Archive for March, 2013

Dear Joseph Marruchella,

We are looking forward to another great Cooper River Bridge Run! Your bib number is 646. Please be sure to print this email and bring it with you to the expo.

This will save you a lot of time and effort if you have this with you when you come to the expo.

If you have any questions please go to http://www.bridgerun.com.

Sincerely,

Cooper River Bridge Staff

Looks like we are just about ready to fly out East next week and see how close we are to being completely dialed-in and ready to race hard at the Cooper River Bridge Run.  This will be my second time running the event – and oddly enough, the second time running it coming off of injury.

The truly ironic part is that these are the only two injuries I have had since 2006.  Timing is everything they say in life and footraces.

The last couple of weeks I have seen some good signs when it comes to our running.  Last weekend’s 18:23 and top 3 finish at a small local race notwithstanding – I was happy to be able to bounce back and run a solid 12-miler less than 24 hours later.

This week we went back-to-back-to-back with runs of 9, 6 and 9 miles with a few quality sub 7:00 minute efforts sprinkled here and there.

I’m noticing the tone coming back in my quadriceps and the strength in my core.  We have also made it back to our most effective race weight of 136.5 lbs.  In a longer event like the marathon I like to race a little heavier at 138-138.5 lbs.  I have been down as low as 134.5 for summer 5K’s – but that has made me feel just a little bit lacking in the power department on climbs.  But 136.5 is where we have put together some of our top efforts.

Shamrock half-marathon, IBM uptown Classic, Shiner Half-Marathon, Lights of Love, Turkey Trot all PR races and all at our target race weight.

The race itself in Charleston is not one where people go to set a PR.  The course in a word is brutal.

Ravenel Bridge on Race Day

Ravenel Bridge on Race Day

Two miles flat, two miles across the Ravenel Bridge, then another 2 miles to close things out after some max effort climbing and a steep descent.

In addition to the course, there is a good chance that wind is going to be a factor being so high up above the Cooper River.  Lastly, being a 40,000 person point to point race – you have to deal with all of the same challenges that a large marathon would pose.  An early wake-up.  Commute to the finish area.  Park, walk to the school busses that will transport runners from downtown Charleston to Mt. Pleasant.

Aerial Shot of the start

Aerial Shot of the start

Once there, a long walk to the starting corrals, where runners will try to stay warmed-up, stretched, loose and ready to come blazing out onto the course.  Thankfully the 10K gives you a little bit more time to “settle in” than a 5K footrace affords.  But the truth is, you need to be locked into very near goal pace over the first mile in Charleston, as you have to take advantage of the flat miles before you reach the foot of the bridge.  The climb is something – well over a mile in length, with no pauses or breaks to reload.

The descent drops runners from the same height obviously, but at a much steeper grade – so as much as you would like to come flying down the other side, you have to be a bit more measured and careful as you will still have a full 2 miles to race once you come off of the bridge.  Like I said.  Brutal.

So success on Saturday is not going to be chasing our 10K PR of 37:30.  That is a fool’s errand.  Even on my fittest of fit days, there is no chance of running that time on that course.  Instead, we are looking for a top 25 AG Finish.  5% of Age Group Finishers are eligible for awards up to 25.  At the end of the day, I hope to be in the money.  Something around 39:30 should put us in the top 10-15 among male 45-49 year old finishers.

Sub 40 minutes would be a completely acceptable fall-back position if the wind, course or temperature throw us a bit of a curve on race morning.

Those conditions however will affect everyone equally – so again, age grouping is the goal going into Saturday.  This weekend we will run 8 miles on Saturday and somewhere around 12 or 13 on Sunday – then two short runs on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week before flying out to Charleston on Thursday, complete rest on Friday and we should be as ready as we are going to be come Saturday morning.

Another good test in front of us, then another back to back weeks of racing April 21 and 28 will place us in a pretty good position heading into May.

Training for Steamtown will begin in earnest on June 9th.  By then our long runs will be back in the 15-16 mile range on Sundays and we should be back to where our fitness level and training volume was prior to starting our Houston Marathon Cycle was last fall.  A lot of work remains just to get back to where we once were – but that is the nature of the sport.  You are either getting better or getting worse, nobody ever stays the same.

