Imaginary Running Friends

His laugh, so clear and sudden in my ears, I was sure he must be next to me!

Do you ever run with someone who isn’t there? Not a ghost, just a friend or maybe a running idol or your coach. Most runners find that having someone with you makes the effort easier. During the past months, many of us have run alone, but even during normal times, it can be hard to find someone who shares your schedule and pace. That’s when I resort to imaginary running friends.

It started with Snarky Girl on easy runs. It can be hard to find conversational pace if you have no one to converse with. Since she’s one of my best easy run buddies, I started talking to her even when she wasn’t there to be sure I didn’t go too fast. We’ve had some great talks this way, even if they do tend to be one-sided.

Most commonly, however, my imaginary running friends show up at the track, probably because that’s when I need them most. Coach Mick doesn’t say much. Occasionally he yells “Elbows! Elbows!” or sometimes “You’re a metronome today!” Mostly he runs quietly by my side or just ahead of me when things get tough. Unsurprisingly, High Power Running Mentor #1 talks a lot more when he shows up. He’s full of the advice he’s given me in person: “Eyes up!” “Steady! Hold that pace!” “Relax your shoulders!” and most often “Don’t be afraid of it!” I’ve had some local friends show up in my imagination too. Speedy Girl has given me form cues much more often in my head than in real life. During the last rep, I find myself racing Allegro Fuerte. Even when I might appear to be alone, I rarely lack for company.

Last week, I had a striking visit from Rose’s new friend, Jackson, age 8. Those two share a passion for playing make-belief with stuffed animals, making movies, and coming home with each other’s toys. She’s convinced him of the awesomeness of the TV show MASH and of the character Frank Burns in particular. Jackson visited me last week when I started to struggle during a set of 5 x 800m. The very best thing you can bring to the track is a positive attitude so I reminded myself to run with joy, no matter what. That’s when Jackson showed up. He’s is in third grade and about half my height, but there he was next to me, running, and laughing! Jackson laughs so much and so easily – he’s like a pure spark of elven joy. I finished the 800s with a smile on my face. I wish similar visits for you, dear reader.

 

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Just don’t quit

Just don’t quit. That’s all you have left, your own ability to not quit.

This workout is not going well. I’m trying to run 3 miles easy, 2 at 7:30, 1 easy, 1 at 7:30, 2 easy. The 7:30 is theoretically my tempo pace, but today I am not even breaking 8 minutes a mile. Yes, it’s hot, humid, and hilly but it’s been like that for weeks. I’m running alone, having failed to convince my friends and training partners to take on this nonsense with me today. I’m training for a race that may or may not happen and right now it feels very much like the pandemic is winning.

Just don’t quit. We’ll be back to normal by the summer, by the fall, by Christmas, by never. The finish line keeps moving. What kind of race is this? I want to escape, but that would mean leaving the planet and I don’t have that one figured out yet.

Control the controllables. Excellent advice for running and for life. I can control my effort, my attitude, my response to a world spun out of control. I can run hard, uphill, on a hot, humid morning and not stop trying. I am a lot slower than I would like to be, but I am still moving forward and that is something.

Later in the day, I am snippy with Rose as she melts down on the way to a much-anticipated concert. She is exhausted from a day at summer camp. I am exhausted from too many problems I can’t solve.

Thank goodness, I catch myself: All I can control is my own response. I do not want to ruin this evening. I stop talking and listen to music until my anger dissipates. We arrive at the venue with minutes to spare (minutes!) and we are treated to live music under the summer sky on a beautiful night. We spot some shooting stars and make our wishes. The pandemic has not won after all. Not today at least. Just. Don’t. Quit.

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Dispatch from Middletown May 31 2020

The world is literally burning this week. Sometimes it’s all I can think about and it’s so hard to know what to do. This morning I was getting ready to run when a friend texted me a congratulations note –  it’s my runiversary, the day I started running back in 2009. Apparently I’ve made enough of a fuss about it in the past 11 years that other people remember.

I’m grinning for the camera here at the start, but feeling like an idiot. I chastise myself as I start running. Will you grin for any camera, Sarah? Is that all it takes to bring a smile to your face? You’re a fool and a fake. Today is not a day to smile.

Then I run on the road near my home and see this sign. Has it always been there and I’ve never noticed? Did someone put it up over night? I’ve no idea. I have 8 miles to go and a lot to think about but my feet are a little lighter.

I decide to run past my church. There was a parade in my town last night to honor George Floyd and to protest structural racism. I should have gone, but I was tired and I was a little nervous and I hadn’t seen my family all day. Excuses, and not terribly good ones. Now I had to see the sign I had heard about. I needed to see it for myself. I can’t go in my church, but at least someone came and put up a sign. It’s a beautiful sunny day in this town I’ve come to love. I can run without worrying about anything except that I should have brought some water. I hope one day everyone can do that.

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Quaran-10K Time Trial Report 2020

I was supposed to run the Mystic 10K as my goal race of the spring season on May 17th. But of course all races are currently canceled. As we descended into quarantine, runners had to decide what to do. Many switched to primarily easy miles rather than structured training. Some lost motivation, while others began running more than ever. I didn’t really change much. I like the discipline of a training program and it turns out, I have no problem following one even without a race. After the success of my semi-spontaneous 10 mile time trial in early April (in place of the Middletown 10 Miler), I decided to run a time trial for the Mystic 10K as well, but to make some improvements based on what I had learned.

It was a LOT colder one week earlier!

Because so many runners are turning to time trials and virtual races, there are now many resources offering instructions on how to get the most out of this exercise. One thing I learned from my 10 mile time trial is that I very much liked running on a known, certified course. Rather than drive all the way to Mystic, I decided to run the Iron Horse 10K in Simsbury. I even went and scoped out the course ahead of time, just like I would have for an actual race.

The Middletown 10 Miler time trial also taught me that I wanted a bit more celebration to help simulate a real race and frankly, because I like celebration. During that time trial, I started fantasizing about Mondo’s pizza and Nora’s cupcakes, the traditional finish line offerings. We have done no take-out until a week ago, but I decided that after the Quaran-10K, we would get dinner from the Blackbird Tavern, my favorite post-race destination. I asked my family to make me a medal because I realized I really wanted one. I ordered a surprise “cheese flight” from Spread and stocked up on Haagen Dasz. I put a bottle of prosecco in the fridge to chill. I was absolutely creating a post-race celebration with the goal of pressuring myself to create something worth celebrating.

Certificate for the First And Hopefully Only Iron-Horse-Mystic-10K!

I also told more people what I was up to. Before the Middletown time trial, I only told Coach Mick, the Incredible Mervus, Speedy Girl (who paced me), and the Fabulous Femmes. For me, this is a tiny crowd! This time around, I told all of those folks, plus two additional online groups, the 45s, and Sub-30. The 45s are a small intimate group with an enormous cheering capacity. During the current weirdness, we have created a tradition of a Saturday afternoon Zoom meet-up and I knew I would see them after my run. Sub-30 is a huge group and I just tossed the time trial into the standard morning workouts post. Speedy Girl and the Retiree had both volunteered to pace me, so they knew as well, plus some of the girls in the Manchester Running Company. I was a lot more public this time around, again with the goal of creating more pressure on my performance.

