Saturday, March 19, 2016

Update on My Fitness and Races from August 2015 through February 28 2016- Back to Silver and Bronze

March 18 2015. Here is an update on my general fitness and a few races. Warning, this is a bit long.

First a brief synopsis of August 2014 to August 2015. I injured my hamstring in August of 2014 and spent all of the rest of that year and most of 2015 rehabbing it, trying to push too soon, and re-injuring or aggravating the injury. By last summer I was finally making steady progress, with much hard work and much thanks to Brad Austin of ATI Physical Therapy, but from a much depleted fitness level. I ran a few local races to gauge fitness and to hang out with some local racing buddies. In early August I ran in the Personal Best 5.0 Mile Run in Indy and hit 40:58 or 8:11 per mile. Not bad for a gimpy 69 year old but a year earlier I had run 32:24 or 6:28 per mile.So plenty of recovery still to come!

In late August I drove up to Flint Michigan to run in the USATF 1 Mile Run Championships for pretty much the same reasons. To my chagrin I was not even able to break 7:00 for 1 Mile. I have to add that to my list of redemption races. Oddly enough, that performance did, nonetheless, earn me my first USTAF Individual Grand Prix points since February. Those 80 points would later prove to be critical in getting on the 2015 Individual Grand Prix M70 podium. [posted photos from the event but did not sell them. You can direct your browser to the following link to see a pic of me finishing a very painful event, and it shows in my expression. [Luckily things got better soon after and I no longer felt broken! :)]

More local races and then in early October off to Syracuse for Dave Oja’s 5K extravaganza, the Syracuse Festival of Races. That is probably the most popular stop on the USATF Masters Grand Prix race circuit, due to the job that Dave and his crew do and how welcome and valued they make the Masters Runners feel. That means runners show up and the depth of the races is never in doubt. Despite the continued progress; I could now run the 5K in 21:45, close to the 7 minute per mile pace I could muster for the single mile in Flint. Nonetheless I could not break the top 10 in the M65 group, finishing 11th. There is terrific depth in that division, not to mention the talent at the top.

Again, here is a photo from Bob Brock's terrific collection of 2016 FoR race shots on his flickr website--I was much more relaxed, and therefore faster, this time approaching the finish line.

Between that and my next National Championship race in Tulsa Oklahoma, I celebrated my 70th birthday. Every Masters Runner knows that every 5th birthday brings you into a new 5-year age group where you are now the youngest runner with, in most cases, the freshest legs. As a result, even though I was still working back into shape, I was able to be the M70 ‘Silversmith’ at the end of the season, finishing second to Przemek Nowicki’s Gold in both the 15K at Tulsa and the 12K at Alexandria. The hilly course at Tulsa is very tough now although in 2017 it will probably return to its old flat and fast race course when their river redevelopment project is expected to be complete. My slow time there is more an indicator of the toughness of the course than my fitness. 

It was a terrific battle with Nowicki with 3 lead changes during the race and an all-out sprint to the finish which Nowicki won by 4 seconds! Nowicki tends to stick to the shorter distances so that victory on a tough 15K course was a real testament to his grittiness and will to win. 

I was not able to find any good photos of my race in Tulsa but here are 3 photos that capture some of the atmosphere of a Halloween day race, plus me warming up with others before the race, and then the start of the Masters Championship race.

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These three photos above are courtesy of Float Media Productions:
At the 12K championship in Alexandria VA a couple of weeks later, a flatter, faster and shorter course, Nowicki won more easily, passing me about 2 miles into the race and never looking back. It is good he didn’t because I was gaining on him [ :) ] but not fast enough as he won by 8 seconds. My time at that race was 52:49, an average of 7:05 per mile, a nice improvement from the end of August to end of October. And that was my last race in 2015; I learned after the final race of the year that I had, in fact been able to finish 3rd in the M70 Grand Prix, a nice present at the end of a gimpy year.

Over the winter I kept up my fitness by running 30 or more miles almost every week but did not get back up to the 40-50 miles per week I had done a couple of years earlier. That is because I was alternating easy and hard days and continuing to take one day per week off entirely. I was still worried about re-aggravating the hamstring injury. I should mention that I also kept up my stretching. I stretch before the run, after the run and sometimes in the evening too.

I had originally intended to run a Half Marathon in Florida in the early part of the year. But Naples came up too soon and Gasparilla was too close to the USATF 8K Championship in Brea that I wanted to run. I settled instead on a half marathon in Tallahassee Florida to be run on February 7th. But, as I got closer to the decision, I realized that I had not logged enough miles to run a really good half marathon so why go all that way? Tallahassee might be a great race but it lacks the name recognition of Gasparilla. So I started to ask myself, “Why not go to Bend Oregon for the USATF Cross Country Championships?” 

The last Cross Country race I had run was the 5 km National Championship in Carmel Indiana. It had been successful in that, although rehabbing the hamstring injury I was able to run at about 90% efficiency and that was enough to help my team to victory in the M60 class. BUT I re-tore the hamstring with about 150 meters to go, trying to keep myself from falling, perhaps from a caught spike. I had heard the course in Bend was tough but I thought it was maybe time to ‘get back on the horse that threw me.’ So, on January 27th I registered for the USATF XC Championship race in Bend Oregon for February 6th.

