Former 2:24 marathoner, now in my late 40s and hoping to maximally flatten the curve of my slide into senescence and mediocrity • Magazine writer, book editor and author, and commentator on the sport of distance running since 1999 • Adviser and confidant of other perambulators • Paradoxical hater of exercise fanatics • Chihuahua whisperer Sentence-fragment impresario

Monday, August 13, 2018

Not enough heart...

I went a dozen miles north to Longmont on Saturday to run a 2M race, the stepchild event of the Sunrise Stampede 10K. I did this primarily to get a read on my honest capabilities over 5,000 meters at sea level. The 5K was never close to my favorite distance back when it was legitimate for races to issue me official entries, but it's a convenient and revealing fitness test.

I decided that if I can't break 17:00 by the end of this year or record a defensibly comparable time at a different distance, I'm not going to race anymore. The sense of futility in lumbering along in ungainly fashion at dismal paces, and having this be red-lining, is mortifying, and it will only get worse if I keep staining events with my ridiculous presence.

After the 2M with the DQ guy. I didn't see him disqualify anyone.

It was probably in the mid-70s when the race started, not hot enough to make serious inroads on performance in an event lasting roughly 10 minutes. The course had the potential to be fairly fast, with about 100 feet of total elevation change. The field consisted mainly of local high-school kids. I wanted to run under 11:00. I did not come close. My Garmin says I averaged 5:34 pace, which looks pretty close to 11:00 for two miles, but my official time was 11:23. I was 10th overall and the first person over 36.

If I can soon run 5:40 pace for 5K at 5,000-plus-feet above sea level, I can be reasonably certain I can run under 17:00 in, say, Massachusetts or New Hampshire this fall. I'll be headed back that way in October with or without specific racing goals, and should take advantage of the favorable running conditions and the panoply of excellent races. 17:00 minutes is absolutely unremarkable for someone who's run over 10 percent faster and is not yet truly ancient, but it's all I can reasonably shoot for.

Some middle-aged people who have been running for most of their lives manage to make competing in the face of a progressive decline in performances fun. I understand the mechanisms, as I've blathered about far too much on this sick excuse for a blog. but I'm never going to be one of those people because I don't like doing things I have no hope of getting better at, no matter how high or low my objective peak efficacy level. I was never going to be much of a runner in the greater scheme, but I obviously stood a chance of improving my own performances for a while, into my mid-30s, and the ability to win small local events was admittedly something of a carrot. For a good many years yet, I can continue to improve in a couple of areas of life that are fairly important to me, like keyboard-playing and writing. Knowing this makes heading out the door for another perambulatory fail-fest less and less enticing as time passes.

Only in recent months did I take up honest, consistent speed training for the first time in this "comeback" that started about 20 months ago from the very ground up (no running in the six months leading in), and I haven't raced much yet. And I believe I have a great coach helping me -- any failures I've had this year are entirely the result of my basic incompetence and incomplete focus; the workouts are great (and constitute the entirety of my social life). Owing these factors, I think I can still make considerable race improvements before the effects of slow decay supervene once more. When I am certain that I have reached my age-adjusted competitive pinnacle, unless I am running times very unlikely for my age, I will then return to fitness jogging. One important thing I've realized since the start of 2018 is that while running clearly helps me keep my life on track -- i.e., sober from alcohol, and I'm approaching two years there -- I don't need the competitive-goals side as extra insurance against foundering. Really, I'm happy to just bop around out there with Rosie for 30 to 60 minutes, and this will be even better when  it's cool and I don't have to wait until near-nightfall to  take her out.

I have intentionally buried the lede here. Having gotten a Garmin just this month, I am learning some some odd things. I'm a little concerned that my average HR was only 137 yesterday and that I maxed out at around 155 from about 2.5K onward. In a 10K track progression run ten days ago, my average HR was 146 and I was at around 155 for the last two miles of that one, running 6:15 pace. That felt like a genuine tempo run. Yesterday did not. I may not have poured much into the last 300 meters on the track, but I felt like I was working decently hard the whole time.

Maybe I've just lowered the bar for what I consider red-line running: Because I'm always tempted to quit a third of the way into any race I do, if I merely complete the act of staggering to the finish line, I feel like I've showed spunk despite being a wobbly zombie participating in ugly age-group shambling. But I need to figure out what my max HR is because it's obviously not the 187 it was in 2004, when I took a real VO2 max test. If it's down to 170, then 155 is actually very hard work, and it's probably time to accept that I am never going to be remotely decent at this again.

The other way around this is to join the pathetic parade of older dudes who develop an ultramarathon habit. If I so much as threaten to run a race longer than 26.2 miles, everyone on Earth hereby has the permission to smash me in the kneecaps with a tire iron or commission such an attack on my person. In fact, I demand it.

1 comment:

  1. Short races hurt like hell. Brutal...especially when you finish in a time that reflects former training pace. I’m not able to compose an adequate reason I run a few ultras a year, but they are what keeps me up and going. I then know for sure the running I do is at race pace. Figuring it out it a minimal way has an appeal. It’s also a group of people I can handle the pace, though I tend to be slow on training runs. No matter, twern’t no grizz left anyway.