The lead-up to the time trial brought with it the usual weather watching. I generally put Coach Mick in charge of this activity, but somehow I got a little fretful this time around, mostly because I theoretically had the option of changing days to get better weather. As Sunday started to have a better forecast, I wondered about postponing a day. But by then I had lined up pacers and celebrations and mentally, I was fixed on Saturday. Coach Mick reminded me that those things matter and anyway, in a real race, you don’t get the flexibility of picking your day. We decided to stick with Saturday.

Race day dawned clear and a bit warmer than it’s been with an expected temperature in the low 60s at start time. Breakfast was the classic oatmeal and coffee. Two caffeine pills about 45 minutes before start time. I didn’t have any good solution for water worked out beyond sticking my water bottle in my FlipBelt shorts so I did that. I didn’t end up drinking anything, which I would certainly have done in an actual race, especially given the temperature. But I can’t get that bottle in and out of the shorts quickly so I decided to just skip it. On a warmer day or for a longer distance, I would have taken some fluids for sure.

I did my standard warm up of a couple miles, a few minutes of goal pace running, strides and drills. This went much better than the previous time trial when I kind of blew off doing a proper warm up. If you’re going to try to run fast, do everything in your power to treat it like a real race. Control the controllables. A proper warm up is solidly in the realm of controllables.

With all that taken care of, I couldn’t procrastinate any more. It was time to start. It was strange that I was quite nervous, while my pacers were very relaxed. After all, for them, this was a pretty easy run with friends – something that has been off limits for many weeks.[1] Allegro Fuerte had suggested playing the national anthem on my phone before the start. I kind of wish we had done that as a sort of starting line ritual and if I do another time trial, I might. As it was, the Retiree simply said “Go!” and we started.

The Iron Horse course is a kind of double lollipop, where you run over a bridge, around the first loop, down a straightaway, around a second loop, back down the straightaway and over the bridge to the finish. With the Retiree’s help, we were able to locate the official start and finish markers, which are painted on the curb, so we knew we were running the regulation course. The course is pretty, but not particularly interesting. It’s rural Connecticut roads with some houses, some fields, and a couple of garden shops. To the best of my memory, we saw a few runners, a smattering of cyclists, and some cars, but not many. It’s really easy to social distance in rural Connecticut because there are just not many people there to begin with. The Retiree and Speedy Girl ran about ten to twenty feet in front of me and at least six feet apart from each other. We were kind of running in “Kipchoge formation” and I’ll confess that I sometimes imagined a laser line on the group between the two of them. They talked about craft beer for essentially the entire time trial. I am not even kidding. I said literally one word, which I’ll get to in a minute.

I had mentioned to Coach Mick the day before that I thought the time trial would be fun and he corrected me: “It won’t be fun. It’s going to suck pretty hard most of the time and you should be ready for that.” Of course, Mick is correct, as usual, and we were barely crossing the bridge before Howie showed up with his deal. It crossed my mind to tell the Retiree and Speedy Girl that I wasn’t feeling it today after all. Maybe we should just jog back to the cars and head home. I could try again a different day. Or also not, because maybe time trials weren’t for me after all. It took an enormous amount of willpower not to stop and we were only half a mile into the race.

I didn’t stop, thank God. I certainly didn’t need a repeat performance of the last time I ran a 10K with the Retiree. The first mile clicked off in 7:37, exactly as planned. I had hoped to start around 7:35/7:40 and work my way down to 7:30 by the end of the second mile. The second mile came in at 7:33 so we were exactly on target. The third mile of the course is a long straight segment with rolling hills and plenty of shade. It came in at 7:38 (a tiny bit slow, but not bad!). I stopped looking at splits after that. The Retiree checked in with me periodically, but I couldn’t really answer his question of “How are you doing?” How was I doing? I was working hard, a lot harder than I wanted to be this early in the race. Howie was fucking unrelenting with his damn deal. If I thought at all about how much further we had to go it was a totally daunting prospect.

Yet if I focused on how I was feeling, the situation was far less bad. Nothing hurt severely. I was running hard and breathing pretty hard, but not in an out-of-control sort of way. It was not at all comfortable to run that fast, not even a tiny bit, but at the same time, there was nothing really “wrong” so there was no reason to accept Howie’s suggestion to slow down a little. Instead I just kept running, which makes for a rather boring race report. I was fairly aware of turns on the course and street signs. I had got lost the week before and I didn’t want that to happen again, though I knew that the Retiree knew where we were. I still couldn’t help sometimes thinking things like “After this field, there’s a big rock and then we turn left” or “Don’t turn onto Ferry Lane now, but later you’ll come up that way.” A lot of the time though I just ran.

High Power Running Mentor #1 has accused me of thinking too much while running and that has surely been true. My position had been that my big overactive brain wasn’t going to shut up regardless, so I should at least figure out how to get it to work for me. I’ve had a lot of success with that approach, but this training cycle, I’m working to turn my brain off and be more “in-body.” I’ve tried a bunch of different things to accomplish this. Meditation is one great tool for learning to set the mind aside. Speedy Girl talked about a series of form cues that run through her head on a perpetual loop during a race and I suspect that’s similar. Coach Mick recommended a Stryd webinar with a mental training coach and one of his ideas was to focus on relaxing your mouth, especially the back of your throat.

These ideas came together for me in a realization that now seems obvious. This relaxed running “in-body” idea is, I think, not very different from what I do during an uncomfortable yoga pose. It’s the same relaxation technique I learned while taking voice lessons. It’s the approach that got me through two unmedicated childbirths and which I now use during dentist appointments. It’s the ability to move the body into a state of deep relaxation even in the face of potentially severe physical discomfort. It’s not easy to learn, but I have found it more straightforward to transfer from one area of life to another. That is, once I realized childbirth was going to involve the same technique I used in yoga and singing, I was much more confident I would be able to get through it. It simply hadn’t occurred to me prior to this training cycle to try using this technique while running. I was able to be “in-body” somewhat during my last 5K and again during the time trial.

I also thought about Scott Fauble’s mantras that he talks about in Inside A Marathon.[2] Whether he’s thinking that a race is going well or badly, Scott reminds himself “That’s just thinking.” And that’s right. Running fast is hard and Howie appears with his stupid deal, but all of that is just thinking and not terribly relevant. Scott’s other mantra, my favorite, is “Scared Money Can’t Win.” I’ve used that in *many* workouts since reading the book and it was on frequent repeat during the time trial. HPRM#1 and I have talked a lot about managing the fear of racing. Coach Mick reminds me before almost every race to #runfearless. “Scared Money Can’t Win” has been critical in helping me execute that idea.

Most of the race was a mix of me trying to be pretty deep within my body, not talking, sometimes reminding myself “It’s just thinking” or “Scared money can’t win” while occasionally checking street signs, all set to the background soundtrack of endless chatter about craft beer. Early in the fifth mile, I was struggling pretty hard. I blurted out my one word of the time trial: “Help!” The Retiree and Speedy Girl both cracked up! I couldn’t talk at all but I thought to myself, it’s a tiny bit mean that they are laughing, but on the other hand, it’s pretty freaking funny that I said that. I think I also said “Help” to HPRM#1 during the Chicago marathon and decided that it was much better than “I give up” which was certainly the alternative. I wonder if I had checked my split if I would have felt better? Mile 4 was 7:38 so I was still in the ballgame. Mile 5 slowed to 7:50, however. I’m glad I didn’t see that. Mile 5 was just a total and utter grind. I’ve no idea if we had a headwind at that point, but it sure felt like it. I remember effectively nothing from that mile except my deepest longing that it would end.

