Archive for May, 2011

I have been trading messages with a good friend of mine up in Dallas about my training lately.  We followed it up with a phone call this past week, just two days before my latest race on Wednesday night.

We spoke in generalities about what seemed to be “missing” lately when it came to my running.  How I was pretty disappointed with myself, not so much with the results I had been getting, but more in the effort that I was putting in.

Our conversation covered all of the excuses I had been batting around in my head.  My five weeks away from running as I recovered from my left knee injury.  All of the “doubles” I had been doing since I returned to running.  Running in the morning, swimming in the afternoon, biking on my off days, sometimes actually biking and running back to back as a “brick” workout.  I had been training 9 or 10 hours a week throughout the month of May, surely I was  just tired.

All of that was really just bullshit though, and I knew it.

For some reason I just wasn’t pushing as hard as I had been leading up to the Austin Marathon.  I needed to get back to basics and think about why I run or race at all. 

Memorial Day Monday will be the anniversary of Steve Prefontaine’s death in 1975.

I was just a 7-year old boy on May 30th of ’75 – the thought of long-distance running was not even a glimmer on my horizon.  It would not be for another 30 years.  Pre’s death that night on Skyline Boulevard just East of the University of Oregon Campus changed the US Running scene forever.

That’s not an overdramatized statement.  It’s a fact.

Next Saturday on June 4th the Prefontaine Classic will be  run at Hayward Field in Eugene, OR.  the very track where Pre never lost a single race.

Top runners from all over the world will come to Eugene to compete on the Nation’s largest stage when it comes to track and field outside of the Olympics.

Ironically as I was stretching before my little 5K race on Wednesday night, a young man walked by with a Prefontaine T-shirt on.

Austin, TX, 2011, Wednesday night local 5K.  A Prefontaine shirt.  Really?

As I walked down to the starting area from the benches and took the last swallow from my water bottle, another runner, this time a 40+ year old man strolled past with an Oregon Green T-shrt with PRE LIVES in bright yellow letters.

Another one?  Really?

Was that the last shock to the system that I needed to get back to racing the way that I know that I can?  I’m not sure.  But I will tell you that it has never really been about Pre’s death and the tragedy that brought me great interest and motivation.  It was the way that Pre raced.  There are volumes of stories that people have shared throughout the years about Pre.

At one point Pre held every single american record from 2000 Meters to 10,000.  His style was to simply go out and take the heart of his competitors.  He was not a “coast and kick” type of runner.  He wanted to run at a breakneck pace and simply turn every race into a battle, where only the toughest runner, the one who “wanted it the most” could win.  And Pre won just about all of them.

There is a great letter that you can read from Pre to his coach Walt Mclure that was written just 13 days before his death.

You can read the letter in its entirety by clicking here:

You can sense that the start of something special was forming in Steve’s mind when it came to running in the 1976 olympics.  Just a spark that was starting to build inside of him that by the time he got to Montreal there would have been very little chance of anyone staying with Pre.

Infectious is the word I think of when I read about his training and racing.

I don’t believe in coincidences.  Never have, never will.

There is some reason that the only two T-shirts I have seen in the last year with “PRE” on them at a race in Austin showed up on the same night.  The very night that I was searching to find what I had been missing.

I went out and ran a :06 Personal best on the course with the temperature reading 100 degrees.

Coincidence?  Hardly.

Pre would be retired now, 62 years old, still running I’m sure, the way he always had.  For the love of it.

19 years from now I’ll be that 62 year-old still doing my best, trying to hang with some of the young guys, running for the same reason.  Because I love it.

Maybe I’m running Pre’s miles now – albeit a lot slower.  There is a trip out there that I am hoping to take this September with my friend from Dallas.  A trip to Coos Bay Oregon for the running of the Steve Prefontaine Memorial 10K.  It will be run this year on September 17, 2011.  Traveling from Austin to Oregon for a 10K race seems a little silly?

Actually, it’s the least I can do.

January 25, 1951 - May 30, 1975

RIP Pre.  Thanks for everything.

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Wednesday night for the next 9 weeks means racing. 

This week was race number 3 of the 12 part Summer Sunstroke Stampede 5K series.  Last night’s race was back on the Brushy Creek Trail behind my house.  My turf.  Homecourt advantage.  It was time for me to get back to pushing the limits of my abilities and running a complete race.  Something that I truly had not done since January at the 3M Half Marathon.

It was time to get back my race day mojo.

As I mentioned after Saturday’s Congress Avenue Mile, I feel like I have been searching lately.  Not running poorly, not running wonderfully, just kind of “running”.  I felt like I had fallen into the trap of “running races” instead of “racing”.  The difference for those who look at me from the outside is negligible.

But for me, I know the difference.  How it feels in the starting area, how I attack the first mile of the race, how many times I ask myself during the difficult middle sections, “how much do you want this today?”, and how hard I close the race out.

I’ve been disappointed in myself lately to be totally honest.  And on Wednesday night, it was time to do something about it.

I had rested my legs Wednesday morning, no swim workout – just locked and loaded for race night.

Pre Race:

After picking up Landry at Day-Care and getting her ready to spend some time with her babysitter, I ate my light dinner of a bagel and Gatorade.  Threw on my race flats and drove over to the trail head where the race would start in about 45 minutes.

Temperature 100 degrees.