Here’s to another step in the right direction next weekend.  Bring it on Charleston.

Steamtown

Posted: March 25, 2013 in Pace and Racing
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Everyone has been there.  Runners and non-runners, the feeling doesn’t discriminate.

Missed opportunities.  Narrow defeats.  Having something that you desperately want and have worked hard for, but for whatever reason it slips through your fingers.

Of course you then sit back and analyze things.  Over analyze them actually, trying to pinpoint the one moment where if you had just done something a little bit differently the outcome would have been everything that you hoped for.

It can drive you crazy.  It is also a colossal waste of time and energy.  Yet we all fall prey to it from time to time.

Ever since I sent in my deferment notice to the Houston Marathon back in December when I knew that my Achilles tendon strain was serious enough to keep us from racing I have been in that place.  Oddly enough, my thoughts have not focused on Houston.  They instead have gone back to the two marathons before.

New York and Boston.

In New York through 22 miles I executed a perfect marathon.  I just did not have the talent, ability, desire and training to overcome the final bridges and hills to hold pace and my dreams of a sub 3 hour marathon slipped through my fingers.  At the time of course I was thrilled with my PR, happy that I was able to go toe to toe with a difficult marathon course on a huge stage and bring my “A” game.  Execute my race plan and gain valuable race experience.  I would get it the next time.  Surely Boston would be different.

At Boston last spring, just a little more than a year ago, my race like everyone else’s was over before it really started.  88 degree temperatures, the second hottest Boston Marathon in 116 years of the event made racing that day a fool’s errand.  For someone hoping to run to the closest margin of their potential – it just wasn’t the day for glory.  Never mind I thought.  We’ll reload and be ready for Houston.  We all know how that turned out.

So here we are now going on 16 months since New York City and I haven’t been able to toe the line of a marathon with that same confidence.  That same drive and determination to excel and the same opportunity to hold fate in my own hands and go toe to toe with one of the most difficult foot races on the planet.

As much as I wanted to take the rest of 2013 off from the marathon, as much as I told myself that it was time for a much-needed break from the event, I have been uncomfortable with that decision.  Can I really afford to take 12 months off at this point before I take another crack at that 2:59 knowing that I am every bit of 45 years, 7 months and 23 days old?  I may be in great shape for an “old guy”, but as 3 hour marathoners go, I’m pretty darn close to dinosaur status.

After Saturday’s showing at the Thin Mint Sprint, where I ran within :20 or so of my PR at that distance I strapped on my running shoes on Sunday morning and ticked off a dozen miles on tired legs at just a hair over 7:00 minute miles.  I did so over the hill course with 25 mile an hour winds blowing through Austin.  It was the first time that I felt like I was really close to being back to where I was before that misstep down in Shiner, TX and our injury.

I also knew that it was time to find a Fall Marathon that would give us the best chance at running, “our time“.

After balancing our personal life and work life calendars – there were very few weekends that lined up well for a Fall Marathon.  Knowing full well that for me to have a legitimate shot at going sub 3 I need to have a few factors going in my favor.

Possibility/likelihood of cool weather.

A small Race, nothing more than 5,000 runners to navigate.

A neutral to “fast” course.

My window for racing would be October, and specifically the middle two weeks of the month staying away from a conference Dawn will be attending out in Florida the first week of October and being home for all of the Halloween festivities with Landry.

All of those variables narrowed the list to one race and one opportunity.

Steamtown.steamtown

A race capped at 3,000 marathoners on a point to point, net downhill course that will wind up less than 2 hours away from where I took my first steps as a boy in suburban Philadelphia.  Although running downhill is not all that it is cracked up to be, fatiguing those quad muscles in a big way – we’ve been there before.  We had our first Boston Marathon come undone due to a similar downhill start to that race in 2010.  We know how to prepare for the downs.

Yes there are 3 miles of climbing at the end of the race.  But again, if our training is sound and we put in the appropriate level of hill work going in, this is something we know how to be ready for.