Right around the start of mile 6, the road splits at a Y-intersection and the course heads to the right. It’s mostly downhill from that point and you can see the bridge. By now I was totally done thinking. I was semi-incoherently counting. Some part of me was completely surprised to discover that I was going to finish this time trial after all, while another part of me was still considering quitting and walking it in. I hadn’t looked at my watch in so long that I had no idea at all how fast I was running or how much time had elapsed – I was just running as hard as I could, trying to hang on to the finish. I think Speedy Girl said something like “Don’t kick too soon” and I just thought, “Kick? What world are you living in, girlfriend? I am going to be damn lucky not to collapse before the finish line!”

Speaking of the finish, the course finishes with a very long (endless?) stretch down Iron Horse Boulevard. The Retiree had put a big stick across the finish line and he ran ahead to pick it up. I could now see the “finish line” but it was so incredibly far away. I ran like hell and FINALLY got there. Hit STOP on my watch and bent over a railing trying to breathe and not to puke. The watch said 47:39.9 – I’m calling it 47:40, a 20 second PR. I am SO damn happy. A PR during a time trial on a warmish day? That’s freaking awesome!

Of course post-time trial celebrations looked a little different. No hugs or high fives. Not even any sneaker taps. It was still amazing. Luckily I had an incredible celebration at home to look forward to. After grabbing take-out coffee at Starbucks, I picked up our cheese flight at Spread. The Incredible Mervus had made me a truly incredible medal and Rose crafted an adorable certificate. I followed up the cheese and crackers with a totwaffle and then Blackbird takeout later that night. I am aching to be back with friends, back in our restaurants, back on our race courses. But for now, a time trial, a new PR, a wonderful family celebration, these things are also splendid.

[1] Connecticut rules currently allow social gatherings of fewer than five people. We maintained social distancing throughout the time trial. But we haven’t been doing even much socially-distanced running so this was a treat.

[2] Everyone should go buy this book. It’s a little under the radar, but it’s marvelous! Each chapter is one week’s worth of training for the NYC marathon, followed by Coach Ben Rosario’s explanation of the purpose of the training, then Scott’s take on how it went. It is a seriously geeky book, but it’s fascinating and very funny because these guys are both smart and excellent writers.

Behold: The Totwaffle

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10 Miles with Friends plus Brunch

Quarantine is a bummer, friends. We are so, so lucky here in our big house with our big yard looking out at our pond. The grown-up Wiliartys have jobs that are pretty secure. The kid Wiliartys have online school that is not terrible. We have Zoom meet-ups with German groups and running groups. We have Zoom church and Facebook live concerts. I go to the grocery store about once a week. Even though I spend a million dollars every trip (who is eating all this food???), we are still ok financially. We are so blessed. And yet, quarantine is a bummer.

We miss our friends. Especially me, as I turn out to be the most social of the Wiliarty gang. We miss travel, again especially me, as the family member with the most Wanderlust. We miss being able to see grandparents in person, drinking coffee in cafes, hugging people we are not living with. I miss my students so very much. I even kind of miss driving around running errands.

I miss running with friends. Oh man, do I miss running with friends. Have I seen the occasional running buddy, able to run six feet away from them, unable to high five at the end? Maybe. Maybe not. I sure miss being able to say “Hey, I ran with so-and-so last week” without having to also say “Of course, we maintained social distance.”

But do you know what gives me hope? We are about to get some things back. We are not going to get back big city marathons any time soon. European travel is not really on the horizon. I don’t even know when I can go to Michigan to see my parents, something my heart yearns to do. But 10 miles with friends plus brunch? That is coming pretty soon. Yes, it is going to look different. There will probably be masks involved somewhere and maybe gloves and the sanitizing of credit cards and sitting outside (though I love that part). 10 miles with friends plus brunch means talking and laughing about whatever the hell we used to talk and laugh about before the current weirdness. It means looking at a menu (though maybe not touching one?) and deciding: Omelet? Oatmeal? Pancakes? It means yes-I-would-like-more-coffee-please over and over again.

Ten miles with friends plus brunch is one of the sweetest parts of running, indeed of life. It’s coming back pretty soon. When my heart is heavy and sad, that’s what I think about.

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Middletown 10 Miler Race Report 2020 – A Not-Race Race

Racing in the time of social distancing? An unofficial virtual race? A not-race race? What to even call what I did last Saturday?

This year’s Middletown 10 Mile race was scheduled for April 5th. It’s been postponed to September when we are all hoping to be back to racing with other people. With the collapse of the spring racing season, runners have had to decide what to do. When the Middletown race was postponed, I let Coach Mick know and figured he’d rearrange the training schedule accordingly. He *did* rearrange the schedule, but somehow I ended up with a 10 mile run at 8-8:15 pace for Saturday. I kept hoping it was going to get “rearranged” right off the schedule, but no such luck. Finally I realized I was either going to have to say I didn’t want to run it or just suck it up and do it. Of course, I chose the latter.

I was working to get my head around the idea of 10 fast miles when I realized I could just run the Middletown race course. We aren’t supposed to be running in large groups, but Middletown streets are very quiet right now. On my normal runs, I don’t see many people or even a lot of cars. Maybe I should run the race course? Maybe I should even try to run it pretty fast? My 10 mile PR is 1:19:35 set in 2018 on this same course. It’s fairly likely that under the right conditions, I could beat that. Maybe I should try?

As the weekend got closer, I wondered about running with someone. We are still finding our way here. Meeting up to run is enormously reduced. Small groups of 2-4 people sometimes still see each other while running. I describe this as “running in the vicinity of each other” because we are generally 10 to 20 feet apart. We can still talk but there’s a fair amount of “What did you say? Couldn’t hear that!” Is this okay? No one knows. I feel weird even admitting to this practice. It’s definitely not against current Connecticut rules, but there’s a lot of shaming going on in the running community right now. There’s also a lot of caution when people do see each other. In any case, I considered texting Coach Mick to say, hey, I’d like to run with a couple of the girls this weekend and they don’t feel like 10 miles at 8-8:15 pace. I knew he’d say that was fine. I also knew it was *me* who didn’t feel much like 8-8:15 pace.

Instead I texted Speedy Girl to see how she felt about 10 miles at 8-8:15 pace. Speedy Girl is a newer local friend who is looking to run a lot of miles and can apparently run any pace for any distance. She was up for running the Middletown course at whatever pace I felt like. I rallied to the idea of 10 faster miles and a potential PR attempt.

Now I had a series of decisions to make. PR attempt or not? First I had to run the idea by Coach Mick. Totally fine with him, of course. I let the Incredible Mervus in on the idea and I told Speedy Girl. Race morning I decided I wanted *someone* else to know what I was up to, so I texted the Fabulous Femmes. Go get it, they cheered! I didn’t tell anyone else, but next time I do something like this, I’m going to let people know. It always helps me to know my friends are cheering, even if it’s virtual.