Not ideal conditions to “going fast”, but my race was going to be all about the effort I put out there, I honestly wasn’t too worried about my clock time.  I just wanted to go out hard, settle into a comfortably hard pace and close strong.  What that meant on the finish clock was pretty irrelevant.

All race days have their own limits to them.  100 degree temperatures at 7:00 p.m. on a weeknight is not a recipe for a PR.  But at the end of the race, I wasn’t looking for a ribbon or an age-group win.  I just wanted to get back my mojo.

Warm-Up:

Being a bit warm to say the least I decided on a short ½ mile warm-up.  Ideally I would have liked to go twice as far, but I was already breaking into a pretty good sweat, ½ mile would be plenty.

I was keeping to myself before the race, not really chatting up anyone when I saw my friend Derek and someone who had to be his brother.  Derek and I have raced very close to one another during the first two races of the season.  He got me by :06 seconds in the first race, I returned the favor besting him by :17 seconds last week.

He and his brother John were going to go for a quick warm-up and asked if I would go along.  It was 5 minutes to the gun, so I decided to run a quick ¼ mile with them.  We spoke about goals for the race, John, an accomplished runner with a 5K PR of 14:40 (wow), was going to be pacing Derek.

Good I thought, I wanted to do a little racing tonight.  Nothing like being pushed.  We made it back just in time for the start.  After we crossed into the starting area we were off in less than 1 minute.

Mile 1:  I decided to change my watch to record ½ mile splits instead of full miles before the race.  I wanted to keep a closer eye on my pace and if it started to wander, I wanted to correct it quickly.  I thought that looking at things at every half-mile interval would be a good idea.   A trick I borrowed from my friend Steve Speirs out in VA Beach.

At the race start we bolted out onto the trail and I took the lead for the first 4/10 of a mile.  I wasn’t really interested in running out front, but I wanted to set my pace and lock in early – no more sluggish starts.  I hit the first ½ mile in 2:52 – 5:44 pace.

A bit fast given the temperature, but as the course wound by the lake and headed uphill to the dam, I knew we would slow down a bit on the incline.  I as feeling like I was running just about perfect.

Two runners came up alongside me at the ½ mile mark and I let them pass me by.  Shaun who I recognized from the first race of the year who beat me by about :40 seconds and a new runner who I had not raced previously.  I locked into 3rd position and could hear footsteps just behind me. 

That would be Derek and his brother John cruising just a few seconds back.  There was another runner back there who would surprise me over mile 2.  Sara Mark.

I glanced down at the top of the first mile at my watch, I covered the second ½ mile in 3:07– first mile, 5:59.

Mile 2:  As we made our way across the dam and headed downhill Sarah came up alongside of me on my right and passed me by.  She was running about two strides ahead of me, another two strides behind the runner in 2nd position.  Shaun kept on digging and was about :15 seconds ahead of all of us.

I recognized Sarah from the NOCC Balance 5K last August, the race where I ran my 5K PR of 18:12 the day before Landry was born.  Sarah’s boyfriend is Scott Kimbell, one of the top runners in Austin – truly an accomplished former collegiate runner, Scott wins just about every race he enters in Austin.  Sarah, who also ran in college is a strong, strong runner in her own right.  Looks like I had a few people to “race” all of a sudden.

My third ½ mile came in at 3:05 as we crossed over the small footbridge and made our way toward the water stop and the turnaround.  Sarah had passed the runner ahead of her as we approached the turn and as he slowed down to navigate around the cone I slid past him on the left.  His pace was falling off just a bit, so I decided to go with Sarah.

My fourth ½ mile came in at 3:10, giving us a second mile of 6:15.  It was time to climb.

Mile 3:  We crossed back over the footbridge, Shaun in the lead still about :15 ahead of Sarah and I who were running in tandem.  Over my left shoulder I heard footsteps coming up fast and hard behind us.  It had to be my friend Derek’s brother John.

Tall, long hair flowing behind him, long powerful stride, John came bombing up the hill from behind.  He passed us like we were standing still and started to reel in Shaun up ahead.  Shaun who had been leading for almost 1 ½ miles would be hard pressed to hold off John, he was looking strong.

We got to the top of the dam after climbing for 4/10 of a mile, my ½ mile split was 3:23.  I had only lost about :13 to pace over the climb and although the heat was really starting to sap my energy, I was hoping I had enough left to race Sarah all the way to the finish.

I had pulled into 3rd position on the hill, but after we hit the flat top of the course, Sarah surged past me and I fell in behind her, two strides back.

It was a little too early to kick, but I wanted to gradually increase my effort level and lock in.  in 400 Meters I was back ahead of Sarah running third, I glanced down at the 6th ½ mile split which I had dropped back to 3:05.  Only 1/10 to go.

Finish:  We made the turn off of the dam for home and I gave whatever I had left.  I covered the final 1/10 in :39 seconds, back to 5:44 pace which is where we started the race.

John Purvis finished first with a time of 18:26

Shaun Mendez was second with a time of 19:08

I finished third overall in 19:23

Sarah Mark came in just behind me in 19:25.  The first female finisher by 2 minutes and 2 seconds.

1st place in the MASTERS division which I’m very happy about, a new course record for me by :06 seconds, which makes me even more pleased.

The best thing about the race last night however was that final mile, my own “duel in the sun” with Sarah as we kept pushing each other to see if we could break the other one in the 100 degree temperatures.

