Running Log – Sunday, March 26
Ran ‘An Ras Mor’ 5K Race in Cambridge in 20:16
(1K splits from watch: 4:03, 4:02, 4:01, 4:07, 3:59)
Total mileage: ~6M, including warmup and cooldown
Shoes: Nike Luna Glides
Weather: Partly cloudy, temps in the mid-30’s, light winds
This was my first race since April 10, 2016, bringing to an end 350 days of self-imposed exile from “competitive” running.
It would be nice to share a single, simple explanation for why I haven’t been out there — certainly, among my contemporaries, there are many who run with far worse issues than mine — but no single explanation seems adequate. I’ve had a few typical running injuries, but there have also been medical mysteries that made running a struggle, especially last summer and early fall. My response was to take training and racing off the table for a while, and instead focus on simply getting out the door, running at whatever pace I could, stopping and walking, when needed, and practicing patience.
Fall turned to winter, which brought a new set of challenges. My work schedule became even more stressful, I found myself having to make several trips in the late fall and winter, and in December developed a stress reaction in my lower leg that forced me to take several weeks completely off. It was easy to feel that I was sliding backwards.
But in the last month, things started looking up. With a more flexible work schedule (a.k.a., unemployment), not only could I run more, I had time for the little things that must be done to keep injuries at bay. Since getting back from Japan, I’d managed to run, stretch, roll, and strengthen every day, and little-by-little, I was beginning to feel like an athlete again (at least, an older version of one). With consistency came a better understanding of what I could expect from my body. And with understanding, I felt ready to try running a little faster. I had missed the majority of track workouts with my club this winter, but I showed up a few weeks ago, and managed to get through about half a workout without hurting myself. That first night was a little rough, and I felt very uncoordinated throughout. Still, I managed to run 3200m of intervals much faster than my normal running pace. The next week I was back and ran 4000m of intervals, and while the pace was modest, I could feel myself begin to remember how to stay relaxed while running hard.
In the end, what convinced me to enter the An Ras Mor race was the realization that if I wanted to run all six races in the New England Runner “Pub Series,” I couldn’t very well skip the first one. And really, what was the worst that could happen? That I’d run slowly? That was more or less a given. There was no question that I could run for three point one miles, and my “baby steps” track workouts had shown me that I could probably handle a tempo-run pace that was a minute per mile faster than my daily runs… (7:30-7:45 per mile). The only thing I was really worried about was being too ambitious and setting a pace I couldn’t maintain for the whole way.
So what were reasonable expectations? I weighed this question carefully, and came up with the following:
1. While some part of me just wanted to go through the motions and finish the damn thing without stress or strain, I decided that anything slower that 7:00 pace would be a disappointment. For a race to be meaningful, it must include some sort of challenge, and for all my “issues,” I knew that unless something went really haywire, I was more than capable of running that pace. So I determined that running 7:00 pace would be a “C” effort.
2. My recent visits to the track convinced me that when I was properly and thoroughly warmed up and not experiencing breathing issues, my actual aerobic capacity was still pretty good. Estimating my fitness from what I was able to run for multiple 800 repeats and modest recovery, I decided that a reasonable “tempo run” pace would be 6:45 per mile, or approximately 21:00 for 5K. That became my main goal for Sunday. Running sub-21:00 would be a “B” effort.
3. Was I capable of running faster? Probably, but it was a little tricky. On the one hand, I’m prone to under-estimating my ability, especially if I don’t have recent race experiences to fall back on; on the other hand, I really didn’t want to set expectations high and then be disappointed. I suppose you’d say I was feeling a little fragile about racing, and didn’t want to be in a position where I had to go all-out to feel OK about the experience. I certainly hoped this was just a matter of reminding myself what a race felt like, and there would be plenty of others. So with that context, I told myself that an ideal race would be going out at 6:45 pace and then — assuming I was feeling OK — running each mile a little faster. So if I hit splits of 6:45, 6:40, 6:35 and finished in under 20:40, with more in the tank, that would be an “A” effort. I didn’t want to think much beyond that.
I always forget how friendly people are at races. As I warmed up, and then took my place well behind the front of the pack before the start, I was surprised and somewhat touched by how many people hailed me and wished me good luck. A minute before the gun went off, local legend and all-around wonderful human being John Barbour, who would go on to win the 60+ division in 18:27, pushed his way through the throng to touch me on the shoulder and and tell me he was glad to see me there. Even through the haze of nervous anticipation I was able to answer honestly that I was glad I was there, too.
At precisely 9:30, the command to start was given, and the throng surged forward, led out by the speedy young runners at the front. For thirty seconds my mind was entirely occupied by the practical concern of avoiding collisions and unwinding my stride to something resembling normal. As we made the wide left turn onto Mass Ave., I always felt my breathing relax and I admitted to myself for the first time that morning that I felt good.
There’s no need for a minute-by-minute recap of the race. Even though I had planned the race with very specific splits in mind, once I was out on the course, I ran entirely by feel. I heard the first mile split — 6:30 — and instead of thinking it was too fast for my fitness, I felt pleased that I could manage that pace while still running comfortably.
I ran the second mile about the same as the first, and found myself focusing on little things, like running proper tangents, keeping my arm swing compact, and staying really efficient and relaxed. I ran the third mile a little harder, if not faster, and tried to pick up the pace gradually over the last 400 meters or so. I purposefully avoided an all-out sprint, and still felt pretty good as I walked through the area beyond the finish line and caught sight of my teammates, who had finished several minutes earlier.
My final “chip” time was 20:16, which meant I had basically run the same pace from beginning to end with little variation. I was very happy and very satisfied with that — for about thirty minutes — before a voice in my head started pestering me about whether I should have gone out faster, and tried harder to try to break 20 minutes.
“That’s enough!” I told the voice. Because I felt that for the first time in long time, time was on my side.