I had a series of other decisions to make:

Eat my traditional pre-race pasta dinner? No. I had planned to make shakshuka with chickpeas and homemade whole wheat bread. Plenty of carbs there and much tastier than pasta sauce from a jar.

Should I wear my racing outfit? Sure, why not? Pink Sub-30 shirt, Nike capris with the pink stripes, stripey arm warmers, pink socks.

WHICH SHOES? I had a private conniption fit on that question. The Zoom Flys that High Power Running Mentor #1 says most closely mimic the Next%s? The actual Next%s? I settled on my original pair of Nike Vaporfly 4%s. Those shoes are too old for a serious race, but they are still plenty bouncy and they would help make the whole thing feel more real.

Should I make a pretend bib for myself? No, that felt too weird.

Yes, to my regular pre-long run breakfast of oatmeal and coffee.

A compromise of one caffeine tablet, not two.

No, to showing up an hour ahead of time – no bib to collect, no parking issues, I would just warm up with Speedy Girl.

Speedy Girl and I met at the YMCA parking lot. We did our dynamic warm-ups and I equivocated about how fast I felt like running. We had both dressed to run fast – light-weight clothes even at 42 degrees with a wind chill of 35 or so. Except for a bit of a wind, perfect racing weather. She suggested a few miles at 8:30 and then move to 8:00, finishing faster. The course ends with 3.5 miles of downhill and I readily agreed to this plan. Let the record show – this is the first real moment of “taking the deal.” HPRM#1 would definitely have recommended starting much closer to 8:00 pace and I would have agreed with him under normal circumstances. But these weren’t normal circumstances.

We jogged up the hill to High Street. For my next non-race race, I’ll do a better warm-up. It’s really hard to take a non-race as seriously as I take an actual race. A mile isn’t really enough of a warm-up for me. Anyway. We “lined up,” said GO and started running.

Let the record also show that we maintained the recommended six feet of distance at all times. Indeed, since there are almost no cars on the streets of Middletown at the moment, it was no problem to simply run on opposite sides of the road. Since there were no other participants in the race, we had no risk of getting tangled up in traffic at the start. We just kicked things off, running down High Street and taking the left onto Washington Terrace.

I peeked at my watch to check our pace after we rounded the corner: 7:45. Hmmm. That’s nowhere near the 8:30 we said we were aiming for. It’s a good deal faster than the 7:57 I needed to PR. Whatever – I figured we’d settle after a mile or so. I had completely forgotten my 5K technique of switching to kilometers. Something to consider for my next not-race race. The first mile clicked off at exactly 7:57 pace. A few thoughts crossed my mind simultaneously. I felt pretty good. Maybe I was going to PR today after all, despite my quick willingness to take the deal earlier. Also I remembered –  Speedy Girl doesn’t wear a watch. If I wanted to be aware of pace, that was my job. The next mile clicked off at 8:01 and I still felt good. Hmmm.

Mile 3 starts with a pretty decent-sized hill and we had started running into the wind. But, Speedy Girl also started giving me a series of form cues. Score! I have an amazing team behind me with a fabulous coach, the amazing HPRM#1, my wonderful trainer – but none of them run with me. Here was someone right next to me (well, on the other side of the road, but maybe she could see better from over there?) saying, pick up your knees a little more, relax your shoulders, tuck your hips under, short strides up hill, open up on the downhill. Whoa! YES!

On the other hand, 8:15 for mile 3. Much too slow for a PR. My brain insists on calculating how far behind pace I am already. I tell my brain to shut up, it doesn’t matter, this is all about process. There’s a WHOLE lot of race to go and it is way too early for negative thoughts. I try to imagine the friends who normally staff the water stations cheering for me. This not-race lacks the energy of an actual race and I’m already missing it.

During the 4th mile, we ran past the Wesleyan tennis courts. Speedy Girl called out a hello to a couple of runners getting out of their cars. I see Early Bird! They confirm that they are also running the Middletown course today. Great minds! I wonder who will show up Sunday, the day the race was originally scheduled for. We run past the Bieman Triangle area where Fast Friend used to have her dig and I think how much I miss seeing her. My watch beeps out 8:07 for mile 4.

We turn onto the path by Long Lane and Speedy Girl tells me we are going to pick it up. I look at her like she’s crazy and inform her that we gain 53 feet along this stretch of road. This is where I run mile repeats and I feel every inch of that gain right now. She says she can hear in my breathing that I can pick it up, so I do my best. That’s when I pull the sleeve of my arm warmer over my watch. Speedy Girl doesn’t have a watch, but she knows damn well how fast we’re going. If she’s paying that much attention to how I’m doing, I’m giving this race over to her. I wish she knew me better so she’d have the keys to help me unlock the grip my mind can put on my legs, but covering the watch helps get my mind out of the equation.

Inside, I’m smiling. If we can do this once, we can do it again. Not this crazy not-race race during the Covid-19 pandemic. But this running-hard-together (in the general vicinity of each other!), the joy and satisfaction of seeking speed or helping someone else do so. We are newish friends with so many conversations yet to come and I am so looking forward to them. This is a low stakes not-race race and I don’t even tell her that I’ve just covered my watch and put her in charge.

I love the Middletown 10 miler because these are the streets I run all the time. I know every rise and dip and every pothole. I know where the course used to go when this was a half marathon. The Friday girlfriend runs and our standard five mile loop are both on this course. I take my Gu on the section after mile 5, which is mostly flat and straight. We make the turn onto Daniels and then it’s nearly all downhill. I remember running this with the Retiree as pacer two years ago and our great gang aiming for a sub 1:20 time. Maybe in September!

We come to Laurel Grove, which runs through Wadsworth State Park, Middletown’s only dirt road. This is my favorite road because it’s so beautiful, but I realize immediately that the Vaporflys and slick dirt roads are a terrible mix – something I knew but forgot.

Running down Laurel Grove I remember for the first time what Coach Mick always tells me before a race: Find some joy. I’m not sure there is joy to be found today but I start searching with my heart. I am free. I am running outside on my favorite street. The world is maybe going to hell in a handbasket but right this very second, I am doing what I love. My heart lifts some, but it’s like there’s a damper on it. I think of Mistress Triple M, working in the hospital and sending her kids to stay with her ex-husband so they will be safe. I think of all the fear in the world. I try to remember that right here, right now, I am running fast on my favorite street in this town I love. I truly believe that we owe it to the world to feel joy when we can so I am trying my best.

Finally my watch beeps mile 8. I suspect I have slowed a bit, but I don’t look. I decide to count down from 1000. With two miles to go, that should get me to the finish line. HPRM#1 has told me that counting is a dissociative strategy and instead I should try to tune into my body. I suspect he’s right and I promise myself to meditate more in case that helps. I visualize my brain as a giant latch holding back my body and I visualize the latch lifting, releasing me so I can run faster. I remind myself that HPRM#1 might look at my heart rate data afterwards and he’ll know how hard I’m working. None of this really helps – the counting, the promise to meditate, the latch visualization. I wish instead that this were an actual race with pizza and cupcakes at the finish line. I could really go for pizza and cupcakes. Also, a nap. It strikes me that nap visualization is not a great race strategy. I keep counting, seeing big balloon-like numbers in my head, clicking down.

