Sunday, August 29, 2010

2 seconds

Wow.  I had to change up my photos after seeing this one from Randy Wehner.  Thanks for the great photo Randy! 
I ran the Race for the Arts 5k yesterday and legitimately bested my previous PR of 17:55--by 2 seconds.

The race was part of a long workout that started with the 5k race, a short  cool down, 3 miles at goal marathon pace and a bunch more easy miles.  My total mileage would work out to 22 miles.  This is a big workout that had me just a little afraid.  My coach, before she left for Europe to compete in the World Mountain Running Championships, told me not to be afraid to ditch the long workout if my sore right piriformis wasn't feeling better.  This week was a recovery week, and my butt got somewhat better as I came down in mileage. However, I could still feel the tightness when I woke up Saturday morning.  The last thing I wanted to do was aggravate it even more, but I've also had some luck running a hard race with tightness like this and had the pain completely disappear soon after the race.  

It's tough going into a race knowing that I have a workout afterward.  There's a sort of tug-of-war that goes on between a devil that wants me to push harder and a nymph that reminds me that I need somewhat fresh legs to be able to complete my workout without suffering miserably.  I thought about this tension when I set my goals for the race.  Setting a PR was not one of my goals.

It was in this same race last summer that I ran my faux PR of 17:33.  I raised a ruckus because the course was clearly short even though it had been measured by a trained course measurer and certified by USATF.  I looked at the course map on the race website and it was the same certified course as last year, so I had every reason to believe it would be short again.  I decided the best thing to do would be to compare my Garmin-calculated paces (not actual splits) for each mile with last year's race and hope to be a little faster or at least no slower.

So, I had my paces from last year in my head as I crouched behind the starting mat, ready to take off.  I took off with a bunch of boys and felt like we were running super slow.  When I checked my Garmin, we were right around 5:20 pace, so I knew it was just the adrenaline talking and slowed down.  About 1/2 mile into the race, a fellow Air Force officer asked if I wanted to draft off of him.  He seemed to be out for an easy run, and I shook my head vigorously yes.  I paced off of him through mile 2 when he started speeding up.  I was clearly having trouble hanging on to what was a pedestrian pace for him.  He turned and looked at me before he sped off saying, "You don't want to run alone, do you?"  I didn't, but I couldn't hold his pace any longer.

Within a few seconds, I heard a heavy breather on my left and looked over to see my competition, a much younger runner who sounded like she was going to keel over at any minute.  Nonetheless, she shot by me decisively, and the lead bike went along with her.  I remember looking at her pass and thinking, "hmmm…I should probably go with her.  There she goes.  Maybe I should go with her.  Hmmm."  She quickly put 5-7 seconds on me and held that lead.  I'm not sure if I just was born without that competitive gene or if my lack of competitive fire comes from not having raced or competed before I was an adult, but this is a really typical response for me when faced with competition (*I divulge to all of my competitors*).  When someone passes me like that, my first instinct is to cheer them on, "Good for you!"  Rarely does it ever inspire me to kick it up a notch.

Or maybe, at some subconscious level, my brain was remembering all of the shenanigans I needed to put my body through after the race and decided it wasn't worth matching this youngster for a few seconds off of my race time.  Whatever the reason, I let her go and paced off of a couple of guys for the last 3/4 mile.  As I rounded the corner for the finish, I wondered whether I would be surprised at my time on the clock like I was last year when I saw 17:30, 17:31….  This year I saw 17:50, 17:51…and crossed at 17:53 (chip time).  I looked at my Garmin and she read 3.12 miles.  Perfect.  I talked to the race director later and asked whether she had changed the course.  She said they remeasured and re-certified it.  So, kudos to Fleet Feet Event Management for taking the feedback from last year to heart and taking the time to make an accurate course for the runners that care about such things.

How did my paces compare?

Last year                       This year
Mile 1:  5:37                 5:38       
Mile 2:  5:46                 5:40
Mile 3+:  5:58               5:50

Based on those paces, I was 10-15 seconds faster this year than last year.  I can't complain about that.