She brought out the best in me last night and pushed me to a strong finish – but more importantly she helped me find the joy of racing again – something I had been missing was somehow restored in 19 minutes and 23 seconds last night.

I’ve got my mojo back.

Lance Armstrong.

Even his name seems to speak toward something significant.

If you live in Austin as I do, Lance is more than just a home-town boy “done good”, as we say here in Texas.

It is almost as if the legend of Lance has surpassed even the greatness of the man’s achievement, and that in and of itself is a tall, tall order.

Everyone knows his story and even still, his achievements leave us dumbfounded.  Who can possibly achieve such amazing athletic accomplishments in one of, if not the most challenging, endurance sports in the world?

Livestrong Austin Marathon Bib

 

On October 2, 1996, then aged 25, Armstrong was diagnosed as having developed stage three testicular cancer. The cancer spread to his lungs, abdomen and brain. On that first visit to an urologist in Austin, Texas, for his cancer symptoms he was coughing up blood and had a large, painful testicular tumor. Immediate surgery and chemotherapy were required to save his life. Armstrong had an orchiectomy to remove his diseased testicle. After his surgery, his doctor stated that he had less than a 40% chance of survival.

But survive he did.

Lance won the Tour de France each year from 1999 to 2005 and is the only person to win the event seven times.  In fact, no other cyclist has won the Tour more than 5.

We love winners in Texas.  Who doesn’t?

But it was Lance’s mixture of athletic prowess and humility that made him so universally admired, loved and respected.  When he established a foundation to help in the mission to defeat cancer around the world, is it any surprise that the Livestrong Foundation has had the impact and incredible success since it was established in 1997? 

$400 Million dollars raised, which does not take into account the awareness that Livestrong has brought to the disease and the amount of public funding that has gone to cancer research and treatment.

Would Run for Dom ever taken place without the Livestrong Foundation leading the way, setting the example?  Would we have been able to raise more than $33,000 for Dom’s children last year?  I highly doubt it.

Now retired from the sport as a professional, Lance is battling once again.  Fighting for his legacy amid doping allegations.  Despite having passed more than 500 blood tests over his career, now there are more former teammates and competitors coming forward than ever sharing stories that Lance had cheated and in some cases, encouraged teammates to do the same.

Of course none of us want this to be true.  Personally, as much as I would like to believe Lance, my 43 years on earth tell me that more likely than not, he participated in some of the activities that he is being accused of.

This tears at me today as I truly wish that the rumors and accusations are untrue.

In a world with far too few “heroes” for our children to look up to.  I would like to think that there is one right here in my hometown that my daughter could grow up and admire. 

Someone who not only worked hard to achieve their goals, but also did not give up when everyone told them that the dream they had was impossible.  That giving up is simply not an option.  You have to fight for the things that you truly want in life, and that nobody has the right to tell you any different.

I think back to the night before the Pittsburgh Marathon last year, when I stopped down to Dom and Val’s hotel room to collect them for dinner.

Dom was lying down on the bed resting when I entered.  He stood up to give me a hug hello and he draped his narrowing arms around my shoulders.  From his left wrist hung a yellow Livestrong bracelet.

To me, that is who Lance Armstrong is.

He is the man who worked incredibly hard to give my good friend hope.  He inspired Dom to believe that he should try one more treatment, talk to one more specialist, and go through one more round of chemotherapy.  Just one more procedure.

Dom believed that anything was possible.  And nobody had a right to take that away from him.

In the end, all we had was hope.

Regardless of what comes of these allegations, that is who Lance Armstrong is to me.

Lance.  Thank you.  Without your efforts, I know we would have had even less time with Dom than we did in the end.  I’m forever grateful.

There has been something different about racing so far this summer that I have not been able to put my finger on.  Last year seemed like there was more “electricity” in the air before my races.  There was more excitement.  I could feel it in my legs as I stood in the starting area, and I could feel it in my heart as I tried to settle down and focus on my opening segment of the race.

Whether that was the first mile of a 5K or the first loop of a course, I feel like I was much more in tune with what I was trying to accomplish.

As this summer race season is now three races old, I feel like something is missing.  Is it me?  Is it fatigue from the additional triathlon training?  Is it Dom?  I’m just not sure.

Saturday morning was the Congress Avenue Mile.  A race that I was hoping would snap me out of whatever funk I seem to be in.  One mile on a fast course, literally letting it all hang out in a first class event put on every year by RunTex.

The race has several open division heats leading up to the State of Texas High School Boys and Girls Mile championships.  The Congress Avenue Mile would also be the first race this summer that I raced one year ago.  Over the next few months before NYC Marathon training reaches its serious level in late July/early August, I will be running the same local races that I did 12 months earlier.

Same race, same course, just one year older.  Weather of course will be a variable I can’t control, but these races should serve as a pretty good litmus test to judge where I am as a runner right now vs. where I was at the same point last year.

The Congress Avenue Mile was the first such race for me to draw a line in the sand and ask, “Am I better today than I was a year ago?”  Closing in on my 44th Birthday in July I am a realist.  I know that at some point I am going to ask that question and the answer is going to simply be “No.”  On Saturday morning I was hoping that we were not quite at that point just yet.

