Friday, April 27, 2012

Hyner Challenge

Pre-race chatting.
Has someone been slipping something in my water? There is no way that I should have felt as good as I did on Saturday at the Hyner Challenge (25K trail race) five days after running Boston. Last year I ran Hyner seven days after Garden Spot Marathon and Hyner kicked my butt. This year I had less rest and my quads were more beat up from the downhills of Boston. I definitely still had soreness in my legs...but they could still run, for some reason.

I figured at some point during the race my legs would get heavy and I would slow down but, after my experience at Boston, I figured that I might as well give it a go and see what happens. The weather was nearly perfect with the temperature in the 50s and overcast. Hyner starts with a 1/8 mile steep downhill and then runs on a flat asphalt road for about a mile before hitting single-track and starting to climb. If you are looking for a good time, it is best to run a quick first mile because it can be difficult to pass for awhile on the single-track. I started out at the front but immediately got passed by 30 people at the start with their irrational exuberance. I looked down at my Garmin when we hit the road and saw that I also had been a little exuberant as I was running a sub-6 pace. I eased up a bit, but not much, as I wanted to get past many of these people. I felt the soreness in my legs immediately but was just hoping they would wait to crash for 16 miles. I was hoping for a top ten finish here, but was prepared for it to get ugly and be much worse. I was a little astonished after the first mile when I looked down and saw I just ran a 6:15 mile.

Finally we hit the single-track and I settled in behind Eric Marshall. He is a good trail runner and had kicked my butt in races all last year, but I had at least been in the same neighborhood as him in time, so I hoped to stay close to him for awhile. The second mile is fairly flat single-track before you turn the corner and start the big climb to Hyner View (about 1200 feet in less than two miles). We started passing people going up the climb and I was able to mostly stick with him. Partway up the climb it flattens for a short stretch and I still felt good so I passed him on the run and kept going. I finally reached the top and had to look back and enjoy the view for a few seconds before turning and hitting the aid station.

Next comes a steep 1.75 mile descent that I was worried about. I knew this would be a quad-pounder and was just trying to avoid braking as much as possible without losing it on the steep parts. I made it down to the aid station at the bottom and someone told me that I was in about sixth place, which surprised me because I hadn't realized how many people I had passed in the first two miles. I then began the long second climb which is a gradual ascent along a creek bed for a three miles before rising more sharply for a mile to the top. Last year my legs had given out in this section and I had a long slow slog to the top. This year, they still felt good and I was making good time. I was hopeful that I could continue my good pace. The aid station at the top had a large crowd of spectators and I've got to admit that it was a bit of a rush to run through there, still feeling good.

I knew I could run the next downhill section, Post Draft, at a good pace. It is about a two mile long gradual, rocky descent that can really be hammered if you aren't afraid of rocks. I took off and as I got close to the bottom I saw two guys ahead of me. I picked up the pace as much as I could and finally caught them at the bottom. There is no reprieve here as you immediately start up the last steep mile ascent, culminating with the appropriately-named S.O.B., a short 50 meter hand over foot scramble up a gas line cut. I passed the other two runners at the beginning of the ascent and tried to put some quick distance between us. My legs still felt amazingly springy. I finally reached S.O.B. and just tried to stay on the mountain (not necessarily a given here) to the top.

The start of the 50K race with the real men and women.
I hit the last aid station, where they told me I was fourth, took my last Gu and took off. The next two miles is a mostly flat dirt road on top of the ridge, before you hit the single-track again. Last year I just wanted to walk this section, as my legs were dead. This year I still felt good and was able to reel off a couple miles at around a 7:30 pace. I was hoping I could reel in two of the guys in front of me but all I knew is that they were multiple minutes ahead of me and I couldn't see them. As soon as I hit the single-track and started the last two mile descent I pounded the downhill. I was just hoping to catch a glimpse of them at some point. In spite of running a 6:57 for the last full mile, I never did see them. I finally made it to the finish in 2:32:22, three minutes out of second place and 14 minutes out of first. I had been contemplating doing a somersault as I crossed the line but when I got to the finish there were a lot of people and I wimped out. Congratulations to Meira Minard, who reclaimed her title this year (after also running Boston five days ago) and Jacob Loverich, who added another impressive win to his resume.