My path from William Land Park to bike trail mile marker 2 and back (17 miles RT)
As soon as I finished the race, I grabbed a half of a banana and a chocolate chip cookie and headed out for another 17 miles.  There's a great bike path you can jump on about 1/2 mile from the park where the race was held.  It runs along the Sacramento River, into Old Town Sacramento, Discovery Park and on and on for 30+ miles through Sacramento and Folsom along the American River.  Had I planned it out, I could have just run home from there, all on bike trails.

I cooled down for about 1.5 miles and then started my goal marathon pace (GMP) work.  I ran at 6:10 pace and that felt fairly easy, probably because I had just raced for the same distance 20-25 seconds per mile faster.  Nonetheless, I was happy to have GMP feel doable once again.  My hip started to bug me around mile 12, but I kept at it determined to get in the full day's mileage.  The last few miles, I just thought about sipping a hot cafe au lait while sitting in the American River icing my legs.  Once I finished, I picked up my coffee at Peet's and retired to the river enjoying the cool water on my tired legs.  I found a secondary activity to enjoy while sitting there: aquatic invertebrate surveys!  I only know a few of the critters, but it was fun to try to find water boatmen, caddis flies, mayflies, water mites and other little creatures lurking about.  

For whatever reason, my legs feel better than ever today--much looser for having done all of that work yesterday.  As I said at the beginning of this post, this is not the first time this has happened to me.  In fact, I'd have to say it's more the rule than the exception.  When I'm feeling niggles or even outright pain somewhere in my legs or feet, sometimes the solution seems to be giving them a good fast, hard run in racing flats.  I don't know what it does, but it works for me sometimes.  It worked for me yesterday and I feel ready to finish off this marathon cycle with six more solid weeks of training.        


  1. sounds like a very productive morning for you! i know what you mean about your legs actually feeling better sometimes after a hard effort. i find that after i do a very hard 20 miler, my legs actually feel incredibly peppy afterwards, when i'm expecting them to feel like heavy cement logs.
    as for the competitive fire thing... i do think it is inherent to a large degree. some people just care more about winning then others. some people are simply motivated by time. and it's fine no matter which side of the line you stand on. anyway, sounds like you are getting fit. chicago, here you come!

  2. Thanks tmeat. I guess I meant something a little different about a hard run helping my legs. I also generally feel good the day after a long run when I would expect my legs to feel like jell-o. What I'm referring to here though is racing hard when I feel like I'm worried about something being on the verge of injury. Normally, you would think that it would be foolish to race hard when you have a pain that could easily become an injury, but for some mysterious reason, my problems seem to improve after a hard race. I wish I could explain it.

    As for competitive fire, I do think much of it is learned. It's all in the brain, and you can train your brain to do a lot. This interview with Alberto Salazar:

    covers this subject very well (starting around 5:00 into the interview) and is testament to the power of psychological training. Pretty amazing what it has done for elites like Kara Goucher and Galen Rupp. If I want to get that competitive something something, I think I can. But, like all other aspects of training, it takes work and practice.

  3. Looks like you were much stronger this year in the crunch part of the race ~ 1/2 to 3/4 through! Nice!

  4. Congrats on the PR! What a lot of running you managed, and after a 5K? Wowza.

    I'm going to that Salazar link right now. I also lack that deep competitive gene, it never was a consideration till now. I mean, I've had a moment or two, "Gotta beat that woman to the checkout counter, dammit!" but that's about the extent.

  5. Jayme - Congratulations! To P.R. your 5K, and yet still have enough gas-in-the-tank to then run 17 at GMP shows your incredible level of conditioning.

    While I realize it's weather dependent, have you developed a tentative fueling/drinking plan for Chicago?

  6. i do know what you mean... about a race unexpectedly knocking out a little ache or pain or sore spot. sometimes that happens with mileage, too. you think that by increasing the workload it will make things worse, but sometimes everything ends up feeling better! maybe that's a sign that you're a true distance runner.
    as for the competitive issue... the reason i think a lot of it is inherent is because i remember as a little girl competing in gymnastics, there were simply some kids who really wanted to win. my mom always called it "the will to win". and i see it on the soccer field when my 4 year old son plays a game... and there's a tiny little guy out there who just wants that ball so badly so he can make a goal. and in kids basketball games. these little kids haven't been taught a thing about winning or the competitive edge... it's something that is second nature to them and all they know is that they want it bad.
    as for myself, i always enjoyed the thrill of victory... but there was also a subtle lack of confidence in myself that i could come through with flying colors when i needed to most. and i think many people struggle with that to a small or large degree. this may play another role in why some people hesitate when they should attack. at the same time, i am sure that a lot of this stuff can be learned as time goes on. but i think it's very clear that some people are born with that competitive fire and have this unexplained need to win.