Pre-Race:  I decided that I would for the first time at a short distance race, do an actual “warm-up”.  Not just a quick little quarter mile jog to get the blood going in the legs, but a longer warm-up.  A couple of miles.  Everything I have read about racing short distances says that you should run a longer warm-up than you do at long races such as the marathon.  It helps get the muscles firing, the blood flowing to your legs and will reduce the amount of time before you start accumulating lactic acid in your legs when you start running at a faster pace.

Still learning after only 5 or 6 years in the sport, I decided to give it a try.  I had always been worried about “tiring” my legs before the race, despite all of the advice and studies to the contrary.

I parked at Magnolia Café at the top of South Congress Avenue where Dawn, Landry and our friends Sarah, Tedd and their 3-month old Tyler would be meeting for breakfast after the race.  I strapped on my watch, tied my race flats and took a nice leisurely jog down towards the starting area a little more than 2 miles away.

After a mile or so, my legs were feeling really great.  I had rested from running on Thursday and Friday and felt like I really had some snap, crackle and pop going on.  The first time I could say that in a long time.

As I made my way downhill towards Riverside Drive, in the early morning light my friend Andy appeared on the right side of the road, he yelled over and we jogged to the start together.  Keep in mind that Andy and I were literally the only human beings on South Congress at that hour; it was a miracle that we happened to bump into each other.

I had not spoken with Andy since his great performance at the Boston Marathon (3:04:00~), so we chatted away about our summer race plans and made our way to the start.

After about :20 minutes I decided to run another leisurely paced mile so I could take in the race course and the right hand turn we would have to navigate from 11th street onto Congress Avenue.  The last time I had run on 11th street, I was in the closing 200 Meters of the Austin Marathon.

I would be going a lot faster on Saturday.

After a few quick strides I hopped into the starting corral next to Andy and near my friend Mick from Georgetown who had been training to break through the 5:00 minute mark at this race.  Pretty heady stuff for a 43 year-old runner just like me.  Mick had been hammering his track work and was very confident.

I knew that Mick and Andy had me by about :10 or so, this distance is not what I train for, but I was hoping that I could stay somewhere near them and close strong.  I had run a 5:26 mile a year ago.  Something around 5:15 would be a huge improvement.  Just keep them within striking distance over the first quarter I thought, then hang on.

Opening Quarter:  They called for the start and we all crouched down, fixated on starting our watches.  When the countdown from the starter went from 6 to 5 to 4 to 3 we were all coiled like springs.  Just then we heard a loud car horn sound out.  Beep!

It was the chase pick-up truck that was moving into position.  It was sideways across the starting chute just 20 yards or so ahead of us.

I would have raced right into it along with a hundred other runners.

After a couple of minutes to calm back down and get set, 3, 2, 1 – and we were off with the blast of the horn.

I fell immediately in with the runners I was hoping to stick with, we navigated the turn onto Congress Avenue with no issues, no tripping or spills and I picked out the white center line I wanted to follow straight through to the finish.

I wanted to stick on the line to avoid the camber of the road on the right, as that tends to bother my knees.  I also wanted to run as close to “point to point” as possible.  In a short race like this, every second counts.

I felt very strong over the first quarter and it came and went in the blink of an eye.  I had changed my Garmin GPS Watch to record my splits every .25 miles instead of every mile – so I could see where I was with pace.  At the beep we had run a 1:14 opening quarter – 4:58 pace.  Yikes.

Middle Quarters:  Over the middle two quarters I was hoping to “float”.  Just take a bit off of my pace to leave something for the final quarter when my legs were heavy and we were trying to push hard.

I have been having trouble lately keeping the “hammer down” in the middle of my races, ever since the 3M half Marathon back in January.  The last race where I really felt like I stayed focused on every mile of the course – not backing off when things got a little bit difficult.

Quarter number two came in at 1:18, I was losing contact a bit with Mick and Andy, but I was not losing any track position.  There was a runner up ahead of me serving as a solid pacer, and another runner just off of my right shoulder.  I felt like I was locked in to as comfortable a pace as I could find, just short of an all-out sprint, but pushing harder and harder as my legs tired.

Quarter number three was the first time I felt like I was slowing.  I tried to keep hammering away with my race flats, but I could see the distance between me and the back of Mick’s yellow shirt lengthening.  It was too early to push hard, I would have to save that for the bridge, so I kept track of the runner on my right shoulder, pacing to just stay in front of him.

My watch sounded at the end of the third quarter, I glanced down quickly but couldn’t make out the time, turned out that it was 1:20.  Still in great shape for a new PR.

Closing Strong

Closing Quarter:  At the start of the final 400 Meters I passed the runner who was just ahead of me and started to wind the watch.  I envisioned gradually increasing my leg turnover each 100M until the final 100.  Then sprint to the end of the line.

I could feel the footsteps off of my right shoulder falling away.  I was now all alone on the bridge just racing the clock.  I could make out the display above the finishing line up ahead, it was still reading numbers starting with 4:5X – Mick had just entered the finishing chute – he had made his goal time.

I closed hard with the clock reading overhead 5:05, 5:06.

My final quarter was another 1:14.

5:07as I crossed the line.

Photo by Dawn a.k.a. Super-wife

Post-Race:  I immediately caught up with Mick as I was catching my breath, congratulated him and my friend Andy (4:57) on tremendous races and then caught up with another good runner buddy Tom.  He had finished with a new PR of his own.