I think about how very badly I want this not-race to be over with. I also think about how very much we all want the corona-virus to be over with. Sometimes you just wait and wait and wait. Every step forward is progress. This is the only thing to do right now, so do this thing. Endurance athletes are good at waiting. Run and count. And wait. Finally we turn onto High Street and head down College. I think what I *always* think here – Coach Mick says people run the downhills too slowly. Don’t be one of those people. I will my feet to turn over faster. I try to imagine the crowds cheering me even though the street is completely empty. I try to envision my family at the corner where they often stand. I see the finish line that isn’t there.

Finally, my watch beeps. Ten miles. Since I don’t remember where the actual finish line is for this race, I had decided to stop at 10 miles. I immediately check my time: 1:21:15. No PR, but I am mighty pleased to be under 1:22. That was a tough race, for a not-race race. I catch up to Speedy Girl and want to hug her, but can’t. I want to high five, but can’t. We settle for a very fast shoe bump. Stretching afterwards in the parking lot, we talk about the race. About the surprise of the dirt path. About whether I was ok with her form cues [yes, very much so!]. She gives me some great advice on things to work on and I promise I will never get annoyed by too much feedback. It’s simultaneously great and weird. I wish we were headed to my porch for a post-race party, but I’m so happy to have “raced” at all. On the way home I decide that the next time I do this, I’m definitely making pizza for dinner and buying some champagne. And at some point, we’ll have that party on the porch. We endurance athletes are good at waiting.

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Dispatch from Middletown April 5th 2020

I have no idea if I am going to make these posts a regular thing or not, but these seem like important times and somehow I’m feeling the desire to write. These dispatches won’t be just about running, more thoughts of the day.

On the running front though, I was supposed to run the Middletown 10 mile race today. Obviously I did not. I *did* however run it yesterday – race report coming soon with more details.

Today I ran in Wadsworth State Park on the beautiful trails. There were a few other people, but not many. I’ve heard so many complaints about lack of social distancing that it seems worth reporting that I often observe people being exceptionally careful.

Today is Palm Sunday and our church had a beautiful online service, including communion. We celebrated with chocolate wine (real wine!) and the last two slices of homemade whole wheat bread, much to Geneva’s delight. We remembered that last year we celebrated in Boston on the day before the marathon.

Today we did a lot of Zooming. I’ve done some grading. Kevin is making white beans with sage and garlic for dinner. Life is kind of normal and also so very weird.

I’ve been thinking all day about one of the emails I received this morning. I subscribe to a lot of running newsletters (really, an excessive number…) and the one from Jay Johnson arrives each Sunday. Today he talked about the “Stockdale Paradox.” Admiral James Stockdale was held as a POW for 8 years during the Vietnam War. He was frequently tortured during this time. In a book called Good to Great, by Jim Collins, Stockdale was asked how he managed his situation:

“I never lost faith in the end of the story. I never doubted that not only would I get out, but also that I would prevail to the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.”

Collins (via Jay Johnson) reports the Stockdale Paradox to be:

“You must maintain unwavering faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, AND at the same time have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

Sounds like good advice to me. Maybe I’ll be back tomorrow with another dispatch or that race report.

Be brave. Be kind. Take care of each other.

Sarah

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Irish 5K 2020 Race Report

This was my 4th 5K of 2020, which I am pretty sure was my grand total for 2019, which I am very sure is the most I have ever run in a year, ever. I picked this race because it’s the first in a race series that Allegro Fuerte signed up for. If you run all three, you get a sweet backpack! You can also buy the backpack but we agreed – it must be earned. He and I have been such great racing buddies lately – I was excited for our third 5K!

Until I wasn’t anymore. The week before the race was exhausting. Rose and I went to Atlanta to watch the Olympic Trials. The trip was astonishingly awesome. A mother-daughter weekend dreams are made of. She got to meet Coach Mick and a lot of other friends. We had front row spots to watch the race. We went to the Martin Luther King Jr Center and the Georgia Aquarium. We walked and walked and walked. We arrived home late Monday night. Less than 12 hours later I was on the track attempting one of the hardest workouts I’ve ever done. I couldn’t finish it.

Even though Rose and I had a dream weekend in Atlanta, the week afterwards was rough. While visiting my uncle in Florida, my mom fell and broke her arm. Then the news broke that the Wesleyan women’s cross country team had experienced the kind of weight and body shaming that is rampant in women’s distance running right now, especially among college-aged women. That hit very close to home – these are my students and I regard myself as at least partially responsible for their well-being and safety. Elizabeth Warren, my preferred candidate, dropped out of the presidential race. Another defeat. I had thought my family was coming to the 5K, but it turned out the kids had various activities they needed to go to. I was tired. My legs were still sore from the track. My heart was tired and sore from the rest of it. These did not seem like ideal circumstances in which to race and I wondered why I was bothering. I considered pacing Allegro Fuerte. I considered bailing entirely. Like I said, a tough week.

Then my team started to break little chinks into my armor of anger and sadness. Coach Mick kicked off the turnaround in my mood. He noted that I had watched a lot of my favorite elite runners fail to make the Olympic team in Atlanta despite working incredibly hard. Was that maybe in my head? Yes, of course it was. Watching runners I care about come up short on race day was sort of heartbreaking. It helped just to acknowledge that.

The Fabulous Femmes chimed in with a huge dose of sisterly love and sympathy, as well as some problem prioritizing: Most of those issues can’t be fixed, they told me. Do what you can about the situation with the women’s cross country team.

High Power Running Mentor #1 talked some sense into me the morning before the race. He straight up told me that pacing Allegro Fuerte was pointless (sorry Allegro…), that Warren dropping out of the race was an inadequate excuse for not racing, and that I was not the kind of runner who showed up at a race unsure what I was going to do. Instead, I should do what we always do: control the controllables and show up ready to race hard regardless of outcome. What if a lot of bad stuff happened the week of my goal race? Hmmm. Good point. Plus, if my legs and spirit felt kind of trashed, I could pretend I was running the second 5K of my goal 10K distance and that would be excellent practice. I started to find my mojo again. I talked to Coach Mick and texted Allegro. Game on.

I got up Saturday morning and started my standard race day routine. The good thing about racing frequently is that right now I don’t have to think much about this. Coffee. Oatmeal. Pack the race bag. Get on the road. On my way out the door, I found Mervus holding the banner he had made for races! He held it up, said he was sorry he and the kids couldn’t come, wished me tons of luck and told me not to take any deals. Yay!

The drive to Pawtucket was easy – I listened to a podcast with Jacob Riley, one of the surprise winners in Atlanta. Jake ran a healthy PR on a tough course on a tough day by racing smart. Maybe he could inspire me to do the same. It was easy to park, easy to find Allegro Fuerte and Michonne, who was also racing with us today. The not-so-easy thing that I haven’t mentioned yet is the wind. We woke up to sounds of it gusting around the house, I could feel it blowing the van around on the highway; it was definitely strong enough that it was going to affect running conditions. Wind is  not a controllable, but mindset about wind is. Deena Kastor says she pretends that the wind is a bunch of playful puppies and that has been my go-to metaphor for the topic since the Erie marathon. It’s just a bunch of puppies so don’t worry about it too much and do your best to manage them.