  7. Thanks, V. I felt a lot better than I remember feeling last year too. Of course, last year it was on a Friday night and hot.

    Thanks, Flo. I hope you find the interview interesting. I thought it was especially revealing when Salazar admits that, despite his confident exterior, he had serious doubts and lacked confidence in even his best performances. even thought about dropping out. Imagine that.

    Mark U. Thanks for the kudos. If I can just hold the body together for a few more weeks, I think I'll have a good race.

    My fueling/hydration plan is the same for every marathon. I use 5 gus, taking the first one at mile 1 or 2, depending on where the water stop is. I'll then take one 5-6 miles apart for the rest of the race with the last one taken at around mile 21 or 22. I typically take water at every stop. This plan has worked flawlessly for me for the last 4 marathons, and others have used it successfully too. The key is taking that first one early. When the course set up doesn't allow for this exact interval, I've adjusted to take the first gu right before the start with the last one at mile 20.

    tmeat--So, as devil's advocate, I wonder how much of the early competitive fire is fueled by a competitive Mom or Dad or brother or sister or a reward for behaving competitively. At such a young age, it seems like pleasing mom and dad or a coach or sibling would be sufficient motivation for a kid to act the way you describe. They probably get rewarded in some way for that behavior and so they continue to do it. And, if a kid has an older sibling or neighbor or friend that is good at something, they may be competitive to be more like them because they see them getting praised. Certainly, some kids are simply more aggressive than others and therefore more apt to exhibit that competitive fever out on the ball field, but you find it with young chess players and spellers too. I'm just saying that there are a lot of explanations other than being born with a competitive gene for that "will to win". I guess I've kind of talked myself out of the notion that there's a genetic predisposition for competitiveness, haven't I?

  8. it's the age old argument... is it nature or nurture. i guess i think there's a lot of both at play. the better question: what came first, the chicken or the egg?!!

  9. ok, after i walked away i thought of something else. here's the thing: we are all individuals with our own unique personalities, yes? so why is it hard to fathom that some people are born with an inherent desire to win? i liken it to ambition. some people are simply more ambitious then others. i mean, look at yourself. you are clearly an ambitious person... and one can conclude this based on all that you have accomplished in your life... the fact that you strive to be good at the things that you do (your job, singing, running, etc.)... and the goals that you set for yourself. however, some people might think you are crazy for doing some of the things you do... because they lack that same ambition. some people are content to be couch potatoes or work at mcdonalds... others NEED more out of life and themselves. i really think the same can be said of wanting to win. and while it is true that there are cases of kids being groomed to be winners by their parents... it's not that simple. i could see that fire in my own son from the moment he could crawl. he just has that intensity and edge. my other son, not so much. the essence of who a person is, you can see from the time they are babies. and i think in many cases, that competitive edge is simply something they were born with. just like ambition or a certain temperament. can you help a person to be more ambitious or competitive? of course... all i'm saying is it comes much easier to some then to others. agree?

  10. Tmeat, you make good points: the best one being that this is an age-old problem with no knowable solution. As you point out, I am ambitious. I am also very competitive, but mostly with myself, which explains the overachiever thing. I'm just not as competitive in running against other people yet because I haven't developed that side of my running. I don't really value it. So, in my case at least, it's not a lack of genetic predisposition. I have the fire. If I eventually find value in competing in races with people rather than the clock, then I'll need to develop mentally as a runner so that my response is not to cheer on the other runner as they pass but to try to run them down.

  11. you might find value in beating someone when it comes down to you winning $1,000 and the other person winning nothing! ;) though i will admit that many times, we are in a race against the clock more then our competitors... especially when we are trying to qualify. hell, when i've run my marathons, to be honest i could care less if i was first place or 60th, as long as i got a good time. on the flip side there was "bay to breakers" where first place got $1200 and there was no prize for anyone else. in that situation, i really did care about getting first! anyway, interesting topic of discussion with no easy answers! regardless, i go back to my initial comment which was... you're ready to go in chicago!