Dawn and Landry made their way into the finishing area and it was time for us to head back up the hill to Magnolia Café for breakfast.  (Royal Toast was the call for me, French Toast with Scrambled Eggs …)

As Dawn and I were walking to the car, I shared with her that something seems to be missing right now in my running and racing.  Could I have dug a little bit deeper over the middle quarters and made a run at a 4:59?

Perhaps.  I think most of the time immediately following a race, you feel like you could have given just a little more effort.

A :19 PR over a year ago should be a celebration.  But again, I’m just not sure.

I feel like the physical side of things is there, the knee injury I had to deal with this spring is now a distant memory, but mentally, I’m still searching.

I have a couple more tune-up races before we run the Holland 5K on June 18th.  Our summer “A” race 5K, where we’ll be going for a third-straight age group win.

Whatever it is that’s missing, I hope to find it in the next few weeks.  There is no denying it right now, I’m just not where I need to be.

Wednesday nights for the next couple of months means racing as the Summer Sunstroke Stampede proceeds through a 12-week race schedule.

To be eligible for any year-end series awards, runners must compete in at least 8 of the 12 races.  Your 8 best times are averaged together and awards are given for 1st Place Male and Female, 1st Place Masters Male and Female (over 40 years old) and the top 3 finishers in each age group.

I decided that this year I was going to make a real effort to race in at least 8 events, which means that on two occasions at least, I would have to drive downtown through evening rush hour traffic to make it to the town lake trail.  6 races on my home court, literally on the trail that runs behind our home, 6 races in enemy territory.

The downtowners”.

Lots of fast runners down there, heck, there are a lot of fast runners and great athletes in Austin.  It’s a combination of the ability to train year round due to our great weather, the access to all kinds of great endurance sport venues to race and train as well as the city’s own “vibe”.  It’s pretty much “cool” to do anything you want in Austin, whether that pursuit is frisbee golf, pitching washers, hiking, rock climbing, cycling, running, sculpting or painting.  Whatever you’re “into” it’s pretty widely accepted in Austin.

We’re still “keeping it wierd” 24/7 here in the Live Musical Capital of the world.

Pre Race:  This week was going to be a little more complicated from a logistics standpoint.  Not only did I need to drive downtown for the race, easily an hour with traffic that time of night.  But Super-wife Dawn is out-of-town on business.  Little Miss Landry was going to need a sitter while Dad was out racing.

I picked up our little Angel at Daycare just before 5:00 p.m. and dropped her off at Aunt Sarah and Uncle Tedd’s house to play with their 3 1/2 month old Tyler.  Landry now almost 9 months old is a pretty happy little camper most of the time.  She would just need a couple of hours of attention, a diaper change and maybe a switch into her PJ’s.  I’d be back before she knew it.

After dropping off Land I took my place in the long line of cars snaking their way down Mopac into downtown Austin.  I drank my Gatorade, ate my pre-race bagel, made a few phone calls and after 45 minutes of patient driving pulled up to the race.  Not too bad actually.  I tried not to think about the fact that the drive took twice as long as the race would, but I paid my $10 and warmed up along the trail.

I ran into some of my good runner buddies, Sean, Tom and Brendon.  First time I saw Brendon since our post Austin Marathon dinner out at the Salt-Lick.  He continues to build on an amazing year of training and racing, coming off of a PR at the Boston Marathon and another PR at the 5K distance a week ago at the Chuys’s 5K here in Austin.

I would be racing for 2nd place Male Masters with Brendon in the race.  Fine with me.  If you want to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best.  No other way around it.

Mile 1:  Being a new course I was unsure just what lay ahead.  I felt as if I should lock in behind a runner named Derek that I met last week on the Brushy Creek Course.  He bested me by 7 seconds during our last race, I felt like we ran pretty evenly paced.

With little fanfare we lined up more or less single file as the trail is very narrow at the start and there is a ton of people out for their afternoon exercise downtown on the Town Lake Trail.  Where we might have passed a dozen people last week during our 3 mile race on the Brushy Creek Trail, we would have to navigate that many just in the first 400 Meters.

At the start we crossed the mat and fell into a comfortably hard pace.  I was running about 6th or 7th and kept my eye on Brendon up ahead.  He was locking in somewhere under 5:55 pace, I backed off and tried to hang about :10 behind that for the opening mile.

My legs felt like they were starting to get some life back in them, but still not quite where we were at the end of last summer.  Breathing felt good and I kept my position just behind Derek over the first mile.  I glanced down on the beep just as I was pulling next to Derek at the end of mile number 1. 6 minutes, 8 seconds.  Pretty much spot on pace.

Mile 2:  As mile 2 began the course got a little confusing.  We had to make a left turn onto another part of the trail, when the natural inclination was to run straight on.  Derek and I were essentially neck and neck at this point and he was hammering along headed straight.  I saw the runners ahead of us already heading up the left side of the trail.  I leaned into Derek and nudged him left with my forearm.

He saw what I was seeing and we quickly changed course and continued to chase.

This part of the course got fairly technical as we had to navigate a few baseball fields where there were 10-12 year olds playing, spectators walking across the trail, children on bicycles – more or less an obstacle course.  No bueno.