I wished I had arrived a little earlier to do a somewhat longer warm-up but Allegro Fuerte and I managed a kilometer or so out and back, which let us get a look at the hill at the start of the course, and also feel the headwind coming into the finish. Good to know exactly what we had to contend with. I had plenty of time for pre-race drills and decided to throw on my green sub-30 shirt at the last minute for extra Irish luck. As we were lining up, they announced that age group wins would be by gun time. If we thought we might be eligible, we should line up near the front. Okay then. I lined up about three people back. Three very young, very male people. They fired the gun and off we went.

I had again switched my watch to kilometers to avoid seeing the freak-me-out 6:xx pace on my watch. At the last 5K I was targeting 4:27/km pace (7:10/mile) but I wanted to try for a little faster this time around so I was aiming for 4:20-4:25/km (6:59-7:06). Yes, it totally freaks me out to type those paces in miles even afterwards. That’s why I am using kilometers during races! Who the hell knows what a 4:23 kilometer means? Not me! Please don’t tell me either – I want this trick to work as long as possible!

The race starts with a straightaway, then up a medium long hill, and then you basically run the outline of a capital B tipped on its side. Somewhere near the end of the hill my watch beeped with the first split: 4:39. Hmmm. What does that mean? I have no idea. Another advantage to pacing by kilometers. Should I be discouraged? Who knows? Somewhere in here Allegro Fuerte also ran by and waved. We had got separated at the start so I was very happy to see him! We knew going into it that this was going to be a tough race with the hill and the wind. Seeing him reminded me what I had said during our warm-up. Under difficult conditions, I often think about Dougal McKenzie, one of my favorite characters from the TV series Outlander. I’ve run a lot of hard runs with Dougal for mental company. Dougal has some dishonorable personal relations, but Scotland has no braver or more loyal soldier. He will always fight with honor, even, maybe especially, when the cause is certainly lost. That was my goal for today, as HPRM#1 had reminded me: Race hard, regardless of outcome.

The course flattens out for the top of the B as I tried to find the appropriate effort level. I wanted that 5K-level-awful feeling a little earlier this time, regardless of pace, just to see if I could hold it longer. It started showing up near the end of the second kilometer, which ticked off at 4:23. Ok, back on pace. Good.

I have almost nothing to say about the next three kilometers of the race even though I sometimes have quite detailed memories of a course. This time it was mostly a matter of pushing as hard as I could, trying to find the edge, without falling off. I visualized myself running the outline of the B. I tried to pass other runners when I could. Afterwards I realized they were almost all men. I know my music was on, but I didn’t really hear it. There was sometimes an awful lot of wind. I don’t remember seeing any additional splits. (For the record, they were 4:30, 4:41, 4:12).

My one memory before approaching the downhill into the finish is running by a tiny yellow car sometime during the fourth kilometer. I was very ready to be done. I thought about stopping to see if they would give me a ride. I considered explaining to people that I would have lots of other chances to run 5Ks, but perhaps never again the opportunity to ride in a tiny yellow car. I wondered if anyone would buy that logic and concluded reluctantly that at least HPRM#1 would surely not.

Soon after my watch vibrated for the fourth kilometer we came to the downhill. Coach Mick says a lot of people don’t run the downhills hard enough and I am determined not to be one of those people. I also heard one lyric of “Rewrite the Stars,” my favorite song from the soundtrack to the Greatest Showman, my current race music: I want to fly with you! Right! Fly! My third word in my race mantras of Commit – All In – Fly! I tried to fly down the hill. A quick glance at the time on my watch and I saw 20:02. Less bad than expected, given how far I had left to run. Down the hill, a sharp right, a much-too-far stretch to the finish into that brutal headwind. At some point I had started counting, but it was somewhat less coherent than usual and that’s saying something. I just pushed for the damn finish line, thinking I could still get under 23 minutes. Crossed the line in 22:25! YES! Not a PR, but only 8 seconds slower than three weeks ago and that was an easier course and better conditions. I will take it!

I did my usual hang-on-the-fence routine, expecting medical to show up to check on me. Instead, I heard them making an announcement about a runner racing in honor of his son, Patrick, who had passed away. I knew I had to find him and I quickly did. I told him my son was also Patrick. That he was 16 years old, and healthy, thank God, but that I knew what it was like to race the Tour de Patrick with a Patrick in your heart. His wife ran up and she had their Patrick’s picture on her shirt. I can’t really convey how much this meant to me except to say, when we run with love in our hearts, it’s a way to be close to God and to each other. I promised to pray for them and their Patrick and they promised to do the same for me.

Then Allegro Fuerte came across the line, also running just a few seconds slower than his PR from three weeks ago! BOOM! We rocked the Irish 5K! They were announcing age group awards for the men and I remembered that I might have won something. I went and asked if they had results for women yet and the announcer said she wasn’t sure which women had finished, but looking at me, she suspected at least one of them had. Ha! Yes, it turns out I did win my age group! I am still over the moon about an age group victory AND my prize turned out to be the coveted backpack! HOORAY! Plus, later I found out I was 9th woman overall! That was totally unexpected but explains why I wasn’t passing a lot of women on the course – there just weren’t many ahead of me to pass. This fact feels completely improbable.

Allegro and I waited at the finish line to cheer for Michonne. She also had a good day, running faster and stronger than she expected! After we had done our cool down, we poked our noses into the after party. Allegro and I both bought some additional swag, but we were all eager for brunch. We headed over to the Modern Diner for some well-deserved feasting. Look at this French toast! Plus, the return of the post-race mimosa! Delicious celebrating all the way around.

 

 

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Sarah’s Guide to the Olympic Marathon Trials

Geneva and I are off to Atlanta to watch the Olympic marathon trials in person this weekend! I know many people are much less marathon-obsessed than I am, so I thought I would do a quick summary of what this race is about and how to watch.

The Olympic marathon trials is a marathon race to determine who will be on Team USA for the marathon in the upcoming Olympics in Tokyo this summer. The top three women and top three men will make the team. But the Trials have become an event in themselves, sort of a faster version of the Boston marathon. To be allowed to run, women had to qualify with a time of 2:45 or faster at a previous marathon. Men need to run 2:19 or faster. For lots of amateur runners, the Trials already represent their Olympic moment. You can bet we’ll be cheering loudly for everyone!

Here’s how you can watch from home. Race coverage starts at noon on Saturday, February 29th and is on NBC and NBC Sports Gold. The men’s race starts at 12:08. The women start at 12:20. Slightly different start times will hopefully keep the men and women separate on the course. The course itself is looped and quite hilly!

Here’s a bit of information on the athletes.

The women’s field is what podcasters love to call “STACKED!” This is by far the fastest collection of American female marathoners ever assembled and we are so excited to get to watch them race!

Top Female Contenders (in order of marathon PR) with commentary from Sarah

Jordan Hasay (2:20:57) – Jordan has the fastest time of the women by over a minute. She’s definitely fast, but is she healthy? Unknown. She dropped out of Chicago. She used to be coached by Alberto Salazar, who was convicted of doping. She was 3rd at Boston in 2019 so she can run well on a hilly course. Bet against her at your own risk.

Sara Hall (2:22:16) – Sara ran asuper fast race at Berlin 2019 (Berlin is flat though). She is married to Ryan Hall, well-known runner and an Olympian in his own right. Sara’s been on a tear recently – She won a lot of races in 2019 and she looks like she’s having a blast. A very good bet to make the team.