I was ecstatic at the finish. My legs never gave out on me and I took 22 minutes off of my time from last year. I am not sure what the difference is between last year and this year, but I am running so much better. I would hypothesize that it is the weight work that I am doing, since that is the major difference in my training. I have been doing P90X routines three or four days a week since the beginning of February, working on my upper body, core and lower body, as well as some yoga. Thank you, Tony Horton. I feel so much stronger at the end of races and apparently recover pretty well, also. Whether it is the water or the weights, I don't care, because I am having fun and feeling good.

Now on to concentrating on my preparation and last few weeks of training for Massanutten.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Boston Marathon 2012

Kicking it to the finish on Boylston Street.
I'll admit that I am a little disappointed with Boston this year. I had a great winter/spring of training and felt like I was in the best shape I've ever been in. I went to Boston with a goal of beating my PR (personal record, in my case 2:58:59) in the marathon. Although I don't feel that Boston is a good course to set a PR in, I felt I had the fitness to do it. The two things that I knew I had no control over, however, were the weather and the way I would feel that morning (while I have some control over how I feel, there is a certain element that is uncontrollable).

A week out from the race, the weather forecasts started to get ugly. The temperature forecast kept climbing every day, finally topping out at a forecast high of 89 degrees for Patriot's Day. The actual temperature at the start in Hopkinton at 10am, according to the BAA web site, was 79 degrees, and it ended up being 85 degrees when the men's winner finished just after noon. I can certainly attest that between noon and 1pm, it definitely felt hotter.

The other issue was that midweek before the race I felt a cold coming on. A sore throat and cough soon settled in and by race morning, I woke up with a headache as well. This was not supposed to happen, but quit whining and run already. I thought about checking myself for a fever, but I didn't really want to know at that point.

With the forecast in mind, I changed my goals a little. My main goal now became to re-qualify for Boston by at least 10 minutes (less than 3:15) so that I can run it next year with my niece, Laura. After much thought, however, I decided I would still go out at close to my original goal pace (around 6:35 per mile) while it was still relatively cool and see how I felt along the way. After all the training, I didn't just want to give up on running a fast race. I told myself, however, that if it started to get difficult, I would back off the pace so I wouldn't overdo it in the heat. I did still want to finish, at least.

At 9:30am, as we walked to the starting line in Hopkinton, we could definitely feel the heat. I sought shade by the side of the road, rather than getting into my starting corral right away, and I sat down on some wet grass to wait until it got closer to the starting time. I saw one of the other Nittany Valley Running Club members, Andy Cunningham, who had qualified with the exact same time that I had, and called him over. We sat in the shade until 10 minutes before the start and then got in our corral (number 3). I had never actually started in my assigned corral at Boston (I had always went to the back of the first wave and let everyone else get a good start before I went so there would be more running room) so I wasn't sure how crowded it would be at the beginning. The gun went off and we were on our way.

Andy and I ran together at first but there wasn't much running room right away. After we talked about our desired paces, he wasn't interested in running quite as fast as I wanted to so we ended up separating fairly soon. The first two miles I could not run the pace that I wanted to (6:30-6:35) because there were just too many people. It would have taken extra effort to run faster and I was okay with taking it a little easy because of the conditions. After the first two miles, however, I was able to settle into a faster pace and started getting some miles in the 6:30s. At Boston, there are aid stations with water and Gatorade every mile so I started with a strategy of getting Gatorade one mile and then water the next. The Gatorade I would drink (while walking to the side because I never like getting it up my nose, which is what happens when I try to drink while running) and the water I would dump on my head. Fortunately, I never confused this.

