The Race is O’re…

The race was Saturday. After hints of rain earlier in the week, the day turned out to be absolutely beautiful. It was dry, about 60 when we started and 70 when we (well, I) finished. A little over 1100 in the half marathon, so the traffic wasn’t too heavy, but there are always people around you. A flat, flat, flat course, but at about 4500 feet altitude.

It all went pretty well for me. No problems (except for too little speed training and too much age). I was really happy that I was over 4 minutes ahead of my schedule at 5 miles, and a little further ahead of schedule at 10 miles. My downfall was the last 5k (a half marathon is 10 miles plus a 5k). I really slowed down in the last 5k, and lost the 4+ minutes I had banked at the beginning. The final result was a finish that was right on schedule: 2:37:30.. Just to show how bad the slow down was, I talked with a woman I had been running with in the first half of the race. She picked up in the second half and finished around 2:23. That’s a big difference

Overall, I was still pretty happy with my performance. I finished 4th in my age group. I’m still pretty unhappy to realize that I was running 2:10 less than 10 years ago. But, abdominal surgery and age took care of that.

I’ve largely accepted the age related decline I’m experiencing. But there is still that voice in the back of my head that says “more training and you’ll be back where you should be.” Another case of high expectations meeting reality, I guess.

Do you notice age-related declines in performance or ability? How do you deal with it?

Home Stretch

Yesterday was my last long training run before next week’s race. 16km. Some easy runs next week just to keep up the routine, but nothing too long or hard. I went to the river again to watch the balloons, and once again they went somewhere else. Sigh. 

I did a short run this morning with my daughter, who is also running the race, and with her daughter. I love these 3 generation things even though I don’t see much of them after we start. I think it is the idea that they are still willing to go out with me that I like so much. 

The race is on a flat course parts of which I have run many times. It’s out and back, so no course complexities to worry about. The weather should be beautiful, just like it was today. So, the hard part will be finding a place to park. Aside from that, just go out and have fun with a few thousand of your best friends. 

Training Schedule

I’m doing a half marathon at Duke City, now just two weeks away. This will be a group affair: my wife, who walks, and her walking buddy will be doing it as will my oldest daughter. It feels like a group effort even though we may not see each other after the start. Just knowing they are out there somewhere means I’m not doing it alone. You may well ask how one could feel alone when in the midst of all those thousands of people, and I can’t answer except to say that you can.

I’m still serious about how I perform despite being as slow as I have become. I’m not going to win. I probably won’t even win my age group, although I’ll come a lot closer, but my time and performance are still important. So, like most serious runners, I have a training schedule that I am trying to follow. It’s like most such schedules: shorter runs during the week; longer runs on the weekend; background runs a few months ago; more speed oriented more recently; extensions to longer mileage on the weekends. Pretty standard.

One of the things the running mags and books don’t talk about much is what to do when the plan doesn’t work. Last Saturday, I went out to run 18km (16km=10mi, so 18 is 11.25). I had had a flu shot on Friday, but felt no after effects and I expected no problems. I had been extending 2km each week (I’ve omitted mention of rest weeks, but I do know about them), and my experience was pretty uniform: the additional 2km felt pretty bad, but the next week it was fine. Last week’s run didn’t work that way. At the beginning, I felt good. By 8km (5mi) I was minutes ahead of schedule. I was still well ahead at 9km, the turn around point. By 14km I was right on schedule. By 15, I was out of gas and could not continue running. Walking back to where I started was a major disappointment. I took that failure badly, and it took much of the week to get over it.

What do you do to recover from a failure like that? How do you get back on track? My approach to that is to repeat the week. The previous week wasn’t completely lost. I did cover the distance, just not as fast as I had hoped. So, I did it again this week. Busy and stressful week at work, and I missed one of the mid-week runs. But, this morning I felt good. Back down by the river because it’s the first weekend of Balloon Fiesta and they usually fly along the river–500 balloons in the air at once is quite a sight. Unfortunately, they go where the wind takes them, and today the wind took them elsewhere, so no low flying balloons overhead. Much of the run was like last week. At 9km I was way ahead of schedule. By 14km I was right on time, having slowed down and burned through those minutes I had banked in the early going. But, this time I didn’t run out of gas at 15 and successfully finished the planned 18km. I’m still unhappy about last week’s failure, but this week’s success has improved my mood. On to the race.