All in all, Steamtown offers us a lot of things on our wish list in looking for a Fall Race.  There are some drawbacks as well, like logging all of our 18, 20, 21, 22 and 23 mile long runs in the hottest months of our Texas Summer.  An experience that the last time we did this prepping for New York I uttered the foolish phrase “Never Again”.

The reality of course was that running through that heat and humidity made us the strongest marathoner we had ever been on race day in New York, springboarding us to new PR’s after New York in every distance from the 5K to the half-marathon.  It will certainly pay huge dividends this year as well.

So here we are, ready to tee this thing up one more time and give it all we have to prepare for the most difficult but exceptional 179 minutes of racing we have ever done.  Having running taken away from us for those 5 weeks has left a determined marathoner even more so in its wake.

On Monday morning when registration opens we will be among the first people to log on and cast our lot.  There will be 193 days to go until race day at that point.  Just over 6 months of sword sharpening and we are going to pour every ounce into this training plan to be more than ready to do battle on race day.

The first major race we ever ran was in the state of Pennsylvania, the day we became a Marathoner for the first time.

We returned to Pennsylvania a little over 18 months later and teed it up again.  That day we became a Boston Qualifier.

There is only one more club we want to join when it comes to the marathon.  It is only fitting that Pennsylvania again plays a prominent role.

The visuals are starting to form in my mind already, coming off that final hill with 2/10 of a mile to go straight downhill to the finish.

Quads screaming, feet hurting with every stride, knowing that in just under 90 seconds it will all be over.  I’m not sure how this story is going to end right now – but that is what this has always been about, the journey, not the destination.

Steamtown, October 13, 2013.  Going to be quite a day.  Boom goes the dynamite.

Race morning.

Always an interesting day to wake up on.  Sometimes the alarm goes off and I hop right out of bed.  Other mornings I have been lying awake for hours, unable to relax, unable to sleep, the thoughts of hills, mile splits and a time clock ticking in my mind.  Philadelphia, Boston, New York, Virginia Beach, Pittsburgh, Dallas, Miami, Tempe, Charleston, Kerrville or Austin – doesn’t really matter – there are things about those mornings that are all the same – and certain things of course that are different.

I’ve found that keeping the same routine whether it is a “big” race or a small one helps to keep me relaxed and focused.  After checking the weather forecast the night before I lay out my race gear, pin my race bib to my shorts and have everything that I need ready to go.  Race flats in my run bag, my warm-up shoes laid out and ready to go.  No surprises.  No last minute scrambling around burning valuable energy needlessly.

Saturday morning for the local Thin Mint Sprint was not what I would consider a pressure race, with about 250 runners expected to race a local 5K benefitting Girl Scout Troup 2063.  But for us returning from injury and this being the first race of the year where we were relatively sound and fit, I was hoping to run a strong race and be able to hold pace from start to finish.  I decided to race this one “blind” – meaning no watch to beep at me and feed me data every half-mile.

Just keep the watch on time of day – (I used it to measure my 2-mile warm-up) – then keep it shut down for the race.

Knowing that missing 5-weeks of training was a hole I am still digging my way out of, I didn’t want an opening 1/2 mile to scare me into slowing down, or force me into a faster pace than my body was ready for just because a device on my wrist told me so.  Runners have been racing by feel for a hundred years.  Sometimes less is more and tapping into a more primitive mindset is what your body needs.

Running “naked” is a freeing experience.  Naked, meaning with no technology.  I do it on training runs all the time to let my mind and body get in synch.  Seemed like a good time to try it on race day.

So with that exception, I treated Saturday’s tune-up race the same as the 5o before it.  Press the issue early, find your rhythm, stay strong in the middle, close hard late.  Every PR I have ever run at any distance has followed that exact plan.  I’m a “hang-on” racer, just the way we’re wired.

