Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Clarksburg half marathon shuffle

The good news about today's adventure at the Clarksburg Half Marathon race is that I clinched third place in the 2009 Buzz Oates age-graded race series. The bad news is that I got caught in the trap and showed a serious lack of self control out there on the roads. However, I don't think I did any long-term damage that will foreclose on my future ability to get the cheese and eat it on my way to the Olympic Trials. I ran around 1:32, but that's faster than I was supposed to.

For background's sake, the race series requires a total of 8 races: 4 long and 4 short. I had 4 short and 3 long races as of September, and there was only 1 long option remaining. The shortest option was the half marathon (they also offered a 30k and 20 mile race today). I felt compelled to complete the series since I had put so much work into it throughout the year, but I also would receive $300 for placing in the top three. That was hard to let go.

This was a serious point of contention between me and my coach. She was not thrilled that I "had" to run this race. While I was hopped up on adrenaline in the hours following my Marine Corps Marathon race, I proposed that I could run 1:25 or 1:26 at Clarksburg and that would probably put me in 2nd place for the series. I look at that now and laugh. That would have been crazy. My coach also didn't like my next proposal of 1:30--still too fast. She was thinking 8:00 pace. We went back and forth a few more times, and I finally laid out my lowest offer: I really really really wanted to run Clarksburg and I didn't care how fast. I just wanted the points to finish the series. Her concern all along was that I would compromise my recovery for my next big cycle of marathon training recognizing that what I do right now could impact the training I do several months down the road. I told her that I promised I'd rest if I just get to run this race.

As I started trying on this idea of running the half marathon at 8:00 pace, I became antsy. It sounded really painful to me. I asked my coach last night if I could keep myself occupied with a workout within the race, and she said that would work. I was to run the first 5 miles as a cutdown from 8:00 to 7:40; then run 15 x 30 seconds at 5k effort with 2 minute moderate rests; wrapping up with a 5 mile cutdown starting again at 8:00 and knocking 5 seconds per mile off my pace every mile. You can probably do the math and see that following that plan does not get you across the line in 1:32 which is a little over 7:00 pace.

When I programmed my Garmin computer this morning, I Effin J-sized the workout. I had the cutdowns going from 8:00 to 7:20. I gave the 5k effort repeats 15 extra seconds just in case I was feeling really spry. This didn't mean I HAD to run for 45 seconds at 5k effort. I could just stop running at 30 seconds and jog for a bit, couldn't I? I also turned the sound off on my GPS so I didn't scare runners as I ran up beeping from behind. My fabulous new Garmin has a vibrator that tells you when to change pace with a silent but stimulating alarm rather than an annoying beep beep beep.

So, I left my lucky necklace at home, wore my heavy trainers and a long-sleeved shirt that I would tie around my waist when I got warm. Surely, these things would slow me down. I showed up to the race with about 3 minutes to spare and actually had to sprint to the starting line to catch the race (which starts with the gun, not your chip). I started way back in the pack to keep myself slow. That was a good move. I was able to start out at 8:00 pace without a problem. At the first mile marker, I picked up the pace and let my GPS settle in. 7:25 is what it read. Woops. I slowed. That lasted for a while, but I found myself sticking to around 7:30 pace for those first 5 miles. I really enjoyed this more leisurely pace through this section. I got in some fabulous bird watching with a pair of Sandhill cranes doing a low fly-by around the 2-mile marker. I was so excited and shouted, "Sandhill crane!" while pointing in the air but nobody else seemed impressed. I also saw numerous flickers and several hawks out trawling the farm fields for small prey items.

As I got set to start my 5k repeats, I looked up ahead and saw a huge pod of runners spanning the width of the street. I've done workouts in races before, and it is really kind of embarrassing running up on people super fast, backing off and then watching them pass you back only to repeat this cycle, well 15 times. I threw caution to the wind and went for it, running on the gravel shoulder to get around the pod. Luckily, I went fast enough in the first one that the pod did not catch me back. I heard a couple of, "whoas" and "wows" which made me a little uncomfortable. Once the half marathon runners turned for home at the half way point, there were fewer obstacles to deal with. I kept doing my repeats, always going the full 45 seconds and running between 5:20-5:45 pace depending on the wind. I took the 2 minute rest seriously though!

At around mile 10 for the half, fast 30k runners started coming up behind us. A very tall man wearing a remarkable amount of clothing for the conditions had a chicklet wearing bun huggers and a bra top right on his butt. The wind was tough in that section, and she was being smart but the contrast in clothing options was amusing to me. They passed me handily during a rest phase. Then, my vibrator went off and I kicked in the juice. I passed them at about 5:20 pace, and as I cleared the tall man's peripheral vision he literally jumped sideways and said, "What the fuck?" (I can quote that since that's what he said, by the way). I yelled back that I was just doing intervals and to not be alarmed.

After we turned onto a street and now had a crosswind, his tailgater took off. I passed him a couple more times before losing him completely, but I only made him jump again once. Finally, I was done with the intervals and had about 2 miles to go. I was still passing half marathoners at this point, but I didn't go back to 8:00 pace. I was now hovering around 7:15. Mind you, I felt fine this whole time. I had no aches or pains and was not taxing myself.

As we approached mile 12 for the half, my fully-clothed tall guy friend came running up from behind me and started to pass. The guy to my left said to me, "Come on. Let's get this guy." I instinctively charged forward for about 3 seconds until I realized I had nothing to gain by racing a guy running the 30k and blowing my plans for an easy finish. I backed off and the tall guy sped off at an even faster clip. I reminded him as he huffed and puffed along that there was still a mile to go sort of suggesting that he might not want to kick that early.

I recycled him a half mile later. While this might be because he kicked too early and had slowed, I had actually picked up my pace significantly having spied a juicy target ahead. A couple of runners that I knew were doing the half were slowing by that point and I decided I had nothing to lose by picking it up in the last half mile. I passed them with 200m to go and finished strong.

I guess the lesson I learned today is that it's really not practical for a competitive runner to try to run a race that slow. I now understand my coach's trepidation a lot better because I think she knows this. She never came out and said she didn't trust me to go slow, but she apparently had good reason to question my ability to follow the plan.

While I didn't get the cheese today, I don't think I did any damage either. My coach is presently writing a new training plan for me, and it will start right off with a couple of weeks of rest. She tells me she is increasing both my volume and intensity this round, so it will be very challenging which excites me to no end.

I'm stating this for the world to read (mostly to keep myself honest): I will not enter the Buzz Oates Race Series should it continue next year. While I love the fact that Fleet Feet Sports sponsors this race series and that it favors the older runners, like myself, I spent way too much energy fitting those races into my schedule and running races (like Clarksburg) that had the potential to detract from my overall goals. I will probably still run many of these races, when they fit into my schedule, but I refuse to be a slave to the series. I liken this to having Halloween candy in the house--if it's there, I will eat it all. I recognize and accept that I have little self control when it comes to candy and racing so I am simply removing that temptation.


  1. Wow, I love reading this blog because I can't believe you are: over 40 (like me, I'm 42) and SO EFFIN' FAST, *and* that I get to read your blog and read about your training. Amazing! And the story of you and the tall guy was hilarious!

  2. Yeah, Monica! Glad you found the blog. Thanks for reading!

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