Like uneasy sleepers waking up from a bad dream to find the morning sun streaming through the windows, this weekend the Boston running community woke up from its long winter nightmare to find that spring had finally arrived. At Doyle’s Pub in Jamaica Plain, a giddy festive feeling prevailed as over 2000 lightly clad runners congregated for the Emerald Necklace 5M road race, the second event in the New England Pub Series.
It was hard to imagine that only three weeks earlier, many of the same runners had risked frostbite and wind-chill induced hypothermia at the An Ras Mor 5k, and that only a week earlier, the region had hunkered down for a five-day stretch of cold, wet, miserable weather that left bodies shivering and fingers too cold to untie the laces of sodden running shoes. On Sunday those discomforts were a distant memory as temperatures soared into the high 60s under a benevolent April sun.
The nice weather and the prospect of drinking free beer before noon on a warm spring day also brought out a broader swath of humanity. There were fast folk at Doyle’s, but they were a small minority, swallowed up by a much larger crowd of fun runners and pedestrians eager to stretch their legs, as well as parents with strollers, families running in tandem, and other members of life’s fascinating parade. The local residents also got in the act, setting out lawn chairs to watch the runners sprint the final quarter mile, playing conga drums to encourage failing legs and spirits, and turning the several blocks around Doyle’s into an impromptu festival.
So how did the race go?
Well, a lot of CSU folks ran fast. Patrick finished in the top ten in a final pre-marathon tune-up (27:48). Kevin (28:41) and Terry (28:54) placed second in the masters and seniors, divisions, respectively. Jonathan (32:11) exceeded his own expectations by running 25 seconds per mile faster than he expected and feeling good the whole way. Gordon celebrated his 67th birthday by running 32:36 and outkicking another veteran runner to take second in his age group.
As for me, I had a good day as well, although not exactly the kind of run I had been hoping for a week ago.
On Monday, I had a scary moment when I tweaked something in my right hamstring during a dynamic drill. I remember the exact movement, and the sudden pull, followed by pain and numbness up and down my leg. I remember thinking that I had actually heard something when the muscle gave out, but that was probably an auditory illusion. It must have been that the physical sensation was as immediate and startling as someone popping a paper bag behind you when you’re least expecting it.
For the next two days, I did nothing but ice it, roll it, and try to walk around on it normally, i.e., without favoring it too much. On Thursday my leg had improved enough that I tried jogging for about 15 minutes, albeit very slowly. On Friday, I tried an actual run of about three miles at 8:00 per mile pace. The run was fine, but I did notice that I had to concentrate really hard to force myself to use the hamstring actively and NOT favor it. It seemed to me that along with residual discomfort in the muscle, I had lost the neuromuscular pathways for an effective, coordinated stride. If I let my mind wander, I’d unconsciously begin to limp a little bit. I knew that inventing a new stride could lead to much worse problems than the original injury, so I tried hard to focus on doing what should have come naturally.
On Saturday, Concord Academy had an all-day track meet, so I didn’t even try to get in a run. But more importantly, I didn’t run AROUND from event to event like an idiot. So even though by the end of the day I was plenty tired, my hamstring felt ok. Since my plan had been to do a five-mile run anyway, I figured what the hell, might as well go to the race, run with the masses, keep myself alive in the Pub Series, and try to enjoy myself as much as possible.
I warmed up very slowly and carefully, and the hamstring felt OK. I avoided strides, although I did plenty of light stretches. I lined up well behind the fast dudes at the front of the pack, and just tried to think happy thoughts as we all waited for the signal to start.
Once we were underway, I found myself running comfortably and paying a lot of attention to avoiding becoming entangled in the legs of other runners as they weaved back and forth along the service road that follows the edge of Franklin Park. Running at seven-minute pace, I found myself paying much more attention to the runners around me — their strides, their breathing, and even the designs on the back of their singlets — than I normally do when I am so focused on my own effort.
As I expected, the hamstring loosened up a bit as I warmed up and grew more accustomed to the pace. Although there was some discomfort in the leg, it didn’t get worse, and overall it felt really good to be running at a pace that allowed me to focus on my form, concentrate on not over-striding, pay attention to avoiding missteps on the cracked pavement, and on keeping the effort well within the safety zone. Occasionally, a little bit of competitiveness would rear up as someone passed me, or as I saw I was gaining on someone ahead, but for the most part I managed to stick with my own plan and ignore the urge to start throwing surges into the mix.
When I came down the hill out of the Park and onto the street for the final 400 meters, I was passed by a guy with Jesus on his singlet. I let him go, and was happy to see that there was a fairly large gap behind me and that I wouldn’t be tempted to sprint. I finished in under 33 minutes, which felt just fine. It turned out later that the Jesus guy was actually a guy named Jesus. I don’t know why, but that made me feel better, too.
Overall a good day, a nice way to hang out with friends, and a harbinger of better days to come.