Pre-Race:  At the sound of the alarm I hit the snooze button for an extra 10-minutes of sack time.  I flexed my legs, rotated my ankles, started to gently and gradually wake up the machine.  When I hopped out of bed and got in the shower I was feeling rested and solid.  One distraction this week from training was the fact that Super-Wife was in Spain for work.  Landry and I had been one-on-one since last Friday and my training was spotty this week to be kind.  I only could manage two workouts – but they both were very solid.  Although I would have rather had some volume on my legs this week, I did feel good about the fact that they had a lot of snap, crackle and pop on my run days.

I had the usual pre-race bagel, no banana this time and made my way over to the Cedar Park Center.  An easy, no-traffic 15 minute ride to the start.  I arrived on site and although we had picked up our race bib on Friday – and our box of Girl Scout Thin Mint Cookies – we still had to pick up our timing chip.  We got parked, grabbed our run bag and water and made our way over to the tents.

53 degrees, a little wind blowing, overcast skies.  Not a perfect day for racing, but not a bad one either.  Call it neutral weather I thought.Bib

I grabbed my chip and decided to walk down to the start area to figure out where the route went and get ready for my warm-up when I heard “JOE!” over my shoulder.  My good buddy Andy Bitner was in line to get his chip.  Great to see Andy and I knew that I had a younger faster runner that would be in front to set pace.  I wasn’t sure who else would be there racing on Saturday – but it was awesome to know Andy would be there to give me someone to chase and to keep me honest.  Andy was going for sub 18:00, I was in 18:30 shape I figured, not quite back to our 18:02 PR level from December, but we were gaining on it.  It was shaping up to be a fun morning.

Warm-Up:  Andy and I dropped gear at his car and went out to the course to run a 2-mile warm-up.  The shorter the race, the longer the warm-up as the story goes.  It is a good idea to get good and warm before blasting out at the start of a 5K, 5-miler, 10K as you have to get that engine running smoothly and efficiently as quickly as possible.  The race simply isn’t long enough to settle in.

At the top of mile 1 we ran into a training buddy of Andy’s Catherine – one of the top female Age Groupers in the area.  I now knew two other runners that would be running in the top 5.  The only question is whether or not we would be there with them.  After a couple of miles right around 8:00 min./mile pace to shake loose we went back to the car, switched shoes and got ready to rumble.  5 minutes to the gun.

Go-Time:  Runners assembled into a very narrow start area and we pressed to the front.  As is often the case at the smaller local races, young children press to the front and can make it a bit dangerous to get out clean where a tangle of feet or a misstep can cause a runner to crash to the ground or turn an ankle.  My goal in races like this is to get up front and get out quickly, run a quick 200 meters to get the blood flowing and get clear of all the danger, then settle into my pace and cruise.  Standard, simple, strategic.

Runners to your mark, set, horn – and we were off.  Just as planned we got out quick, Andy ran next to me and then slightly ahead as we completed the first 400 meters and made the first right turn uphill and into the wind.  The same section we ran during our warm-up, we would run straight to the top of mile 1, make another right – head to a turnaround at the mid-point and then retrace our steps to the finish line.  Nice course – all smooth paved road – perfect footing with only 6 turns.

Racing:  As we settled into the middle of the first mile a runner came by my left side and pulled ahead of Andy pushing us down to 3rd place.  Unsure of our exact pace, it felt like we were clipping along around 5:45 pace.  Meaning Andy and the other runner were running around 5:30.  Too rich for our blood even on our most fit day, so I checked it down and locked it in.  Stay even to the turnaround and then I would have a chance to see who was behind us.

We made the turn at the top of mile 1, Andy had retaken the lead position and started to stretch his lead a bit.  We had a slight downhill section to the turnaround to enjoy, but unfortunately, the wind was blowing directly against the runners.  Instead of picking up :15 it felt like it was a bit more like only :05.

At the turnaround we were firmly in third place with a 200 meter lead on the 4th place runner.  It looked to be Catherine, but they were still navigating the loop in a small park which made spotting her difficult.  I powered back up the hill and marked to the 1-mile to go point.