Unfortunately I had failed to factor altitude enough into my calculations. I figured a golf course called River Bend would be on the banks of the DesChutes River and so only about 3500 feet above sea level. Turns out the course overlooks the river from the slope of a cinder cone at, I was told, about 4200 feet above sea level. Plus each of 4 loops has a couple of hundred feet of elevation change in each loop as runners run up, across, down and then back up, across and further up the side of the cinder cone. When I finally viewed the course I allowed negative thoughts to creep in and I started to worry more about re-injuring myself than I should have. I had originally planned on wearing spikes and had only brought spikes and trainers. When a couple of other runners said they had decided to wear racing flats instead of spikes that was all it took to convince me to run in my trainers despite them being a bit heavier than flats. I was worried about tripping and falling or nearly falling as I had 15 months earlier.

By the time the race started I had all of the excuses I needed to run a timid race and that is exactly what I did. I also failed to identify my main competitors although I had heard that Gary Patton, the excellent miler and 5K to 10K runner was in the field. To make a long story short, I gave away over a minute in the first of four 2K loops and continued to give away a half minute per loop after that.  And until I spotted a local M70 runner, Paul Caisse, up slope from me on the last loop, had not realized there was anyone between Patton and me. I took 36 seconds out of Caisse’s 48 second lead on the last loop but it was not enough as he took 2nd by 12 seconds. I had committed most of the sins runners hope to avoid—running without confidence, underestimating the opposition, not learning enough about the course in advance, being complacent during the race, running to stay safe rather than just racing, and probably several others. On the other hand although I was no longer the Silversmith, I did at least get a bronze medal--and 90 points in the 2016 Grand Prix race.

Four weekends later it was time to head west again for the USATF 8K Championships at Brea California. I was determined to run better this time and I did. I knew I would have to run better if I was to finish higher than third in this national championship. Gary Patton was entered and I had just lost to him by 2 and a half minutes. In addition, Len Goldman, who won the M70 race at the National Club Cross Country Championships in December, was entered. Ordinarily I would be very worried about Jan Frisby too. But he made no bones about being out of shape and overweight. He was just being a good soldier for his team. And, of course, there might be others I was not aware of.

As there were no splits provided, my race coverage is impressionistic. At the starting area I had identified Len Goldman but had not seen Gary Patton. I decided to try to keep Goldman and his white cap in sight for the first part of the race and then see what developed. That was easy enough for the first 500 meters or so but once we turned the corner, went down a steep, short hill and up another, I found he had put 40 meters or so between us. And that was the story of my race with Goldman; he was a train pulling away from me. At a mile he had over 50 meters and he steadily pulled away from there. On the other hand, I had not seen Patton ahead of me and knew I was running much faster than I had at Brea. Perhaps, even if Goldman did not tire, I would at least have a real shot at 2nd. There is a pretty steep, long hill a little over halfway into the course. I thought perhaps I would start to gain on Goldman but no luck and even after it leveled out and then turned downhill, I had no better luck. But still no sight of Patton. 

With a little over a mile to go I felt someone on my shoulder and wondered if it was Patton. As it turned out it was Jerry Learned, an M65 runner I have battled a number of times. Our most recent meeting was my disastrous outing at Bend where he and I essentially ran separate races, with him finishing a couple of minutes ahead of me. The last meeting before that was the National 12 K Championship the previous November in Alexandria Virginia. In that race I caught Learned with a little over a mile to go and he fought me off and came in just a few seconds ahead of me. I was determined to pay him in kind if possible and as it turned out, I was able to pull away from him after a quarter mile or so. 

As I turned into the Brea Mall where the finish line would loom, I suddenly became aware of a runner pulling up onto my shoulder. I said to myself, “Let that not be Gary!” But, of course, it was. As we made the turn and could see the finish line a few hundred meters ahead of us, I accelerated to see if there was any chance that he had no kick left. No such luck. The miler in him had sized up the situation; he found his higher gear and pulled away from me to beat me by a few yards. The official (chip) time difference was 6 seconds. It felt closer than that at the finish line but Gary may have started a second or 2 behind me. So third place again in a national championship. But I was much, much happier with my effort and my performance. And by the end, I was only 29 seconds behind Goldman so we must have taken a little out of his lead over the last half mile or so. My 34:10 was 2 seconds slower than last year but many runners mentioned that they had run anywhere from a half to a full minute faster in 2015. It was a great day for racing except for a blanket of fog at the start. That humidity must have been what slowed runners down. Still a fine win for Goldman and a dandy sprint by Patton to take 2nd.  And I had my best race in months. So far this winter I am the Bronze King, despite running better than last fall when I was the Silversmith.
My next race was the Gate River Run, not a USATF Masters Championship but an iconic race in its 39th year. It is the setting for the USATF Open 15K Championship. But this report is already long so I will batch that race with other upcoming races in my next report. Next up at the national level is the USATF Masters 10K Championship at the James Joyce Ramble in Dedham Massachusetts on April 24th. But I will try to run at least one other race before then. There is a local 8K as part of the Carmel Marathon Weekend that would be fine. Those three races at least will be covered in my next report on my fitness and racing.


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