We crossed into and over a parking lot, then another 1/10 of a mile to the turnaround point.  I grabbed a quick splash of water and retraced through the congestion.  Finally clear of all of that craziness I came up on the mile 2 mark.  At the beep my watch recorded 6:24 pace.  It felt like we should have been closer to 6:15 from an effort standpoint, but with all the twisting, turning and dodging I was not too surprised.

Mile 3:  At the start of mile number 3 I noticed that once again, I was all alone.  The third straight race where I didn’t have a competitor ahead of me close enough to chase.  I had dropped Derek at some point and could not hear any footsteps behind me.  I was running behind my friend Sean but he appeared to be a solid :15 ahead of me.

I locked in on effort and just tried to hold my track position.  I was running 8th, relatively sure that the only Masters runner ahead of me was Brendon.  Mile 3 came in at 6:26 pace, just 1/10 to go.

The Finish:  I saw the finish line clock up on the horizon and I went into a little bit more of a kick.  5:42 over the final 1/10.  Total time of 19:37.

8th place overall, 2nd place Male Masters, 1st Place Male 40-44.

Another solid race but I still feel like I’m not quite getting after it over miles 2 and 3 at the 5K distance.  We were able to drop :05 off of our time a week ago.  But those two races are hard to compare.  Different courses, different conditions.  The real test will be next Wednesday when we return to the course on the Brushy Creek Trail and see how we do vs. our week 1 time of 19:42.

This Saturday is the Congress Avenue Mile.  I’ll be taking Thursday and Friday away from running and cycling, just a swim on Thursday afternoon at a relaxed pace before my date-night with Landry.

I am going to try to rest the legs and hopefully they will rebound from all the heavy training we have been doing and have some snap, crackle and pop on Saturday.

Last year we ran the CAM in 5:26.

A year older.  Not sure I’m any wiser.  But we’re going to let it all hang out on Saturday.

The one thing I remember from last year’s race was how strong I closed out the final 200 meters.  That led me to believe that I didn’t push hard enough over the first 1,000.  I was holding back a little too much.  I won’t make that mistake again on Saturday.

I might make a completely different one in going out too fast, but that is what is so exciting about this sport.  There are always new ways to challenge yourself, and always new ways to succeed sometimes and other times fail.  Rarely in life do you get a “do over”, but with running it seems like there is always another 5K, another half-marathon or marathon just around the corner.

As long as I still want it – I’m going to keep chasing, keep learning.  I haven’t run the perfect race just yet.

Maybe Saturday is the day.

Yesterday was the 2011 running of the Pittsburgh Marathon.

It was the first time in three years that we were not there slugging it out with the Pittsburgh course.  Instead I ran a nice, leisurely 15 miles in near perfect conditions here at home in Austin.  7:44 pace, 1 hour 56 minutes and 1 second.  The run came on the heels of our very first “brick” workout on Saturday which was quite a workout.  More on that in a little bit.

I had a lot to think about on my Sunday long run as my friends Jason, Brendan, Mark, his wife Tammy and Maddy were racing in the Steel City.

The conditions in Pittsburgh were very similar to the last couple of years since the race returned after a hiatus from the city.  Windy, humid and rain falling once again, made for some tough sledding.  Tammy and Brendan were able to battle through the elements and achieve their first ever Boston Qualifying times.  So happy for those guys.  Maddy and Jason dug deep and finished the race with gutty performances on a tough day.

Me, I just cruised at an easy pace, enjoyed the sights and sounds of our local trail and thought about Dom quite a bit.  How many things have changed since the 2010 race, and yet there I was, still logging miles, thinking about training and racing.  More determined than ever to chase down another goal.

22,000 runners participated in the Pittsburgh race in 2011.  It was just too soon for me to return to that particular marathon to be completely honest.  The emotions of marathon day which are always tough for me to keep in check would have been over the top for me this year.  The Pittsburgh Marathon used to be, “where I qualified for Boston” when I reminisced about the event.

Now it is, “the last time I saw Dom”.

I know that I will return to run the event again.  It may very well be next spring depending on the deck of cards that life deals us.  But I know that I need to write another chapter at that race.  One with a happier ending.

This week is going to be another step forward in gauging our fitness level and determining where we need to go from here with our run training.

We will be participating in Wednesday night’s Summer Sunstroke Stampede 5K Race #2 of the season.  This week the race moves to the Town Lake Trail, a course I have never run before.  I’m hoping for a faster track than the one we have out at Brushy Creek.  If nothing else, the hill and the dam will be absent.  But we should also be a bit further along after last weeks race, and this weekend’s workouts.

On Saturday we will be participating in our 2nd consecutive Congress Avenue Mile.  We ran our first timed mile last year at this race in 5:26.

I am hoping that we will be able to shave :10 seconds off of that time this year as our stretch goal.  Before our injury back in March I had illusions of running something in the 5:10-5:12 range, but I think that is just a bit unrealistic given the time we had to take away from training.  But make no mistake, we’ll be letting it all hang out for that mile on Saturday morning.  It is a great event put on my RunTex, also serving as the High School Boys and Girls State Mile Championships.

Saturday brought something a little bit different to the training table as I conducted my first “brick workout” – these are the staple of triathlon training where you include two disciplines during the same workout, one after the other with minimal or no interruption in between, just as you would do during a race.