Here is where I could tell that I was not all the way back from a fitness perspective.  I will typically run the fourth half-mile faster than the third in a 5K, the fifth faster than the fourth and the sixth the fastest of the race with the exception of the opening 1/2 mile.  That first 1/2 mile with all of the adrenaline is always the fastest.  When I started to lengthen my stride out entering the final mile of the race Saturday, it just isn’t quite there yet.

I pushed a bit but the acceleration that I usually enjoy was more like a steady grind.  I was no slower through this mile, but if I was any faster it was only negligible.  The good news is my track position was staying the same.  Nobody was gaining ground on the downhill stretch, but I was not able to cut into the two leaders ahead.

I made the final left turn with 1/4 mile to go and surged a bit.  Finally the legs started to spin up with a closing kick and we hit the mat solidly in 3rd place.

Finish:  18:23.  :20 seconds faster than we were two weeks ago, :11 seconds off of our “old PR” that stood for more than two years up until this past December where we blew that time out of the water with our 18:02.  Basically the fastest we have ever been in our life.  So all in all – it was a great morning, a well executed race and we were able to see our friend Andy finish first overall and run a new PR breaking 18:00 minutes in the 5K for the first time in his life.

Good stuff.

Post Race:  We hung around for the awards ceremony, caught up a bit on things and talked about joining Andy’s training group in the coming months.  I think that it is time for us to look at a change in our training regimen if we are going to continue to make strides and force adaptation at 45 1/2 years old.

Training on our own, developing our own training plans and workouts has taken us from a 3:58:06 marathon debut to a two-time Boston Marathon Finisher, a 1:23:30 half-marathoner with a solid 37:30 best 10K.  Not too shabby for a runner in their mid 40’s.  But we’re not done yet and we still have two goals out there that mean something to us.

That sub 3 hour marathon and a sub 18 minute 5K.

Running is absolutely an individual sport and effort.  It is one of the great metaphors for life.  Nobody can do it for you.

But to think that we are all in this alone is an egomaniacal and foolish view.  We all have people in our lives who help us from time to time.  Give us a pat on the back when we need it and a firm kick in the ass when required.

Maybe it’s time that we took that reality to our running.  One of the truly great things about the sport is that you can always reinvent yourself even as a 45-year-old Dad.

In two weeks we’ll be teeing it up at the Cooper River Bridge Run with 40,000 fellow runners on April 6th.  We’ve got two weeks to try to get as ready as possible for that event.

As Dom would say.  Time to go to work.Trophy

It’s Race Week! Thanks B-Doe!

Posted: March 20, 2013 in Training

Hi guys!  Checking in from “race week” as we are starting to get that eye of the tiger going for Saturday’s 5K.

Training has been a little challenging with Momma Bear in Barcelona this week, and Landry and I holding down the fort together – but so far we are both still alive, eating three times a day, grooming ourselves and haven’t missed work or school yet – so I’m counting that as a win.
I wanted to share an interview that I took part of this past week here in Austin talking about Back on My Feet and our upcoming 24-hour race May 11th and 12th.

http://www.klbjfm.com/local/index.aspx

B-DOE from 93.7 FM here in Austin has a tremendous program called local insights, where he focuses on one of the wonderful non-profit organizations that help make our city such a wonderful place to live.  I was fortunate enough to be able to drop by the studio and speak to B-DOE about our organization and talk running, racing and a little bit about paying it forward.

I hope you enjoy listening as much as we did putting it together.

And B-DOE – I completely expect to see you out there on May 12th for the Pajama Run 5-Miler!  No excuses 🙂

 

Taking Stock – Onward and Upwad

Posted: March 14, 2013 in Training

Tuesday marked my first day of running “doubles” in 2013.  A 6 mile off/on workout in the morning, followed by a moderate 6 miles 12 hours later.

I bounced out of bed Tuesday morning feeling the best I have in quite some time.  After feeling no ill-effects from the Texas Independence Day 5k, my legs had started to bounce back from my runs closer to normal and there was still no pain or stiffness in the dreaded Achilles.  It was time to move on, stop thinking of myself as a runner coming back from injury, and just thinking of myself as a runner who was training for a race.

