Wednesday, June 15, 2011

NE Relay 2011

Last weekend I teamed up with five fine runners for the New England Relay, a 223 mile route from Rhode Island to Maine. Aside from the obvious challenge there were several logistic wrinkles. First, the MA tornadoes damaged the course badly enough that the director cancelled two legs without actually letting those runners off the hook. This meant each team had to double up on two sections, so the 2nd and 4th runners both ran leg #2 and the 3rd and 5th runners both ran leg #3. The times for the extra runners were later added to the team's total elapsed time, and the originally scheduled fourth and fifth legs were skipped.

Second, because the teams still had to get from the end of leg three to the start of leg six, we all recorded our time driving that part and then subtracted it from the total. Finally, because this ended in a state park that didn't open until 12:30pm on Sunday, and predicting finishing times for 46 teams is kind of an art, we were one of the teams that had to take a mandatory break of nearly an hour at one of the transition points. This delay was also subtracted from our total. Simple, right? Here is how my legs went:

Leg 2 -- 8.5mi -- 60:14. As I mentioned, this was a double-duty section and, being runner 2, I ran with runner 4 (Jake). A quick word about Jake: He is one of the few runners I know well who scares the crap out of me. Yes there are thousands of runners around the world who could crush me at any distance, but I haven't known most of them for 19 years or stood next to them on the starting line dozens of times. Any advantage that I might have in natural speed and economy, Jake makes up for in raw stamina and toughness. But it was great having company for at least one leg and over this portion the running itself felt effortless.

Leg 8 -- 10.4mi -- 71:58. Things get interesting. I'm cruising along at 6:50 per mile on some anonymous country road when I see a team van pulled over. Nothing out of the ordinary there, but as I approach the driver waves me over and I reluctantly stop. The words he actually said to me were: "We just saw a bear cross the road up ahead so we're going to drive behind you for a bit." But I'm still in the mental running fog, and I hear: "We just saw a bear cross the road up ahead so we're going to drive you for a bit."

I don't like the sound of that (the bear or the driving) but I thought maybe this team had called the race director to report the bear and she had asked them to deliver the next runner past any danger. Umm... is that really what he wants me to do? Well the race clock is still ticking and I'm standing fucking still so I blurt out: "You want me to get in the van??" In response, I get a justifiably confused look, and then what he really said sort of registers, so I take off and call out: "Oh I see you'll follow me okay got it thanks a bear! got it okay thanks bye!"

I dial it up a little the rest of the way because... bears can really move when they want to, right?

Leg 14 -- 8.1mi -- 57:28. This is one leg that I'm quite sure was badly measured. First, it is basically flat with two downhills. I run sub 7s on terrain like that. Second, I still felt comfortable and was moving well. I run sub 7s when I feel like that. Finally, I checked mapmyrun afterwards and it said 8.5mi. Yes, I already had almost 19 miles on my legs at the start, but I know what 7:06 miles feel like. This wasn't 7:06 miles.

Leg 20 -- 8.0mi -- 61:19. The elevation chart, as they say, is worth a thousand words:
I had done 27 miles to this point and now I got to do something I hate: Run slowly. Up a big hill. If this was accurately measured my pace was 7:40 and hell it sure felt like 7:40s. This wasn't just a physical battle either; the thought I couldn't get out of my head the whole time was that even after I finished, I would still have 11+ miles more to do.

Leg 26 -- 7.5mi -- 50:10. Light at the end! Well not exactly but I did have 35 miles down including both the long leg and the hilly leg. This was running at its most surreal. For much of it I couldn't see any lights other than my headlamp. No car lights, no street lights, no house lights. It was also still overcast and drizzling so no stars and no moon. Nor did I see any other runners. I had asked the team van to stop after four miles so I could get a split and make sure that I hadn't totally lost my sense of pace -- but that is precisely what I learned. I don't remember my exact time when I passed Jeff and he said I was just beyond four miles, but I knew it wasn't good. Something around 7:40s.

My choice here was to 1) coast home and leave something in the tank for a final hard leg, or 2) go for it now. What would Joanie do? Yep, fuck this. My next three miles were all 6:20 - 6:30 and on top of the prior mileage they felt more like 5:30s. One little hiccup was that the final turn was a small rotary and I didn't see an arrow sign so I went all the way around. Uh oh. I started around again, hoping that a sign would magically appear, thought better of it, went back to the first exit and floored it. A lucky semi-educated guess.

Leg 32 -- 3.6mi. I had a long time to think about this one because leg 30 (for runner 6) was 11.4mi. I tried to get some rest but was too keyed up about wanting to finish hard. I got out some paper and calculated that so far I had covered 42.8mi in 5:01:09 if I included an extra 0.3mi fudge for leg 14. If I wanted to average sub-7 for the whole event I would have to run 23:38 or better for the balance -- a 6:34 pace. I broke habit and did some warm-up jogging and strides. I felt surprisingly good. This was going to be fun.

Then I started running and my demeanor quickly changed. The first mile, which looked moderately tough on the map, was truly nasty. Eventually it flattened out and I started to click. I felt like I had it under control now but knew it was going to be close. At the end of mile three I hit a short steep climb that had me cursing the whole event. A few minutes later the grade flipped again and I emptied the tank. The course had one last surprise: I came out of a turn and under an overpass that was basically a wind tunnel, right in my face. Final time = 23:27. Eleven seconds to spare!

So officially without the 0.3mi add-in I wasn't sub-7 but I'll never admit to it. Cisco, Jeff, Jake, Sean, and Ollie all fought through a wide range of injuries, non-running obligations, and other distractions to deliver a fine performance. WELL DONE!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

classic moments

My new race morning habit while I'm having coffee is browsing youtube to see how the elites do it. These are my favorite clips so far, and yes it is a predictable list:
1964, Billy Mills, 10000
1972, Dave Wottle, 800
Ovett beats Coe
Coe beats Ovett
Joanie   everyone underestimates her and she destroys them. Hard not to love that.
El Guerrouj vs Lagat   two middle distance gods in their prime. Enough said.

"Don't expect this to be too gentlemanly when it starts."
Finally, I can watch the Sydney 10000 over and over.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


My new shoes: Saucony Hattoris. The Kinvaras were okay but just a touch too heavy and restrictive. I still rely primarily on the Nike Streak 3s and the heavenly Adidas Adizero PRs. My first impression is that these are the shoes the Nike Free should have been. On the other hand, using the Hattoris on concrete is out of the question. Ouchie. Even asphalt feels significantly harder, at least compared to running in the Streaks. Previously the Kinvaras were my heavyweights and the Streaks were my 'tweener' shoes; my intention was to bump the Streaks up to heavyweights so I could use the Hattoris as tweeners (PRs still holding the ultralight position). The only problem so far is that there isn't much difference between these and the PRs. And since the PRs are lighter, why would I ever wear the Hattoris? Hmm...

btw -- by tweener I mean: Too heavy for 5Ks but not enough cushion for regular distance sessions.
I miss the days when I had spikes for racing/speedwork and lightly cushioned trainers for everything else.