Emily Sisson (2:23:08) – She hasn’t run many marathons, but her debut race was a 2:23, the second fastest debut by an American woman ever. She’s a very strong runner, considered a natural marathoner. Will she manage the hills of Atlanta and a much more experienced field of runners?

Kellyn Taylor (2:24:29) – Kellyn trains with the NAZ Elite team in Flagstaff (at altitude). She ran her 2:24 at Grandma’s Marathon last year after bonking at Boston. She and her husband care for foster kids and they have a daughter. She’s training to be a firefighter – Kellyn is SUPER tough and runs well at all distances.

Sally Kipyego (2:25:10) – Sally placed 3rd in NYC a few years ago – which is a tough hilly course, like Atlanta. Then she had a baby and coming back was harder than expected. She qualified for the Trials at Berlin (flat course) but is up and coming. She’s originally from Kenya and is a naturalized American. She’s flying a little bit under the radar, but look for her to surprise people.

Emma Bates (2:25:27) – She won the California International Marathon (2:28) in 2018 in her debut race and she did well at Chicago (both are flat). She has been quiet in public lately, not on many podcasts, etc.

Molly Huddle (2:26:33) – I call her America’s Sweetheart. She’s probably got the most national titles and might have more than the rest of women combined. Molly started as a 5k and 10K runner on the track. She’s a very smart runner, who trains in Providence. She has not run a marathon to her potential yet, but she was 3rd in NYC in 2016. Everyone loves her. Me too.

Desiree Linden (2:26:46) – Des really needs no introduction. She has been around forever, having already made the Olympic team in the marathon in 2012 and 2016. Yet she keeps getting better. She won Boston 2018, the year of the monsoon. Des is not as fast as some of the the other women in the field but she’s strong on hills. She also has nothing to lose and no fucks to give, which makes her dangerous to everyone else. She may not be the fastest but she is probably the toughest – and that includes the guys.

Aliphine Tuliamuk (2:26:50) – Aliphine is the second of the NAZ Elite women on my list. She did well at Rotterdam (Flat!). She’s had some time off recently because of injury.

Stephanie Bruce (2:27:47) – The third of the NAZ Elite women and my favorite in the race! Steph returned to professional running after having two kids and is faster than she ever has been. She shares a lot of her training online and wears her heart on her sleeve. She *wants* it BAD and that will matter. I don’t know if she’s run well on hills but she trains at altitude and she’s got two teammates with her. She pooped her pants at Chicago on her way to a PR so you know she’s awesome. Only awesome people do that.

The women’s race is truly wide open. It’s very hard to bet against Jordan (except I don’t like her because of the Salazar connection). Hall and Sisson are probably next most likely to win. Tuliamuk and Steph Bruce a bit more long shot-ish but I adore Steph. Never count Des Linden out.

Top Male Contenders (in order of marathon PR) with commentary from Sarah

Galen Rupp (2:06:07) – Galen is the fastest male BY FAR but he has not finished a marathon since having foot surgery last year. He did run 1:01 at a half marathon in early February so he looks to be in shape. He already has two Olympic medals (in the marathon and the 10K). Like Jordan Hasay, Rupp used to train with Salazar. Many people think he’s doping, but that is unproven. He is, however, kind of boring (that’s proven, in my opinion at least).

Leonard Korir (2:07:56) – I think he’s only run one marathon but he ran it in 2:07, the fastest American debut ever! His marathon was in Amsterdam (flat!) but Korir has also won the Peachtree Road Race, a hilly 10K in Atlanta. He runs for the Army team. He won the Grand Prix (a collection of races) last year. A well-informed friend of mine thinks he’s going to make the team for sure.

Scott Fauble (2:09:09) – Also on the NAZ Elite team, Scott ran well at Boston last year (2:09 at Boston is NO JOKE). He wrote a book with his coach about his training. He loves burritos. He’s an all-around cool dude and he’s fast.

Jared Ward (2:09:25) – Can Jared be the male sweetheart even with that ‘stache? After surprising people by making the 2016 Olympic team, he then came in 6th at Rio and he has only improved since then. Jared is an adjunct stats professor at BYU. He’s an incredibly smart runner, who also seems to be genuinely kind person. My favorite, among the men.

None of the other guys can hold a candle to these four but you never know what will happen. If you are betting for money, pick three of the above four and you can’t go too wrong.

It’s going to be an amazing race so tune in on Saturday and see if you can spot me and Geneva on the sidelines!

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Old Fashioned Ten Miler and Flat 5K 2020 Race Report

AHHHHHH! 22:17!!!!

WOOT WOOT WOOT!

That’s a 41 second PR over my race of 2 weeks ago which was a 22 second PR over my former best 5K time from March 2018. 63 seconds faster!

How did this come about?

Some of that improvement was surely lurking in the background. I had three decent 5K races in 2019, but no PR and they all had something kind of weird about them: first time racing indoors, a short course, 85-degree weather. My fitness has improved a lot in the past two years and at some point, that had to show up in a race result.

But I am also taking the spring season to focus on running fast at shorter distances and I think that is starting to pay off! I’ve been doing a lot more track work at faster paces, while keeping weekly mileage fairly high (at least for me, around 45 to 50 miles per week). This race was also my third 5K in the last six and a half weeks. I’m trying to learn *how* to run this distance so more practice is better.

The Old Fashioned Ten Miler and Flat 5K was a fairly late addition to my race calendar. I had wanted a race between the Run for Refugees and the Irish 5K (coming up, March 7th!) but it turns out February is a pretty dry month for racing in Connecticut, even for 5Ks. Allegro Fuerte found this race in Foxborough, Massachusetts. A little bit of a haul for me, but the name says it all! Flat courses are hard to find around here. Allegro Fuerte and I were both pretty happy with our races at Run for Refugees, but we did get stuck in traffic in the first mile. He started saying we were looking for a Double-Double PR, where we both PR’d again at the Flat 5K. Side note: If you want the perfect mix of light-hearted fun with a serious approach to racing, see if Allegro Fuerte will come with you to your next race. But be sure to invite me as well.

Between the Run for Refugees and the Flat 5K, High Power Running Mentor #1 (HPRM#1) and I exchanged a lot of texts. What can I say – we are people of many words. He favors a more aggressive racing style than Coach Mick does and I am probably somewhere in between, though perhaps I am still figuring out my own approach to racing. In any case, HPRM#1 started doing things like sending me splits from Kenenisa Bekele’s world record 5K. Which, by the way, are: 2:33.2, 2:32.2, 2:31.8, 2:30.5, and 2:29.4 by the kilometer.

What should we make of those splits? I lifted them from this article, recommending negative splitting as the optimal racing strategy:

https://www.podiumrunner.com/training/how-and-why-to-hit-negative-splits-in-your-next-race/

That’s certainly conventional wisdom. And yet – my Run for Refugees 5K splits were: 7:52, 7:17, 7:04, 6:31 (for the last .1). Of course, that’s not what I intended to run, but the point is “negative splits” can mean a lot of different things. You can negative split a 5K by running 9:00, 8:00, 7:00 or by running 7:02, 7:01, 7:00. Both races count as negative splits. Both races close at a 7-minute flat pace. Obviously one race gets you a much better time. Bekele certainly negative split his world record 5K – but the difference between his fastest kilometer and his slowest is 3.8 seconds. For someone of my abilities, lacking Bekele’s surgical precision, that’s effectively an evenly split race. This was exactly HPRM#1’s point. He thought the spread in my splits was too large, and that it would have been even if I had managed my intended 7:30, 7:20, 7:10 paces. He was recommending that I start faster: A lot faster. After more back-and-forth I finally said, fine, tell me what you want me to run and I’ll do my best to execute. He eventually came back with: start at 7:10 pace and see how long you can hold it. All righty then. Yikes.