It seems like the physical piece always comes back before the mental one does.  Tuesday was a big day and I knew it.  Funny how I was the only one at 4:45 a.m. in Avery Ranch who thought so – but that is why running is such a great metaphor for life – sure you can run with friends or with a running club, but most of the time the big gains are made on some unlit trail or street in the wee hours with nobody watching except for your conscience.

The first workout is an easy one to follow.  The first mile is a warm up or “Off” mile, with the second mile one approaching 5K effort or “On” mile.  Repeat the process Off, On, Off, On, Off, On until reaching 6 total miles.

To make the workout a bit more challenging run each mile whether it is Off or On a bit faster than the last mile of its type.

Or to put it simply, each off mile should get a bit quicker throughout the workout as should each on mile.  Tuesday’s results:

Off Miles:  8:06, 7:58, 7:53

On Miles:  6:10, 6:04, 5:58

Not the fastest I have ever run this workout, but it was a rock-solid effort dropping pace by just about :06 per mile regardless of whether we were talking about the “Offs” or the “Ons”.  The whole point of the workout is to help you run race-pace miles in a controlled environment.  With the alternating easy miles or recovery miles thrown in, you can get right back to training the following day, or in my case only 12 hours later – without the fear of aggravating something or winding up injured.  Key concerns for Masters ( Over 40 years old) runners.

For the afternoon workout I decided to keep it short in distance and just roll up and down over the hill route for 6 miles.  In a few weeks these workouts will stretch out to 8 miles each and turn Tuesday into a 16-mile day.

With the temperature now 75 degrees the p.m. run was a solid progression in:  7:30, 7:22, 7:21, 7:16, 7:13, 7:00.

Nothing glamorous, nothing overly impressive – just a solid training day.  The kind of day that makes all the difference come race day.

The next week is going to prove to be a bit challenging with Momma Bear traveling to Spain for a week.  Landry will be “helping Dad train” this weekend as she puts it.  I’m not sure how long she will be content riding in the jogging stroller, but we’re going to give it a shot.

It might mean some early mornings or late nights on the TRI bike trainer in the garage with the baby monitor next to me – but we’ll consider those workouts mental toughness training for half-ironman at the end of our race season.

Right now it just feels good to be training again – and not too far off of where we want to be/need to be heading into the season.  As the weather heats up here in Austin, we should be as well.  Going to be an interesting summer race season.  We’ll be a bit of an underdog at some of the upcoming events in our age group – but that’s just the way I like it 🙂

 

 

 

 

Dom –

It’s been awhile since I’ve written to you and I wanted to let you know you have been front and center in my thoughts even more than you usually are the last 24 hours or so.  I was waiting outside of a conference room yesterday, about to pitch a concept that would bring a new signature race to Austin as part of my new job.  I picked up a magazine to kill a few moments and there was a feature article about Lance Armstrong and his fall from grace.

I thought about you and seeing your yellow Livestrong Bracelet that you wore throughout your cancer battle.  How it served as a great reminder and motivator when I was training for those two marathons in 13 days.  I closed my eyes briefly and could picture it getting bigger and bigger around your wrist that summer, knowing full well the band was staying the same, it was you who was changing.

Last night I met up with Jason and Brian for the first time in several months.  The conversation turned to running, racing and marathons as it often does and Brian started telling a mutual friend Ed about his first “major race” which was the Pittsburgh Half-Marathon the day I ran the full as the second marathon for you and Run for Dom.

I listened quietly as the two brothers talked about having pre-race dinner with you, Val and the rest of the gang and how after only knowing you briefly – they felt so close to you, as if they had known you for years and years.

That was the gift you had Dom.  You truly were someone who people were drawn to.  Your enthusiasm was infectious.  And not just enthusiasm for things you were passionate about, like the Steelers, Penguins, your family or West Virginia Football.  But your enthusiasm for life.

You made everything around you just a little more exciting.  A little more vivid.  A little more special.

I really miss the hell out of you.