After the first 5K however, I was drinking Gatorade every two miles and getting water and dumping it on my head every mile. I was determined to try to keep my core temperature down, especially in light of my cold. The frequent walking while drinking definitely cut into my time as those miles when I drank my splits were slower. My goal was to run comfortably and not try to make up time. I did not want to push it early and pay for that later.

Every few miles, I made a point to do a body check and see how I felt. Surprisingly, I continued to feel pretty good as the miles added on and did not feel like the heat was dragging me down. I was hoping to get through Wellesley (about 11 miles), at least, at a pretty good pace (sub-3:00) and then see how what I could do. I got a bump from the Wellesley screaming and cruised though the halfway point in 1:28:53. I was pretty excited about this, especially because I was still consistently churning out miles in the 6:40s. By this point I was taking water from spectators whenever I could and dumping it on my head. I knew the Newton Hills, and eventually Heartbreak Hill, were coming up at miles 15-21 and would undoubtedly slow me down but I felt ready for the challenge.

I hit the first couple hills and took them in stride. I even through in a 6:28 mile at mile 16 for fun. The hill before Heartbreak, however, took a little out of me. I knew Heartbreak was going to kick my butt a little, but I was determined to just steadily work my way up it, take what it would give me, and then see what I could do on the other side. I did not want to redline it any point when attacking the hills and have a really ugly end to the day.

A 7:29 mile up Heartbreak did take some of the wind out of my sails, but I was able to reel off another 6:50 mile on the back side so I had some hope for keeping it going. The next four miles, however, would see the distrance and the heat catch up to me. Although miles 22-24 show and elevation drop of 150 feet, I will say that it doesn't feel like it at that point in the race, at least not to me. It is rolling, and then the last two miles are overall flat, while rolling. My headache, which had largely been absent up to this point, came back and I really started to feel the heat. My legs were heavy and I guess you could say I was hitting the wall. I knew at this point that unless I really pushed it, I was not going to get under 3 hours, so I decided to just get home without pushing it. It was, perhaps, the easy way out. Is it also the smart way out? Maybe, I don't know. I would like to push through one of these some time but this day was probably not the day to do it.

I "limped" through the last two miles. I saw more than one guy being carted off on a stretcher during this time, so close to the finish. I hit the turn onto Boylston Street and cranked it up for the last straightaway. The crowd noise is so amazing at this point, that it just carries you to the finish.

I was pretty ecstatic to cross the line with such a fast (for me) time. I wouldn't have believed you if you had told me that I would run a 3:01:58 on a day this hot. I really don't know why I felt so good so deep into the race. I am definitely not heat acclimated yet. It was a brutal day for so many. Most people I know ran at least 20 minutes slower than they typically do. I was smart about trying to keep cool, but so were so many others that did not have such a good day. I managed to score some ice in my hat, at one point, that sustained me for awhile. I also managed to grab an ice pop from a kid in the Newton hills (he was handing them to runners, honest) that was a pick-me-up. I'm not sure what the overall lessons are. Perhaps good hydration, keeping the body cool, and just taking what you can while you can is important.

Having said all that, I did physically feel pretty beat after this one. I was eyeing up places along the street to go to pass out and vomit, if necessary, because I felt a little vomitish. I found a concrete bench to lay on for a little while, until my head cleared up a bit. I was also eyeing the wheelchairs with desire. The bag of chips was helpful, but nothing else, in their food bag (why do they have such a crappy food bag after this race with as much money as you pay to run it).

This will probably be my last fast road marathon of the year. I may run one more road marathon with my daughter in the fall. I would still like to make a new PR, but given my age of 46 I realize that I am trying to outrun father time. It may not happen, and that is okay. I'm not willing to spend as much time as I used to pounding pavement for speed when the trails are so much more fun. Speaking of trails, now I have four days to recover before taking on the Hyner Challenge 25K again on Saturday. It could be ugly, the way my quads feel now, but it will be fun.