In the meantime, other race plans were falling into place. My family was staying home this time around, but Allegro Fuerte and I hoped to meet up with Badass Boomer. We did manage to say hello before our start, but she was running the Ten Miler so we missed her afterwards. The weather looked very good for racing, though I really have given weather worries over to Coach Mick and I only check to see what I’ll need to wear.

I was a little nervous talking to Coach Mick about my more aggressive race plan, but I explained what I had in mind in our pre-race phone call. He asked some questions and then said he had been doing some calculations of his own. He’d read that some people do better positive splitting 5Ks as long as their first mile isn’t more than 5-7% faster than their goal pace. He had also already calculated that if my goal pace were 7:15, then 5% faster would be about 6:55. As long as I didn’t start faster than that, the chances were good that whatever bonk happened at the end of the race would be small enough that I’d still make up for it by going faster for the first mile or two. Especially since he knows I am capable of controlling the fade at the end of race.

At this point, I became completely convinced that Coach Mick can actually read my mind.

Coach Mick was totally on board with my trying out the new approach. We also worked out that I would use slightly different words than last time. Instead of Control – All In – Fly, I would go with Commit – All In – Fly, in keeping with the new idea about starting faster. Now I just had to wait for Sunday morning to arrive. One of the delights of racing with Allegro Fuerte is the pre-race chatter. We compared race kits, contemplated the weather forecast, and chose a brunch location. I also told him I was planning to start faster, since he had said he was going to stay with me as long as he could.

Race day weather was as predicted, low 30s, overcast, a little bit of wind. I got up at 5:30am, had my usual oatmeal and coffee, packed everything up and drove the two hours (!) to the race. A long drive for sure, but I’m a huge fan of podcasts and the roads were almost empty, making for easy travel. I arrived about 8:30am, just minutes after Allegro Fuerte. With the early wake up and the longer drive, I had a banana and part of a hippie sandwich once I got to Foxborough, plus two Jet Alerts. We collected my shirt and bib (he had his already) and made a quick port-a-loo stop. I had had a couple of texts from Coach Mick and the Fabulous Femmes and I got a great pre-race pep talk from HPRM#1. I slipped on my Next%s and we got on with the business of warming up. Just like at Run for Refugees, Coach Mick had me run for 3-5 minutes at race pace as part of the warm up. That’s a great trick because the first few minutes at race pace tend to feel horrible so it gets them out of the way. A quick hello to Badass Boomer, one last port-a-loo stop, and we headed to the starting line.

No 6s here!

Besides starting faster, HPRM#1 had made another recommendation: Change my watch over to kilometers. He gave two reasons. First, I tend to get panicky if I see a 6:xx for pace. But since I was aiming for 7:10, the instant pace feature was almost inevitably going to show 6:xx at some point. Switching to kilometers would confuse my brain a little because I wouldn’t see any 6s. And, of course, a 5K has five kilometers but only three miles, so I would get more frequent splits and be able to correct pace sooner, if necessary. A 7:10 minutes per mile pace converts to a 4:27 minutes per kilometer pace so I was aiming for that, figuring anything slower than 4:35 was too slow and anything faster than 4:20 was too fast. I was nervous at the start, but told myself to just take it one kilometer at a time. See how many I could get at around 4:27.

After our experience at Run for Refugees, Allegro Fuerte and I were quite aggressive about positioning ourselves at the start. Very near the front, maybe third row or so. The starting pistol fired and we took off! Like rockets, it turned out! Allegro was instantly 25, then 50 feet ahead of me! I felt like I was jogging and got worried that maybe I was stuck in another slow start situation. A quick glance at my watch showed I was running a 4:00 minutes per kilometer pace! I had no idea what that meant (thank goodness!) but I knew it was *much* too fast and slowed down. I could hear HPRM#1 in my head telling me to settle in, so I did. I guess I needed that “Control” idea at least as much as I needed “Commit.” Before I expected it, my watch clicked off the first kilometer: 4:27 – exactly goal pace! I took that as a good sign.

I checked in with how I was feeling and the answer was, not too terrible. This pace felt sustainable, at least for awhile longer. How much longer? I had no idea. The course is basically a small loop and then a bigger loop and we were already starting the bigger loop. My watch beeped again: 4:25. Great! Two kilometers down and both on pace!

Now we had a long straight stretch, heading north, up Baker Street. I had worried this would seem endless so I looked up the names of the cross streets so I could check them off: Bentwood St., Garfield St., Glenwood Ave. Baker Street also turned out to have some rolling hills, not exactly qualifying as “flat.” I started to feel what I describe as “5K-level-awful.” Hmmm. I had definitely been expecting this feeling and I was about halfway through the race so maybe it was right on time. But when my watch beeped, it said 4:18. Too fast. Maybe? In any case, I backed off a tad.

 

With just two kilometers to go, I ran along the top of the loop and turned into the last section of the course. Now the true 5K-LEVEL-AWFUL feeling hit me in earnest. Nowhere near enough air and plenty of mental darkness. I desperately wanted to walk. Surely just a few steps would be ok. I may have said out loud “No walking!” which must have been amusing to anyone who heard me. When this part of a race inevitably arrives, I just throw whatever mental tools I’ve got at it to keep going as best I can. Today it was Coach Mick’s voice again: You can run fast a lot farther than you think you can. It was HPRM#1: It won’t hurt for very long – control the fade at the end. It was FLY! But also the brunch menu of the restaurant we had picked out. It’s slightly ridiculous how often the thought of good food helps me in the final mile or two, but hey, whatever works! I thought about the final kilometer of last Tuesday’s track workout and the two 400s I had run with the Retiree. I imagined what the finish line would look like and I tried to keep up with a middle-aged guy (by which I mean, approximately my age…). Running fast felt worse and worse – I started counting but with my watch set to kilometers, I wasn’t even sure what I was counting so I just went up and down. I saw the finishing clock and it had a bunch of 2s on it, but otherwise I couldn’t really parse what it meant so I ran like hell.

Finally I crossed the line and stopped my watch: 22:20! BOOM! Actual chip time: 22:17! I was ecstatic! I was also leaning on a fence of some sort gasping: Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Over and over. That middle-aged guy I had been chasing was next to me with someone who I assume was his wife. I hoped I wasn’t ruining their moment, but I also really couldn’t stop cursing with a mixture of exhaustion and elation. The end of a race like that – it’s one of the best feelings in the entire world.

 

 

In a minute or two, I gathered myself and looked up to watch for Allegro Fuerte. Here he was! He also ran a shiny new PR so we achieved our Double-Double goal!

Much celebrating! We abandoned all pretense of a cool down run. Instead, we got our medals and walked to the Commons Neighborhood Eatery for brunch. A spectacular day!

 

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