Right now Landry is just about the same age as Sierra was when you were first diagnosed with Cancer.  I look at her growing up literally in front of my eyes and I think about how lucky I am to have such a perfect front row seat for her life.  She is swimming, riding her bike and running Dom.  30 months old.  I have no idea where all that is going to go down the line – but the kid has a lot of heart, a lot of spirit and just enough of a stubborn streak (surely from Dawn) to be dangerous.

Landry's 2nd Haircut

Landry’s 2nd Haircut

I frankly can’t wait sometimes to see how it is all going to turn out for her.

Then I think about Sierra, Nico, you and Val and I am still heartbroken 2 1/2 years after we laid you to rest that summer day in Pittsburgh.  I find myself getting angry all over again at times asking the same tired questions that as long as I live I will never get any answers to.  At least none that will make even the smallest difference.

So instead I’m going to do what I always do Dom.   I’m going to pour those frustrations into training.

I put the finishing touches on my race season for spring, summer and fall that will again take us to Ironman 70.3 and this time we’re going to be shooting for that 4:59:XX.

We were 6 minutes off of that in Kerrville last year.  2 minutes in the swim, 2 minutes on the bike, 2 minutes on the run and we’re home.  I’m going to train a couple of thousand miles between now and then Dom for those 360 seconds.  Something that I know a lot of people just can’t make sense of doing.

That’s o.k., I’m learning there are a whole lot of things that don’t make sense to a whole lot of people.  In the end it only has to make sense to ourselves, the ones we love and the people we care about.

Those 360 seconds are all yours Dom.  Make sure you are paying attention on race day in September.

We are going to absolutely crush it.

I miss you brother.

If my math is correct, this is the 53rd race report since we started Run for Dom in 2010. 53 competitive road races and triathlons in a little more than 3 years. That is a whole lot of racin’.

The funny thing is, I can remember just about all of them. The weather, the courses, all of the PR’s and especially the races where things didn’t necessarily go my way. There were two races out of all of them where I was not entirely “whole”. Where instead of feeling like I was primed for a big performance, I was managing some sort of injury or comeback.

The first time was the Cooper River Bridge Run in 2011, the second time was Saturday morning.

It made for interesting levels of nervousness prior to the events where instead of wondering what the race clock was going to say when I crossed the finish line – the victory was going to be in simply finishing the race injury free.  In a bit of irony, the Texas Independence Day 5K was going to be my first real maximum effort workout since the Shiner Half Marathon in December.  The race where my Achilles strain occurred and knocked me out of the Houston Marathon.

It would also be my first step back toward our next “big” event which oddly enough is the very same Cooper River Bridge Run circa 2013.  A race now just 5 weeks away, the third largest 10K in the country.

Full circle it would appear two years later.

Knowing I was not quite prepared to race to my potential, I decided to ignore my watch, run entirely by feel and not obsess about splits and pace.  The course was unkind, starting at the south end of the Congress Avenue Bridge, starting on an incline and then heading straight uphill more than 125 feet to the Texas Capital.  In addition to the ascent, the course was going straight into a headwind and then would be turning four consecutive 90 degree left turns before crossing back in front of the State House and cruising back down to the finish line.

It was a pretty brutal circuit – especially for someone who had not done any speed work since two weeks before Christmas.

Instead of thinking about taking a shot at our 5K PR of 18:02 and maybe breaking through that 18 minute barrier my goals were much more uncomplicated for the race.

1.     Run your race.

2.     Test yourself, but be aware of your limits.

3.     Don’t do anything stupid out there.

On Friday evening I received a message from a good friend in New England.  We’ve known each other for a number of years now, he was there throughout Run for Dom, through the birth of my daughter, through multiple marathons for both of us – including some successes and failures.  Of everyone who knows me through the sport of running, he perhaps knows me best – especially when it comes to my motivations, my desire to test myself and my desire to always run with honor when it comes to strapping on my race flats with Dom’s initials on the side.

He shared with me an excerpt from a sermon delivered by his Grandfather in 1947.  It reads:

“As water reflects a man’s face so a man’s heart reflects the man.” – Proverbs 27:19.