Running as You Age

Recently, I read an interesting article in the NY Times called Why Runners Get Slower With Age by Gretchen Reynolds. Several reasons were listed including core and leg strength and reduced endurance capacity. But, I was particularly drawn to the statement that a runner’s speed and stride length decrease as the runner ages. I’m skeptical about the reported 20% per decade reduction (6 decades and you are effectively no longer moving; yes, I know each 20% is smaller, but after 6 decades your stride would be 26% of what it was originally; if I started at 36″, that would be 9.4 inches; my feet are longer than that), but convinced that it happens.

Here’s the effect. Suppose you used to have a 36″ stride and it has shortened over some number of years to 30″ (that’s less than 20%). A 3′ stride means 1760 steps in a mile. With your new 2.5′ stride, it now takes 2122 steps to cover a mile, and those extra 352 steps take time. How much time? Suppose you started with a 10 minute per mile pace. Then each step took .34 seconds. If you kept the .34 sec per step rate (unrealistic since your pace also slows), then those 352 steps would take 120 seconds—suddenly your pace is 12 minutes per mile.

I don’t like to admit it, but this is just what has happened. Some of the reasons, like reduced endurance capacity and reduced oxygen uptake and lung capacity are annoying because I don’t know how to do anything about them. I like blaming core strength and leg strength and stride length because, with my running experience, I know exactly what to do about them.

I started running at the beginning of my first year in high school. That would have been mid September in 1956. So, another thing that happened last week was that I finished my 59th year of running–enough experience to know what to do about those small issues.

In the last week, I’ve been stretching my stride just a little. You do that by dropping your hips a tiny amount and lifting you knees a little more. Tiny adjustments, not exaggerated adjustments; a 1/4 inch, not 3 inches. Darned if it doesn’t work. Substantial improvements in my (still very slow) pace and nice reductions in my 8 km (5 mile) time. Even old folks can improve–it isn’t all down hill all the time.

Magic Shoes

The shoes are great. Since I got them, I’ve been faster over familiar routes every time I’ve worn them. Despite the miserable conditions, my half marathon time was almost 14 minutes faster than the previous time. Even with possible explanations of why the previous time was so bad, the results are hard to explain except by looking at the shoes. One daughter says they are magic. Another calls them cheaters.

My times over a 5 mile route around my home are interesting to observe. I have a schedule that is easy to follow on the run when fatigue makes calculation difficult. Five miles is 8k. My schedule is 2k in 15 minutes (yes, I know that is slow–no need to point that out). My 5 mile (8k) route has some long hills whichever way I go around it, so my times have always been behind schedule, even when my times on a flat route are on or ahead of schedule. I’d been running 2:30 to 3:15 behind schedule. New shoes, new times. 1:15 behind. On time. 1:15 ahead. 2:30 ahead. I just kept getting faster–more so than my lackadaisical approach to performance improvement would suggest was reasonable.

Magic seemed like an explanation, but I don’t believe in magic, so I decided to examine the shoes. It took quite a while, but I finally found out what was happening. First there was the discovery of a bunch of little holes in the sole and the outsides of the cushion material. The ones in the outsides were directed down and back like the ones in the sole. I tried probing the holes, but didn’t get anywhere. Then, with some help from a friend, an x-ray showed air chambers in the cushioning material connected by little tubes to the holes in the sole. Why? What is going on here?

Lots of pondering to no avail. Then it hit me. Foot strike compresses the air in the chambers. Little jets of air come out the holes. They literally blow your foot off the ground and forward (because of the angle of the tubes). The result is to lengthen your stride and effectively lighten the shoe. Faster turnover rate plus longer stride, even by just a little, means you cover the ground in less time.

When I first wore the shoes, I thought the foot plant felt somewhat unstable. I now realize that the feeling came from not properly managing the air jets. Since then, I have unconsciously adjusted my foot plant, and the feeling is now stable. Further conscious adjustments will let me take advantage of the air jets and bring my times down much more. Another 14 minutes next time? Back on track for 2 hours.

The Race is O’re…

DC-RnR-2015-medalThe race is over, and we’re back home. We left Thursday for the DC Rock and Roll Marathon and returned today.

The race was Saturday morning, and the temperature was perfect, in the low 40s. The rain, however, was not perfect. It had been raining since before midnight and continued until at least noon. By the end of the race at RFK Stadium, we were all soaked and pretty cold–the ambulances running from the medical tent at the finish were unusually busy.

I haven’t examined my splits in detail, but I was ahead of schedule at 5 miles and still on schedule at 10 miles. I finished about 4 minutes behind schedule, so I had to have lost that time in the last 5 k. I didn’t feel bad, and there were no notable terrain features. The rain got a little worse and the wind came up, and I guess that slowed me down (oh, Ok, I suppose the milage had some effect, too).

