Sunday, October 18, 2020
Thursday, October 8, 2020
The COVID era marches on with races canceled everywhere. Frankly, even if they were not, I am not comfortable enough being around large groups of people anyway, so I would probably steer clear.
The marathon into which I have entered has become a virtual marathon this year. Participants can run it anywhere in the world and send the proof of their 26.2 miles from their Garmin or similar devices. But that seems weird to me. If I planned to run a marathon in a certain place on a certain date, well, I am going to do so.
Thus, my 24th marathon will be of the virtual sort, but I am going to run the actual course (thank you, certifiedroadraces.com!) on the day. I set out to run *this* marathon, so I am going to run *this* marathon.
Saturday, October 3, 2020
The pandemic has not, and will not deter me from my usual training cycles, and if that means all of my races are going to be my myself, then so be it. It was never supposed to be about competing against other people or winning age group medals anyway. Admittedly, it had been getting like that in recent years, with my ego running away with itself sometimes. But in the end, it has always about me and the clock - setting personal records and training to perform at my best on race day.
Now, with my days of PRs behind me and speedwork becoming more difficult as I navigate the back half of my 40s, racing for the hell of it has never been more important. I cannot say I get much joy out of short races anymore, but the challenge of marathons is as alluring as ever.
So I continue with my marathon training schedule, and doing so (using Hal Higdon's Intermediate Marathon training program this time) requires running a half-marathon halfway through the 18-week program.
Rather than try to find another new course, I decided to take another stab at the Baker's Dozen in Montclair, NJ. I had specifically trained for that race a couple of months earlier and had a tough time with it - partially because it was a warm day, but mostly because I have been burning out in the speed department as I get older.
This time, I would have more fun with it. It was, after all, just a stepping stone in my marathon training program rather than the endgame of weeks of training. Plus, I knew the course a lot better, so that helped me gauge when to push and when to conserve.
My first two miles, along Forest, Claremont, and North and South Mountain avenues, were almost exactly the same as six weeks before, with a 7:11 and a 6:50 (as compared to 7:10 and 6:49). I strategically took the loop around Eagle Rock Way and Stonebridge Road a little more slowly (7:09, as opposed to 6:49 in June), and thought I was doing the same for the fourth mile up South Mountain Avenue (7:10, though I did a 7:09 last time).
The strategy was to conserve for the steep uphill on Claremont Avenue in the fifth mile. I did that mile also on par with last time (7:53 vs. 7:54), but this time I did not expend as much energy and that made a big difference in the rest of the race. So instead of already feeling fatigued in the sixth and seventh miles on the rolling hills of Highland Avenue, I felt strong as I hit a 7:12 and 7:05 (where I did 7:23 and 7:08 last time). In the next few miles along Upper and North Mountain avenues, I tried to keep status quo (7:17, 7:35, 7:26 and 7:23) averaging one second faster in these miles as I did in June; but once again, I did not feel like I needed to push nearly as hard to get there.
Even on the seven-turn twister of mile 12, I kept it relatively steady with a 7:32 (7:34 last time) but did not have (or feel the need for) quite the closing kick as I did six weeks prior, tackling the last mile at 7:24 (7:14 in June). Still, with a finish time of 1:35:52, I somehow managed to best my previous Baker's Dozen time by 17 seconds, making it my third slowest half-marathon ever, but somehow a little more satisfying now that I have accepted that my speed game is a thing of the past.
This attitude took me through my triumphant double sub-four-hour marathon weekend earlier this year, which now seems like a lifetime ago on a different planet. As long as this weird new world continues to change everything we do and the way we do it, my races will continue to be less formal and more personal; and I am heading into my first marathon of the COVID era with that approach.
Thursday, July 16, 2020
Since I never got around to running the actual race (usually in March), this year's circumstances seemed like a good opportunity to finally give the course a whirl.
Having lived in neighboring Little Falls for eight years, I know a lot of the roads in Montclair, so much of the course was on familiar ground. The race starts and ends at the Montclair Bread Company on Forest Avenue, in the eastern side of town, but this race hits just about every area except the northeast and southeast corners.
(Race map: https://certifiedroadraces.com/certificate/?type=l&id=NJ17550JHP)
I had written out turn-by-turn directions to take with me, which was especially helpful in the early miles. After turning off of Forest Avenue to head west on Claremont, there was already a bit of an incline. I took it in stride, not letting out too much effort, and hit a 7:10 for the first mile after turning left on North Mountain Avenue and crossing Bloomfield Avenue (the main drag through downtown) to continue on South Mountain Avenue. I can imagine that the locals, especially those in cars, are probably not too fond of this crossing on the actual race days.
Training had gotten pretty bad over the past couple of weeks, especially with speed work. Tempo runs got slower and more painful; track intervals were more labored. But as I hoofed it down South Mountain for the second mile (6:49) things started to feel like they were going to be OK. With a loop around the southeastern section of town, along Eagle Rock Way and Stonebridge Road, my third mile stayed strong with a 6:46, but that would be the last sub-7 mile of this race.
