The Specificity of Training
As my CSU teammates know, in February I went AWOL from our usual track workouts and started doing my own thing. What happened was that one day I sat down and really tried to think about what I wanted out of a mile race in March. I was convinced that most championship races are won by the person who closes the fastest. In addition to running a smart race, I felt like I needed to learn how to change pace more effectively when I was tired at the end of a race.
I thought about how I trained, and I decided to make three important changes to the 5k/10k workouts that were the staple of the group:
Work on my basic speed
Work on my ability to change pace, especially when tired
I wanted to race more because I wanted my mind to be used to mile pace and to think of it as a normal physiological state, rather than as a cause for blind panic. Following this plan, I ran three 1M races and an 800 in five weeks from January 19th to February 23rd (the 800 was the second race of the day at the NE Indoor Championships). Eight days out from the national meet, I also ran a 1000m time trial at faster than mile pace, closing hard. (I had intended to run 1200, but ran my first 400 too fast, so I edited the time trial on the fly to avoid making it an exercise in flailing at the end of a hard effort. Better to run shorter and finish fast than run longer and be slowing down at the end, I reasoned.)
As for changing pace, I tried to be conscious of my mechanics at the end of every interval and especially at the end of every workout. In addition, I did some sessions where I consciously focused the workout on shifting gears.
One workout stands out in my mind: it was about three weeks out from the national meet, and it was probably the hardest workout I did, mentally if not physically. The plan was to run 4 x 800m, with the following 200m splits: 40-40-38-36, in other words, two changes of pace, closing at 4:48 mile pace.
The first interval went pretty much according to plan, although I ran the third 200 a second fast, to hit 2:33. The second one was a little out of control, as I hit splits of 40-40-36-35.5, to hit 2:31.5. After that, even after more than three minutes of rest, I could feel the lactic acid stubbornly refusing to leave my muscles.
I launched into the next one with more hope than determination and hit splits of 40-40-38-18, stopping 100 meters short of 800 as my body started shutting down. On the last one, I decided to run a 600, and it was still bloody hard: 40-39-36, for 1:55. After that, I walked and jogged for nearly seven minutes before doing few quick 150s at the end to remind myself that running fast wasn’t always such a heart-rending process.
After that workout, I was convinced that I could kick, but equally convinced that I had to time the kick properly. I would not have the option of stopping 100m before the finish line in the actual race!
As for mental preparation, I rehearsed and rehearsed in my mind how I would run the race. Regardless of the pace at the front, I would remain relaxed through 800, moving up only if those in front of me were slowing down. I would run the next 400 to put myself in position to kick, and then I would kick.
On Saturday, I arrived at Reggie around 11:00, about two and a half hours before my race was scheduled to start. As on the previous day, I found a place to chill out while waiting for it to be time to warm up. I watched the races on the track with a sense of detachment. I was much calmer than I had been the previous afternoon.
When it was time to warm up, I headed outside. The temperature had risen up into the 50s, and a lot of people were out and about, enjoying the nice weather. After a short loop in the neighborhood, I headed over to the track behind Madison Park High School and continued my warmup there. After about twenty minutes, I headed back to Reggie to start dynamic drills and stretching. My right calf was still a bit sore, but I figured I wouldn’t notice it once I started racing.
Finally, at about 1:15, I collected my hip and shoulder numbers and stuck them on. As the section ahead of us got underway, I put on my spikes and headed out onto the track for a few last easy strides.