Usually when people refer to a “Brick” they are talking about a bike workout, followed by a run.  This transition is the most challenging physically during the triathlon, much more so than the swim to bike (or so I’m told).  The muscle groups utilized during the bike and the run while slightly different, are still closely related.

Fatigued legs from the bike, used to spinning at a high cadence are going to feel very “strange” when you transition to the run.  Learning to run in this state is going to be critical for me to post a good time in our strongest of the three disciplines.  To this point I have always started every footrace with legs that felt “great”, no matter the distance.  For me, to take off out of the T2 transition area for the 3 mile run will feel like nothing I have ever experienced before.

Learning how to deal with this in training will be a critical piece of our triathlon training as we prepare for July 31st.

On the other hand, we’ve yet to conquer the swim aspect of the triathlon, so for me, everything after the swim will seem easy.

Before I left for my 15 mile bike ride I brought my Running Watch and my running shoes and placed them in the garage.  I would go for my bike ride, return, pop off my helmet, glasses, riding gloves and bike shoes.  Put on my running shoes, strap on my running watch and head out for a 5 mile run.

The idea was to limit my transition to less than 2 minutes if I could.  The time spent tying my run shoes should be decreased on race day as I will have a pair of quick zip laces in my race flats.  But for Saturday, I had to quickly tie my shoes while standing on tired legs.  It was an education.

The 15 miles on the bike was very solid as I hit the hills out on Parmer Lane.   I covered the ride in 44:39 (20.1 MPH), climbing up 479 feet of elevation and racing back down 482.  I topped out with a cadence of 98 rpm (how many pedal revolutions I was able to make in one minute), with an average of 75.  My top speed was 31.8 on a nice long downhill stretch leading up to mile 10.

When I got back to the house I clipped out, leaned my bike in the garage against my workbench and changed into my running gear.

I rode in my triathlon race gear, which has a slightly padded seat, not like the large chamois in my bike shorts, and my tri-top.

I was surprised that the tri shorts actually had plenty of cushioning for the 15 mile ride.  I was hoping they would not bother me during the run.

I hit my watch and headed out of the driveway on foot after only 1:55 in transition.  Not bad I thought.

Over the first 2/10 of a mile I had absolutely no idea how fast I was running.  My legs felt incredibly strange, almost like I had never used them before.  A mixture of numbness and soreness that is hard to describe.  I glanced down at my watch and saw that I was running at 6:40 pace.

No possible way I thought, the watch must be recalibrating itself over the opening distance, I decided to just fall into a comfortably hard pace and hold it right there.  It would be similar to what I would do in a longer footrace, just run by feel, so it should be a good “test” for our first Brick Run.

I climbed up to the top of mile 1 and glanced down at my watch at the beep – 7:06.  Not too bad for an opening uphill mile.

I decided to ratchet up my breathing and leg turnover just a bit and rattle off four really solid miles in:

6:52, 6:42, 6:49, 6:46.

Total time 34:17 at 6:51 pace.

For my first triathlon on my birthday I will need to Swim 500M, Bike 13.8 Miles, Run 3.

On Saturday we knocked out a 15 M bike and 5 M run in pretty impressive fashion.  If we are able to get our swim down around the 12-13 minute range, we may have a pretty solid triathlon debut.  From there, who knows?

I know that when I ran my first 5K back in 2005 the thought of one day qualifying for the Boston Marathon seemed as likely as me walking on the moon.  Now, that is the absolute minimum expectation I have when I run a marathon.  So who knows.  We all have to start somewhere.

This week it’s all about speed, which is a great place to be.  Everybody loves to go fast.

It had been 5 weeks and three days since the Cooper River Bridge Run.  In a year where it seemed like I had been racing every 3 or 4 weeks, the last month plus away from racing seemed like forever.  Wednesday night’s 5K was the kick-off race of the Summer Sunstroke Stampede.  The S.S.S. is a 12-race 5K Series that runs every week through July 27th.

I was very interested to see where we were last night as I had taken 5 weeks away from running with some knee inflammation leading up to the Cooper River Bridge Run.  In fact, that “race” was my first run of any kind since late February.

I had been able to run injury and pain free for a solid month, gotten back into doing some up-tempo work and resumed my hill repeat training, but I knew we were a far cry from the fitness level we had reached at the end of last Summer’s race season.

Last summer during my first Summer Sunstroke Stampede race I finished the Brushy Creek Course with a time of 20:23.  I was hoping that I would be able to break through the 20:00 minute barrier last night, running something around 19:45. 

That would be a great place to start as my “course record” for the Brushy Creek trail race was 19:29 last July during the 9th race of the series.  The course is fairly technical with a lot of turns, a crushed granite track and a long 4/10 of a mile hill to crest to the top of the dam over the final mile of the race.

It is not a “fast track” by any means, but it is a great race to help you learn how to race on tired legs and to push pace over the 3.1 mile distance.  I’m convinced that running this series last year propelled me to my 5K PR of 18:12 that I ran on two separate occasions in the fall and winter of last year on relatively flat road courses.

So even though this was not an “A” race by any means, I was very interested to see how I would fare and just how far away we are right now from where we ended 2010.

Pre-Race:

I deviated slightly from my nighttime pre-race routine last night and ate a little heartier.  Usually I will just have a bagel with peanut butter and a banana about 1 ½ hours before the start of the race, but I felt like I was a little bit hungrier than usual.

