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, September 3, 2018

A mostly satisfactory race, and the value of being self-defeating


37:53 for 10K in Fort Collins this morning, the best of the scattering of results I've had since coming back to this game for real in 2017 after spending a decade-plus in general ugliness peppered by occasional false comebacks. Second in the nonexistent 45-49 age group in a race that had around 6,000 entrants. (I won my actual division, M48, by over two minutes, but that's slicing the pie into unnecessarily small chunks.)

I am lurching in the direction of respectability thanks entirely to Kathy Butler's workouts and overall encouragement, and the special blend of people in this training group. My attitude is coming around as well, and only I can ultimately rehab that. But I ran well in spite of leaving lots of room for improvement in pacing and intensity.


Two weeks ago today, I wrote a more-emphatically-dismissive-than-usual post titled "Bored, soft and deluded." Because it was about being bored, soft and deluded, it explores my recent realization that my recondite running goals are laughably beyond my capabilities, now and forevermore. I chose not to publish it, not because I didn't want to risk bombarding my smattering of regular readers with negativity, but because I very strongly wanted to disbelieve the things I had just typed out in complete nondramatic sincerity. Like these:
I suppose it's not a literal crime that I have feigned being a serious runner at various points since the 2005, the last calendar year in which I displayed both dedication and a modicum of efficacy (and even then I was dogshit after about January). In a more equitable world, one of the handful of people who legitimately cares about me would have interceded by now; a loving but firm intonation of "enough is enough" coupled to smashing one of my kneecaps with a sledgehammer would probably suffice to end this experiment forever, although I can easily envision more definitive measures. 
My failure to make significant progress in the past year and a half is entirely my fault, stemming from my own lassitude and the incompetence of the physical vessel under the command of my increasingly weak mind -- the flailing and flabby body I just cannot cajole into anything close to fair condition. 18 months is a long time to get in shape, and I haven't done it.
Okay, some of that is clearly meant in jest, but the overall theme rang true. Yet I decided to sit on this material and continue behaving as if were every bit as deluded as I claimed I was elsewhere in the post. I did some solid, if not fast, workouts. I did my first 15-miler in years last Sunday. And a week ago, I decided to jump in the FORTitude 10K about an hour north in Fort Collins, a larger and, in some ways, arguably more pleasant Colorado town than Boulder.

This short but meaningful display of persistence paid off to a large extent today, because even though I went out a little hard and left a lot on the course in the final couple of miles even accounting for my ambitious start, I achieved a goal that was more important than I realized until I'd actually done it: I dipped under 38:00 at altitude.

Materials and Methods

I got to the race with Lize in plenty of time, yet still managed to get to the start only three minutes before the gun at 8:00. I'd had a good warm-up, though, and there was never any real danger I'd miss the start. I wore New Balance flats of some sort that I picked up recently at Runner's Roost in Boulder. The weather was great.

I went in thinking I was capable of 6:00 pace, and because the first two miles include a modest elevation gain (maybe 40 feet), I thought I should aim for 12:10 at the two-mile split. Perhaps I did, but my first mile was 5:53, and despite efforts to rein it in a little, my second mile was 5:54. But I felt about how I should feel two miles into a 10K, so I started to think I was running exactly the pace I was ready for.

That illusion fell by the wayside shortly before 5K. I felt like I was in a little over my head. Oddly, I felt more "marathon-tired" than "10K-tired," which may make sense if you run, though it's still a mess of an observation. Anyway, I backed off, and some of the negative inner critics started warming up their microphones again. This time, I didn't give them any real say and pulled the plug on their sound system. This paragraph contains an extremely high burden of bad and trite metaphors.

I didn't push myself as hard as I should have in the second half of the race, and my Garmin HR data establishes this (see below). Despite the aid of a gentle decline from 3 to about 4.25 miles, I slowed down, and my continued slowing in the fifth and sixth slightly uphill miles was commensurate with his sustained, submaximal effort. But when I got to six miles in 37:41, somewhat surprised I could still break 38:00, I found another gear and ran the last 344 meters at 5:35 pace.

Analysis and Discussion

You can see my splits here. Surprisingly, not that many people passed me in the last couple of miles. Or if it was a pretty high number, I didn't sweat it, for better or for worse.

The unusual thing about this race is that, even though I backed off, this wasn't accompanied by some of the mental static I've experienced in other recent races. For example, no non-running-related lifecrap seeped into my thinking. I didn't start obsessing over the need to replace my laptop (the power inlet broke last night) or other mundane realities that so often pervade my thinking when I'm running hard. I sort of eased off, but it was a competitive, not an existential, problem. My HR rose gradualy from about 145 less than a half-mile in to 150 at halfway, but then actually dropped to about 120-125 through the five-mile mark, when it started climbing again, ultimately topping out at 150 again. I don't think 150 is high enough for a 10K race, but I know for sure that the trend described spells a lot of what I'l call reticence. There is more in the gels and lungs if the mind wants to access it.

By "the value of being self-defeating" in the title, I'm referring to the power of refuting my own thoughts from a few weeks ago, and recognizing that these come and go, just like any other ebb and flow of running. I have finally started countering my own bullshit, and it's beginning to pay off.

Per the NCAA, my time converts to 36:39 at sea level. This means I'm capable of running under 36:00, and may well get into sub-35:00 shape before the year is out. If nothing else, I'm enjoying a positive trend between, if not necessarily within, races. Three weeks ago, I ran a two-mile race in 11:23, not that much faster than my 11:47 split today. And my 5K split (18:30) was only five seconds slower than my time in a 5K on July 28 (some of which covered the same roadway as today's event) on a course that was likely a little short.

Also, I am not big into age-grading, other than always checking to see what my age-graded time is.
But according to this, I ran the equivalent of a 33:09 sea-level 10K for an under-35 male.

There is much to be pleased with here.

Lize (left out of the results as of this report) had a remarkable, if a little scary, day herself, with a far more heroic result, but I'll let her supply the details on her blog if she chooses.

"A" Wave results


I have more races planned and I am looking forward to them.

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