I wrote that on a small piece of paper and carried it with me to the start of the race on Saturday morning.  It would be the last thing I would see before I fixed my gaze on Congress Avenue below my feet, bowed my head and waited for the muskets to fire and head out onto the course.

The Start:  I had sized up the field around me before the start.  There were approximately 300 runners lining up, 10 or so had “the look” in their eyes.  On another day I might have had enough talent to challenge each of them.  On Saturday I thought my odds of running in the top 5 were pretty slim, but we were going to give it our best shot.

Mile 1:  With the blast of four guns we were speeding off to the capital, we bounced up the first incline on the bridge and my legs felt like they were hardly touching the ground.  I had not run at this pace in more than two months – it felt exhilarating.  The wind was blowing 15 mph straight into the runners and as we crossed the unprotected bridge it was pretty fierce.

I was settling into fourth position and there was nobody to tuck behind except a young High School Runner who made me at 136.5 lbs. look like a linebacker.  He could not have been much more than 115 lbs. dripping wet.  We matched stride for stride for the opening 1/2 mile until I locked in to my even effort for the climb with him about :15 seconds in front of me.

I heard footsteps behind me over the opening half-mile, but by the time we reached 6th street and started the steepest part of the climb it was silent.  I was alone running in 4th place and unless I completely fell apart or another runner mounted a fierce change, that was where I was likely to stay.  Not even one mile into the race and our spot was firmly established.

It made forcing the issue even more pointless coming back from my Achilles strain and I thought about goal number 3 for the day.  Don’t do anything stupid.  We reached the end of mile 1 and at the beep I opened with a 6:10 first mile.  If you take :15 seconds for the wind and the climb we were approximately at 5:55 pace where we are usually at 5:45 at the start of a 5K.  :10 seconds off of our usual full-health fitness pace.  About what I had been averaging during my training runs.  Time to lock it in and stay even.

Mile 2:  The second mile started by climbing the last remaining stretch to 11th street and then battling up three consecutive hills around the capital.  On the highest point of downtown Austin the wind was howling and the pace was difficult to maintain.  I decided to bypass the water stop at the 1.55 mile mark and keep battling the elements.

On the last left turn I looked back over my shoulder and the fifth place runner was not making a dent in our lead.  I boxed the capital, made a right hand turn headed back toward the Congress Avenue Bridge and glanced down at my watch at the beep – 6:07.  I was :07 off of our usual mid-mile split.

Mile 3:  At the start of mile 3 I thought about putting down the gas a bit to maintain our pace but decided instead to just stay even.  I had a little bit more to give, but I wanted to be sure to keep our form and our stride uniform as we started the downhill section.

2.5 miles inI would pick up a bit of speed in this section without having to hammer away at the pavement.  I was able to spot my co-worker Elise who snapped this photo along the route.

I hit the bridge with a final full mile at 5:55 pace.  Again about :10 off of where we might have been had we been on point, but a very respectable close to a solid race.

We hit the finish line in 18:43, 4th place overall, first place in the Masters Division.

Post Race:  The Texas Independence Day 5K was just a small race on a big day in the state of Texas.  By far my least favorite distance to race – it was the most fun I have had in a pair of running shoes in almost three months.

The takeaway from the race was that I can stop feeling tentative, stop analyzing every step that I take, every stride on my runs and wonder if something is “wrong” with my left side.

I’m back and while I can’t say I’m better than ever yet – I know it is just a matter of time.  I have a great plan in place for the next few months as we ramp up for Charleston, SC on April 6 then transition to Triathlon season for the summer.  By the time we return to the Kerrville Half-Ironman in September, we are going to be even more fit and more confident than we were one year ago.

Sub 5 hours in Kerrville is imminently possible if we stay healthy and get some race day weather cooperation.  From there it will be fall Marathon preparation for either a late winter race or perhaps a return trip to Houston where we finally get our chance to do battle on that storied course.

But thinking about those things are akin to flipping to the final page of a book to find out how it is going to turn out before you start it.  All in due time.  All in due time.

All I know right now is I have an appointment on Thursday morning with our hill for the first hill repeat session of 2013.

Time to get this train rollin’.