Sunday, September 29, 2019

Alive and Running 2019

This would seem to be an appropriate time to update my blog as this particular headline has multiple meanings.  Yes, I am very much alive.  Yes, I am still running.  And today I am participating in the Didi Hirsch charity 5K run/walk "Alive and Running" for the third time.

Interestingly enough, the gap from when I last competed in this particular race is nearly as long as when I last updated this blog.  I guess you could say I lost motivation for writing about my running experiences as my pace continued to decline.  I entered fewer races, totaled fewer miles per year, stopped running marathons altogether after my wife dropped out halfway through 2016's Los Angeles Marathon (I promised her I would stay with her, so that was my first and only DNF) last personal best was set years ago.

That said, this year I have been running with renewed purpose.  When I first completed LA's inaugural Stadium to the Sea course back in 2010, I convinced myself I would absolutely run it again, at the very least, to celebrate the 10th year of that course, so, even though I have completed it a few times since, I registered for the 2020 event as soon as registrations opened this year.  As I have started every LA race from a starting corral, I signed up to run the 35th Long Beach Marathon hoping I might be able to earn my way into one of LA's sub-4 hour corrals, even though it has been over 5 years since I last completed 26.2 miles in such a time.  Nothing motivates more than registering for a marathon...and I committed to two.

I am finding the road back to running marathons significantly more difficult with age. As I push mileage, I find myself needing far more time to recover.  10+ mile runs knock me out for a good portion of the day. Increasing pace comes with an increased chance of injury, so I usually run what feels comfortable.  If anything, training for marathons now requires a greater time commitment than previously...and it was already quite a commitment.

Speaking about injury and recovery, a few weeks ago I felt (even heard?) my left calf muscle pop as I launched off a curb during a routine 6 miler.  The second I put weight on my left leg, I knew I had to stop.  I feared the worst.  I immediately called for a ride home, grabbed ice packs from my freezer, stopped by Village Runner to get sized for compression sleeves (which I wore 24-7 over the next couple of weeks), and found a way to keep my leg elevated on ice while I worked.  When I woke up the next morning, I woke up thinking I had no idea when I would be able to run again.  I knew for certain I wouldn't be able to run during what is usually the peak distance week of my usual training routine, but would I be able to run by race day?  If I deferred Long Beach or even transferred my registration to its half marathon, I would lose what I considered my best chance of earning a spot in a starting corral (sure there are a few other marathons between Long Beach and LA, but I like knowing that I have done these two races back-to-back 10 years before).  I swapped cycling for running, matching the expected time duration of runs on my marathon training cycle, unclear if it would be enough to maintain my physical condition.  I didn't own a bike as an adult before 2016, rarely used it since, and not once last year.  Two weekends after my calf popped, I did my longest bike ride of my life...a four hour ride covering 48 miles in place of a 22-23 mile run.  Fortunately cycling put no strain on the injured muscles, but I was dying to know how each day off from running would affect my endurance?  My pace?

Injury aside, my pace has still been far from what I used to naturally run in the early 2010s.  As I have mentioned elsewhere in my blog, my average annual pace has steadily declined since I peaked in 2011...a trend which pretty much continued since I last updated this blog.  I was seeing definite progress, but was still surprised by how much slower I ran The Hills Are Alive 10K earlier this year...especially because I felt pretty good and wasn't aware how off pace I was until it was too late into the race to do anything about it.  With the injury, all bets on what my marathon pace might be were off.  Oh yes, and I also signed up for this particular 5K.  Perhaps this would be the year I join the walkers.