Surely the weather took some toll, and being somewhat under prepared had an effect, but overall I was still happy with the race. The worst part was standing around in the cold rain after I finished waiting for my Muse, who walks, to finish her race. There was almost no shelter and close to 30,000 people to be accommodated. There were lots of crazy folks there that day. And then there was standing in line to get into the metro station and trying to ride with a waterlogged metro card. When they are that wet, they don’t go through the machines.

Our schedules are pretty busy for the next few months, so we may not do another half until September. But, maybe we’ll try to find something close to here in June.

Aside from the miseries of the race itself, the weekend was wonderful. Our main purpose in going was to celebrate the return to health of Middle Daughter who has spent the last year dealing with breast cancer. We took Older Sister with us, and Brother lives in the District, so we had a glorious celebration. Saturday was, of course, Pi-day (3.14.15) so Daughter-in-law made pie and we all got together for that at the end of the day. Sunday was more family time. The ladies went shopping for running gear, and Brother and I played with the granddaughters.

“Cancer free”–a wonderful reason to celebrate!


Pictures of my Heart

The front page of this blog has four pictures that show places I’ve been, but more importantly (at least to me) they give some insight into me. That is what this blogging stuff is all about, right?

The first picture is a place called Ward Lake. Ward Lake is in a state park north of Ketchikan Alaska. I took this after finishing a 10k trail run in the rain. I love this picture. It is so peaceful. It is so green. I have painted this scene several times, and will paint it again—somehow I don’t ever manage to get it quite right. It isn’t that the painting doesn’t look like the subject, but that  the painting doesn’t quite capture the feeling of repose that I remember. I would like to go back and experience the place again, although I probably never will. As a contrast to the peacefulness of the green, I especially like the drift of little yellow flowers on the bank. It speaks of optimism in the return of spring.

The second picture is Beijing at night. My Muse and I went to China with our local Chamber of Commerce, so I guess it was a business trip. I should probably go back and amend my tax return for that year. This was taken while waiting for the bus after dinner one night. Beijing, of course is a large city with all the expected hustle and bustle (well maybe more of that than we westerners expect), and Lots (and Lots) of people. We were taken to large restaurants that serve Chinese food that westerners would eat without asking too many questions. I think it was probably because we were Americans that one entree every night was French Fries. China is one of those places that you cannot adequately learn about by reading, or even by listening to someone who has been there. You have to go there and see it yourself. I remembered those pictures from the ’90s of a thousand people on bicycles waiting for the stoplight to change and I expected to see that. No. That’s all gone. Everybody has cars. Imagine a city of a million cars, all driven by people with almost no experience. That is what “chaos” means.

There is a concept in Celtic spirituality of places where the veil (between earth and heaven) is thin. Ghost Ranch, in northern New Mexico, is one of those places. This is a summer sunset—frequently spectacular. The feature at the left is, appropriately, Chimney Rock. The area is full of high mesas with steep cliffs of red and yellow rock. The ranch headquarters is in a canyon surrounded by these cliffs and looks west across a lake to mountains 20-30 miles away. The veil is, indeed, thin, and once you have settled into the rhythm of the ranch, the place itself encourages, perhaps even demands, mediative spirit. We spend a week there every summer, and just returned from spending yesterday and last night there. Even one day is enough to reset your clock.

There are a few other places I have been that appear to be thin places—places where the spirit feels the nearness of heaven. Another such place is St. David’s in southwest Wales. Small village, lovely old cathedral, but most of all the feeling that it is a sacred place and has been since long before these “modern” fixtures were put on the land. You may have been to places where you felt that there is something special here; this place is not like the rest of the world. Think back and find those places and tell me about them.

Thin places can also appear because of events that happen there. My Muse plays the harp and spends much of her time playing for hospice patients. I haven’t been there with her, but she says that the veil is thin at the time that someone passes out of this life.

The final picture is the Cliffs of Mohr on the west coast of Ireland, south of Galway Bay. This is a place where peace and ruggedness collide. There is a strong sense of remoteness even though the area is developed for sightseers and there are lots of people there. I read one travel writer who whined that, while visiting the cliffs is free, it is remote and there is only one car park for which you are charged 6€. They thought that demanded a boycott. What a mistake that would have been. I didn’t feel it as a thin place, but rather a place of power: 600 foot cliffs falling straight into the ocean; a pretty constant wind. The place is immense, and you are tiny. Strength and power abound.

So, you see 4 pictures. One representative of life in a dense urban area, and 3 exuding remoteness, peace, and the beauty and power of nature. You have some idea of where my heart lies.