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?

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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.

Goals and Training

Setting goals and training for a race is pretty much a metaphor for the rest of life. Sometimes your plans work out exactly as expected–it’s exhilarating when that happens. You can pat yourself on the back and congratulate yourself on your amazing predictive ability. Sometimes your performance turns out even better than your plans, and sometimes it is worse. Today was one of Those Days.

I’m still extending for my race next month, and today’s plan was for 18k (11.25 miles, for those of you still mired in obsolete English units). I planned a route that includes quite a few hills knowing that would slow me down–not the flat route where I usually do distance. I live in mountains, so the flat route by the river is at about 1400 m, and by flat I mean less than 20 m / km–none of the wimpy sea-level stuff here.

I didn’t meet my goals today for either time or distance. The route I planned was shorter than it should have been and by the time I got to the finish, I was too tired to extend it by the needed amount. Well, That’s the way training goes sometimes, and so does life. I didn’t do 18k, but I did do 17.4k. I did extend from last week, and I’m happy that my last kilometer was faster than my first one. I always try to put some sort of finish on my run by picking up the pace for the last few hundred meters, and I managed that. Didn’t meet my goals, but I’m still happy with the run.

This happens in life, too. Sometimes you fall short, but you can almost always find something in your performance that makes you happy; that enables you to move on to the next event ready to conquer it. If you are doing the “marathon shuffle,” then shuffle on friends.

Training Update

It’s just a month until the Rock and Roll Marathon and Half Marathon in Washington, DC, so time for the longer distances, the pace runs, and the speed work. I’m doing the half marathon with my wife and both daughters. Pushing the distances up on the weekends, I did 16k this morning. Next week its 18k and the week after that 20k. Then I’ll drop back to 12k the week before we leave for DC.

So, I’ve got the push to longer distances covered. The pace runs are no problem, either. After more than 50 years of this activity, I’ve got a pretty good handle on how fast I’m going and how it feels. I no longer need to spend a lot of time learning what I already know. The speed work is another matter. I’m acutely aware of the fact that I’m pretty slow, and, of course, I’d like to go faster. Lots of things that I can’t effect–age, lowered metabolism, and reduced strength, for example, all combine to slow you down. But, within those constraints, I’d like to run as fast as I can. Speed workouts, particularly interval training, are the way to accomplish this. Unfortunately, I never did like interval training. I didn’t like it 50+ years ago when I was in high school and college and had to do it regularly, and I still don’t like it today. The difference today is that there is no coach pushing me, and I’m a lot feistier than I was then. So, I’ve retired from interval training and have to rely on gradual improvements that naturally occur over time.

But, I may have found another way. Last week, I bought some new shoes. I got a pair of Hoka One One shoes, a newish style of shoe with a thicker, cushier sole and a rocker shape to the sole instead of the traditional cut out in the mid-sole. They are sort of the opposite of the minimalist shoes that have been popular lately. You have to get used to minimalist shoes gradually because of the much thinner soles and the lack of any sort of lift in the heel. Too much too soon and you risk painful over stretching of those tendons around the ankle–or worse. I never got used to running in them even though the greatly reduced weight was attractive.

The Hokas were immediately comfortable, and the astounding thing is that every run since I bought them has been faster than comparable runs just before. I did 5 miles on Tuesday in my old shoes and 5 miles Thursday on the same route: a minute faster. 10 Miles today on the same route as the 10 miles I did 2 weeks ago: 4 minutes faster. Surface conditions the same. Weather similar. No wind either time. Three runs in a row suddenly faster. Could still be coincidence, but I’m starting to think otherwise. Excited about my new shoes!

Why Do I Still Run?

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It was pretty hard to get myself out for a run this morning. It was chilly. There were other things to do. I just didn’t feel like it.

“But, you need the exercise.”

“It’s a beautiful day.”

“You’ll enjoy it once you get started.”

“You’ve got a race coming up.”

All true, but the race is only a 5k. No more half marathons until next year, and a 5k hardly counts. Those motivators didn’t help. My Muse says we do this “because we can.” Too simple. It’s more complicated than that.

I used to say that I started running in high school, and by the time I finished college, it was so ingrained that I forgot to stop. That was a long time ago, and I still haven’t stopped. So, one reason is that it is something that I have “always” done. It is part of me, and if I give it up, I will lose part of me.

Part of it is a desire I expressed to myself when I changed my attitude toward running sometime around age 40. I was running a lot and was hanging with a pretty fast bunch of distance runners. I felt guilty when I missed a day, but I realized I wanted to still be running when I got to 80. Because 80 was so far away, that realization changed my whole attitude toward the necessity of running today. Very relaxing. I didn’t change how much I ran, I only dropped the guilt when I was too busy to get out.

Part of my need to run comes from the joy of running with my children and grandchildren—all of whom are much faster than I. We have had the pleasure of going to a big race and having all of them show up to participate. There is something about the experience of going out for a long run with 20,000 or so of your new best friends that can’t be duplicated.

But none of these reasons is sufficient to get me out. None of these gets me past the increasing difficulty of making progress in training. None of these gets past the irritation of race times that keep getting slower. The thing that gets me out these days is fear. It isn’t “because I can.”  It’s “who would I be if I couldn’t.” Being unable to continue running represents to me an irreversible step toward old age and infirmity—a step I do not want to take.

Fortunately, there is nothing to suggest I will soon be unable to run. I’m free to continue denying that life happens. My declining performance can always be fixed by more and better training. The sky is always blue, and I just keep getting younger.

Didn’t I just write a post where I said I was through with denial? Drat. Wrong again.