  12. That's a great photo - and nice that the time on the clock is 'correct'. Perhaps a slight over-stride there at the end with the straight front leg?

    The issue of competitiveness is a good one. I think there's a 'competitive gene', which is susceptible to nurture. I have a very competitive nature and enjoy racing rather than running for PBs. This is fortuitous as my days of PBs are long gone ;)

    Being one of four children nurtured my competitiveness (and that of my siblings), as we were always doing backyard sport, racing our pushbikes, billy carts, that sort of thing. If one of us lost a game, the loser argued for 'best of 3'! We hated losing.

    It's probably more common for marathoners to be competitive with themselves. They want to run a PB and race a certain pace schedule to achieve this. Ryan Hall strikes me as this type of runner. I'd love to see him in with a pack of 5 runners with 5k to go in Chicago to see how he competes in a race situation.

    Shorter distance racers tend to be more motivated by the actual racing. Even 5k track runners will be racing in the particular group they're with (if not in the lead group) in a race. Herb Elliott had the ultimate competitive gene as he never lost a race at 1500 or the mile in his career. He hated to lose, and built up a reputation based on never having lost a 1500/mile race.

  13. funny... seems like when i read ewan's posts, so often i say "exactly!". he rightfully brought up the fact that the distance you are racing can really determine how competitive you feel. i mean, obviously the kara gouchers out there "race" marathons... but the rest of us are probably just trying to hold onto dear life and hit our time goals! but as i mentioned in the past about the masters track & field nationals... that 1500 race we did was a unique experience in that i had NO idea what time i was running until i crossed the finish line. that race was all about placing (at least for me)... and i think track tends to be that way. very different from the marathon where we're watching every split and pace so carefully.
    funny also that ewan mentioned herb elliott. he just happens to be my husband leonard's favorite runner of all time, primarily because of his competitive spirit and his no-lose winning streak. apparently elliott couldn't bear the thought of losing. i personally wouldn't want to feel that way (since i've lost plenty of races), but i imagine that driving need to win only helped him succeed.

  14. Tmeat, that's cool about your husband's favourite all-time runner. The 1500 in Rome where he ran away from the field to win in a WR is an amazing race. As I recall, there was one mile race where he recorded the same time as 2nd place (hand times back then of course) but he was judged the winner. He did loose 800m races, but never a 1500/mile. I can claim a 'win' over Elliott in the 14k City to Surf one year. He ran about 58 minutes at about the age of 60, but of course he was running for fun.

  15. Ewen--Yes, I got caught overstriding at the end which is hilarious given that Kurt (the guy next to me) looks so relaxed.

    I think kismet brought you and tmeat together via my blog;) I think you're right on about marathoners being competitive but more with themselves rather than with other runners.

    I think all of this discussion points to something that is maybe obvious: having a string desire to win is not the only form that a competitive nature can take. I admire those that have that drive to win, when they're winning and healthy. I've also watched those people drive themselves into the ground in races and training, trying to race anyone that would put up a fight. That extreme competitive will can also lead to a lot of unhappiness and disappointment.

    tmeat--I agree completely that $$$ is a strong motivator. When there's a difference between winning $1000 or $0, I'm certainly going to pick my butt up and run someone down. In fact, there's a $1000 bonus for running sub 2:46 in Chicago. As if I needed more motivation!

    Thanks, Quinto sol!

  16. ah yes, good old serendipidy! i don't know who ewan is, but he seems to always "understand" me! :) and to add to add to the "kismet"... ewan, it's funny you bring up that herb elliott track meet where he finishes with that crazy kick. leonard just showed that to me on the computer last week! i had never seen it before. actually, leonard recently tracked down elliott in australia... he asked him to autograph an old running magazine and elliott agreed! it cost about $60 to send the damned thing to australia, but apparently it's worth it to him!

  17. Overstriding? Pfft. Whatever's working. Congratulations on the PR!

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  19. Tmeat, not sure that I understand you, but I'm beginning to understand running. In this clip of Elliott's race he said after two laps he "felt absolutely... tired." Some understatement!

    Julie, I think it's a momentary lapse in form as she approaches the finish -- just stretching out those last few strides.

    [forgot the link, so a repost]