Retracing the path back up South Mountain and crossing Bloomfield again, I could feel the slowdown in the fourth mile (7:09), but the worst was to come when I turned left on Claremont Avenue and climbed a 115-foot incline. I had to take the steep hill as gingerly as possible because I knew it would knock me out beyond recovery if I did not. So after turning onto Highland Avenue, mile five ended up being 7:54, my slowest of any half-marathon ever.
The next two miles on the rolling hills going northbound on Highland Avenue (7:23 and 7:08) were followed by a right turn on Mt. Hebron and two miles southbound on Upper Mountain Avenue (7:16 and 7:29) and a left turn on Claremont to zig the zag northbound on North Mountain Avenue for another two miles (7:28 and 7:30).
During these miles, I could not help but think about how, a year and a half ago, these splits would have been slow for a marathon, let alone a half. How had things gotten so slow, so quickly?
Worse, a nagging pain in what I assume was my piriformis muscle (deep in my right buttock) - something with which I had suffered a few years ago - started creeping in. All I could hope to do was maintain the pace as best as I could through the twisty-turny next mile (7:34) along Parkside, Oakcroft, Brookfield, Edgemont, Parkway, Valley and Vera. That was a lot of turns and the paper on which I wrote the street names was rapidly turning to soaked shreds in my hand due to my profuse sweating. It was probably more than 80 degrees by this point.
I managed to push it to 7:14 for one last mile along Midland, Chestnut, N. Fullerton, and the home stretch from Rand to Forest, finishing the race near where it started with a final time of 1:36:09, my slowest half-marathon by more than five minutes (I ran a 1:30:40 at Seaside Heights in 2008).
The year 2020 is long going to be remembered as a dividing line in a lot of ways. In addition to life in a pre-COVID and post-COVID world, for me personally, it is the year I ceased to be a "fast" runner for my age and bumped down to "average". My goal is to learn to live with that, without beating myself up.
Saturday, July 4, 2020
Thursday, May 21, 2020
Continuing into the wind, it was getting increasingly difficult to maintain even that pace, so my third mile was 6:36. Even after turning onto Slingerland Avenue (now in the borough of Lincoln Park) and doing the quick out-and-back on Frances Road, things were not getting any better with a 6:38.
Ouch. It was not that long ago - just a few years - when those splits were slow for a half-marathon, let alone a 10K. I had to push with all my might along West Parkway to try to make some kind of improvement in the last two miles, especially since I was now heading north with the wind at my back. All I could do in miles five and six, though, was maintain status quo with 6:37 and 6:32, respectively.
The last few tenths of a mile for the Apple Chase race are supposed to be on the grounds of Pequannock Township High School on Sunset Road, through the field gate and onto the track for a big finish (I love track finishes!). Unfortunately, the gates were closed, so I had to turn around and finish the last quarter mile on the road, with a finish time of 40:10, which was around what I expected.
I can only imagine what it would have been like if there were hills involved, but that is something to find out another day. On this day, I ran the best race I could, as a 45-year-old in the early stages of post-PR life. At this point, what matters most is that I keep putting in the effort. I will keep training, I will keep racing, and I will keep posting times, official or not.
Saturday, May 9, 2020
There were plenty, however, that were supposed to happen, such as the Boonton SRT 5K in Boonton, NJ, on April 26.
Here is a fun fact: Any race that is certified by USA Track and Field has an official course map archived at certifiedroadraces.com. Race got canceled? No problem! Look up the course map and run it yourself. The start, end and turnaround points are explained and visualized in great detail, so you can be certain of its accuracy, even more so than if you use your GPS watch. And knowing that you can run the exact race for which you trained gives your result that much more authenticity than if you ran 3.1 miles anywhere else.
So I found the course map and ran the race (later in the day, in case anyone else had the same idea).
It was a chilly morning for the end of April, but I wore shorts because I was taking this as seriously as if it was the actual planned event. I was happy to blast off as quickly as possible, if only to warm up. The first mile through the pleasant suburban neighborhood was flat and then downhill, which led me to a 5:56 - my first sub-six mile in more than five months (the first mile of the Purple Stride 5K in November).
That was not going to last and I knew it. Things leveled off alongside some woods and the Boonton Reservoir, but what goes down must come up again, so I had to go uphill in the second mile, resulting in a 6:28. A 36-second slowdown is a huge swing, and I was determined to pick up the pace.
The third mile included two turnarounds, which always tend to kill momentum, and I needed all the momentum I could muster since I was rapidly running out of steam. By the time I was on the home stretch, I was hurting. I pushed as hard as I could, but my aging body has been on a noticeable decline, no matter how hard I train. My legs cannot churn as quickly, my heart cannot pump as strongly, and my lungs cannot process oxygen as efficiently.
Still, I managed to (painfully) pull out a 6:12 for the third mile and hit the finish with a 19:21, exactly one second faster than I did a few weeks prior when I did the Verona Labor Day 5K course as my own personal race.
So this is it. This is 2020: Racing by myself, with only two competitors - the clock and the effects of aging. Awards and medals aside, that is what it has always been about anyway. I guess not much has changed after all. See you later in the month for my next 10K, then.