I made a bagel sandwich with turkey and cheese to go along with my bagel and bottle of Gatorade.  This proved to be a little too much for me in hindsight as my stomach felt too full and heavy during the race.  I’ll need to make an adjustment for next week.

I took care of Kayla, filled her water bowl and patted her on the head as I left for the race.  Somewhat of a ritual that the two of us have gone through for close to a dozen races now.  It’s always great to know that she’ll be just as excited to see me when I get home no matter how well or how poorly I run.

I arrived at the race, paid my $10 entry fee and wrapped my timing chip band around my ankle.  Minimalist running for this series for sure.  Shoes, socks, shorts and a timing chip.  No shirt, no bib, no muss, no fuss.

I ran into my friends Dan and Erin who drove over from Georgetown for the race, Tom from S. Austin and Sean from Cedar Park.  We all chatted for a bit until 10 minutes before the gun when I went for a quick jog and some strides to get loose.

Go time.

Mile 1:  One of my favorite parts of this series is the low-key start.  The starter will walk up, say to the crowd, “you guys ready to take your marks?”  When we nod yes, they instruct us, “O.K., let’s go.” And the first runner to head across the timing mat starts the race.

Last night that runner just happened to be me, which was pretty cool.  I was able to lead the pack out over the first 3/10 of a mile or so before the younger, faster stronger men passed me by.  Typically I will head out over the first mile of a 5K trying to settle in right around 6:00 min./mile pace.  With all of the variables going on with my injury and how long it had been since I ran a 5K (New Year’s Day) – I thought something around 6:05-6:10 would be about right.

I found myself in a comfortable pace around the half mile mark and just stayed with it, not paying any attention to my watch.  I was going to run this race “by feel” as I really wanted it to serve as a litmus test for our fitness level. 

I trailed the lead pack of 5 runners around the trail past the lake and up onto the dam.  At the mile mark my watch beeped with an opening mile split of 6:07

Huh, I mumbled to myself, just about spot on.

Mile 2:  The second mile of the course starts on top of the dam.  It is flat, concrete and pretty fast.  What should be a fast split on the course however changes on you pretty quickly as there is a switch back that the runners must tackle bending around 180 degrees to the left, then another 180 degrees back to the right before you can thunder downhill.

It is tough to tell how much time the turns cost you exactly, but it seems that it is about a :05-:10 second “penalty” vs. being able to just run in a straight line at 5K Pace.  Last year I was trying to run this mile in the 6:10 – 6:15 range most weeks.

This is the point of the 5K where I always seem to find myself doing some soul searching.

Face it, if you are racing a 5K the amount of time that you actually “feel good” is infinitesimally small.  For me it is just a matter of managing the pain as it starts to move from your legs up into your chest and arriving at whatever “uncomfortable pace” you are “comfortable with” running.

We hit the turnaround point and I was able to grab a quick splash of water before we made our way back toward the hill we had just come down from the top of the dam.  I glanced down at my watch when I heard the beep marking the end to mile number 2, 6:18 pace.  Still looking pretty good.

Mile 3:  This mile takes runners back up to the top of the dam and through the switchback.  It is a 60 foot climb over 4/10 of a mile, about the equivilant of a 6-story building, which is not too terrible a grade, but like most things in real estate – it is all about location, location, location.  After pushing hard for 13 minutes, the hill comes at a pretty cruel part of the race.

I focused on even effort, trying to keep the legs churning at 6:15 effort, even though I knew my actual pace was much slower than that.  I heard a runner over my shoulder who was closing on me.  It was going to be hard to hold him off as I could feel my legs getting heavier and heavier.

Last summer I remember being able to power up the incline to the top of the dam and pick up a lot of space on my competitors.  I was just not at the same level at this point in the year and I was a bit more cautious with my pace on the climb.  Not quite as reckless as I was last year, or like I will be in another 4 or 5 weeks of steady hill repeat training.

I settled back in over the dam and reached the 3 mile mark of the race.   Mile 3 came in at 6:32 pace.  About :10 slower than my best over this stretch last summer.  Those :10 were going to be the difference.

Finish:  With just .10 to go to the finish my friend Sean slipped by me on the left and outkicked me to the finish line.  As much as it is deflating to be passed late in a footrace, I was really happy for Sean.  He’s been training and running great and being one of those young 35-39 year old whippersnappers, he didn’t move me down in my age group.

This was an odd race where I never really had anyone near me to “race” to the finish, someone up ahead to serve as that rabbit to keep me pushing hard over that final mile.  It’s always easier to chase than to be chased, and Sean proved that last night.

Next time I need to be a little tougher over the dam and start my kick a little earlier.

Total time 19:42 – 6:19 pace.

My time was good enough for 7th place overall, 1st Place in the Masters Division or what they politely call those of us over 40 years old.

:13 seconds slower than my course record, :41 faster than our first race on the course one year ago.

All in all, I have to come away pretty happy with how things went for our first race of the summer.  The best news is that our knee is back 100% healthy as I did not think about it at all during the race.  I have also shed the shin compression sleeve on my right leg that I wore last year after returning from our shin splint woes of 2009.

We’re back, running healthy, running strong, just not quite running “fast” yet.  But it’s coming.  By the time we show up in Holland, TX for the Cornfest Race on June 18th we should have a great shot at defending our title and post our third consecutive age group win.