Snuck in a September Race

Posted: September 23, 2013 in Pace and Racing

The last week or two I have been feeling pretty solid on the left side, meaning my ankle/Achilles issue was not noticeable and I even pressed the issue over a few miles here and there to see if there would be any flare-ups under pressure.  Fortunately each “test” came back negative.  Or perhaps positive depending on how you look at things.

No discomfort – full return to training and activities.

On Sunday morning the non-profit organization that I work for – Back on My Feet, was partnering with Livestrong at the Car2Go Relay Marathon and Whole Foods Market Race in downtown Austin.  A 6-person 7K Relay Marathon (26.2 miles = 42 Kilometers) was the major event with more than 350 teams registered.

Not having enough trust in my ability to race this month, I opted to jump in the single loop race of 7K for runners without a relay team.  It set up really nicely for me as it was a low-pressure situation, I would not have 5 other teammates race performance hinging on my ability to race well coming off of injury.

I would however benefit from racing in a crowd, locking onto pace and pushing harder than I would on a typical training run.  So with very little prep or fanfare, I registered for the event, snuck in and out of packet pick-up, didn’t share with many folks I would be racing and kept the whole situation very chill.

My good friend Brendon from here in Austin who I did battle with in our age group for a couple of years in 2009 and 2010 was also hopping into the loop race.  He had been dealing with his own injury issues – much more serious than mine – as he is recovering from surgery to correct Morton’s Neuroma.  In layman’s terms, a nerve issue in between two toes on Brendon’s right foot.  An exceptional marathoner (sub 3:00:00) and generally fast through all distances, this would be Brendon’s first timed event since 2011.

We met up in the start area and ran a very easy warm-up mile at 8:30 pace.  Joking and laughing quite a bit as we had very little in the way of expectations for the event.  I was going to try to run something around 6:20 pace for the roughly 4 mile course, Brendon a little bit slower and just test things out a bit.  Get a good barometer as to where we are right now so that as we kick off training this week for Ironman Texas, with stops along the way at the Turkey Trot, Lights of Love 5K, Houston Half-Marathon, Austin Half-Marathon and Republic of Texas Half-Ironman – we would have some sense as to where our run is right now.

Normally for this course I would be looking at 6:03-6:05 pace as a goal if I was completely fit and healthy.  So a 6:20 showing would be a pretty decent effort.  More importantly as I mentioned to Brendon was how I closed the race.  I know I could go bombing out at 5:50 pace and hold that for the first mile, but what would happen after that?

There are a lot of ways to average 6:20 min./mile over 4 miles.  Not all of them are pretty.

I did not want to be struggling to keep the last mile under 7:00 minutes completely finishing on fumes.

I was hoping to run a solid, consistent race where I closed strong and felt like I could have run a little bit faster.  More than anything I just wanted to feel good about my performance and get some of my confidence and mojo back.  It had been awhile since I really felt “whole”.  So this was going to be a good step in that direction.

After our quick warm-up mile I ducked into our event tent, changed into my race flats and hit the portapotty.  I ducked into the starting chute and chatted with Brendon for a moment.  I decided to run a few quick strides as I had not ticked the legs over at 6:00 flat pace since July.  I’m sure that is what I would be leaving the starting line at with the excitement of the crowd of runners and the horn – so it made sense to mentally download what it felt like to go “fast” again.

After 4 strides, I hopped back into the corral and was ready to go.

Countdown from 10 and we were off.

The course starts out very flat with a cone turnaround in the first 4/10 of a mile.  Right after you feel like you are finding a nice cadence, you have to slow down, turn 180 degrees and fall back into pace.  Kind of a P.I.T.A., but with a pancake flat opening 8/10 of a mile before turning left up and over the S. First Street Bridge – it is one of the easiest opening miles of any race course in Austin.

Instead of running 1/2 mile splits, I decided to just leave the watch counting 1-mile intervals and I would run by feel.  I didn’t want to know if my effort was showing up as too fast on the watch, which might scare me off or if it was too slow, which would discourage me.

I ran smooth and easy and at the first beep – 6:10.

As we went down Cesar Chavez I fell in behind a runner as the breeze blew into us a bit and locked in the effort.  The course has a long but gentle uphill final mile before you come thundering down the bridge to the finish over the final 400 meters.  I was trying to set things up where my final mile would be strong with no drop off.

Mile 2 came in at 6:18 pace and mile 3 almost identically at 6:17 which included another cone turnaround which typically takes 2 seconds off of your pace.

Pretty solid to this point.

As we reached the long, slight incline I gradually pushed the effort just a hair as I was hoping to stay steady and run a final mile in that same 6:18 range.

When we reached the bridge and made the right turn I noticed that I had never felt that relaxed and strong at that point of the course before, which was an indicator that I had not been pushing as hard as I usually am at Turkey Trot, Run for the Water or the other races that close with the same final 1/2 mile.

As I came off the bridge I had a runner behind me and dropped him to the back when I started my kick.

Final mile 6:15 pace.

Overall race pace – 6:15.

In the smaller loop course race I finished 1st male overall.  Brendon finished behind me as the 1st Masters Male Finisher.  So it was a very successful return to racing for both of us as afterwards we felt great with no aches or pains from our injuries.  I joked with Brendon that my record against him in races now improved to 1 and 20 as he has/had beaten me at every distance from the 5K to Marathon head to had to this point.

It is a hollow victory of course as neither one of us are anywhere near where we typically are when we are completely fit – but you have to take those wins where you find them on race day, especially as Brendon and I are both a lot closer to 50 right now than we are to 40.  Just sayin’.

So today kicks off our 8-week cycle of PRE-TRAINING for Ironman Texas.  No racing, just getting into the rhythm of running, biking and swimming on the days that call for it during Ironman Training.  Gradual increases in distance to all three disciplines so that when we kick off the BASE PHASE of training for IM Texas, we have all three events starting from a solid point.

Today called for a gentle 6 miles at recovery pace – which we executed at 7:36 pace.  It felt like we didn’t even race on Sunday, so we are in a pretty darn enviable position compared to where we were just one month ago.

Our Base Phase will last 10 weeks with a couple of races thrown into the mix.

Our Build Phase will last 8 weeks with perhaps one event (Austin Half-Marathon) if we are feeling good and the weather cooperates.  That is completely an optional race that really will just serve the purpose of reminding us what it is like to race.

Our Peak Phase will then take us up to Ironman Texas – 8 weeks of heavy mileage, lots of long rides over 5 hours in length and a tune-up Half-Ironman 4 weeks before race day.

There is always great excitement when you start a new training cycle with an “A” race off in the distance.  We have a long way to go for Ironman, so it is important to just focus on the small steps that are required to get there.  Focusing now on 4,000 meter swims, 20 mile runs or 6 hour bike rides is just not where our mind needs to be right now.

But when those weeks finally arrive, we’ll be ready for them.  Sunday Sept. 22nd will look just like a little blip on the radar at that point, but it was a big day for us yesterday.  When it comes to all of the running and racing, the only thing that is as important as health and fitness is confidence.

If you don’t have that piece, it won’t really matter on race day how fit you are.  You’ll just be the “fittest” guy walking the marathon at the end of Ironman.

  1. Andy B. says:

    That explains why you weren’t holding a baton when I saw you out there. You looked downright leisurely out there. Good sign if that was still a 6:10 mile.

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