Towards the end of my 48 mile ride, I had to hop off my bike and walk it up the steepest portion of the final hill.  My legs were spent.  But my legs were feeling good enough that I decided to see if I could jog a little.  Much to my surprise, my compression sleeve covered calf didn't bother me while I kept my stride short.  It gave me hope that I might be able to run that Tuesday...just shy of two weeks from when my calf popped.  And run I did.  Slowly at first, but run nonetheless.  By the third run, I tested my downhill pace and felt strong.  The only thing left to test was endurance, so I decided to go off schedule and attempt a 20 miler.  I kept the compression sleeve on just in case (first time I ran with sleeves on both legs).  With heightened awareness of every little twinge and pull of my leg muscles,  I cautiously and successfully completed 20.3 pain-free miles.   There's no need to change my racing plans after all.

Due to this morning's 5K, I had to run this morning's scheduled 14 miler yesterday.  I wasn't sure how much I should push things given that I knew I'd likely push a more aggressive pace during this morning's race, but I still managed to hit the 13.1 mark in around best half marathon split of this training cycle.  Not an ideal number for someone targeting a sub 4 hour full marathon, but confidence inspiring for someone recovering from an injury.

As I had run this particular race twice before, so I knew what I needed to focus on during yesterday's run.  Throughout my training cycle, I noticed my downhill pace slow down unexpectedly when I reached flatter stretches of road and dramatically upon inclines.  I ran downhill stretches at whatever pace felt natural and then focused my effort in maintaining that pace as the road flattened and especially over slight inclines.

It's 8am...time to race.   The sun is shining and the sky is clear.  Temperature is in the low 60s...perfect running weather.  This course starts flat, so I must pay close attention to my pace and go by my gut with what feels sustainable.  As with all races, anticipation of the start builds tension that usually causes me to go out faster than I should, so I really need to monitor my GPS watch.  I also don't want to risk injury, so I am not planning on setting any personal records.  But a race IS a race.  I position myself near the start line, but not on the line.  There's a high school's entire cross country team to my right.  Let's do this!

The horn sounds!  I spring to action...quickly establishing a sub 8 minute per mile pace.  I am still being mindful to not fully open my stride for fear of re-aggravating my calf injury.  I have found that sweet spot where I am not really passing anyone, nor is anyone passing me.  I can focus on just running this race for myself.  I keep my breathing calm and of the best ways I can tell I am not over-exerting myself.

There are three slight inclines along the stretch of Westchester Parkway that makes up the majority of this course.  Two involve the bridge over Lincoln Blvd (this course is an out-and-back, so we cross over Lincoln twice) and one stretch that leads up to the u-turn.  I keep my pace well under 8 as I cross the bridge on the way out (and pass some runners in the process), but have to work a bit more to do so before the turn.  I decide to take water from the station just before the u-turn which probably slows my pace more than the hill itself.  In a 5K, I don't really need the mid-race hydration...especially on a day like today.  I just take a couple of sips and toss the cup in one of the trash receptacles along the course.

When I reach the bridge on the back stretch, I definitely find myself pushing harder.  My pace falls back to the mid-8s.  I am now more than 2 miles into this race, but I do want to have something left in the tank by the final half mile.  I start seeing some of my friends who are among the walkers today.  Jane has her camera out as I run by as does my mom.  I pick up my pace.  I start reeling in one of the runners who has been slightly ahead of me for the past half mile and pass him just as the course turns towards the finish line on La Tijera.  The cheering spectators and hearing my name over the loudspeakers definitely encourages one last kick.  I finish strong...always a good feeling.  More importantly, I did not once have any hint of my former injury.

When I stop my watch, it displays 22:30 (I crossed the finish line with 22:31 on the course clock)...a very respectable finish time.  In fact, my official time ties my second (could be third, but I still question the length of the Long Beach Turkey event with no official timing) fastest 5K since I started running as an adult (I had faster cross country times in high school, but slower ones as well).  I also earn a medal for finishing 2nd in my age group.  Not bad for someone who just a couple of weeks ago thought he might find himself among today's walkers.

Official Results:
Time:  0:22:29
Average race pace: 7:14/mi

25 of 1814 overall finishers
23 of 695 male finishers
2 of 43 male finishers age 45-49

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