Monday, October 10, 2011


Well, save the 5k at Burning Man, I haven't done a stitch of racing this year, triathlon or otherwise.  I could pontificate, but it's mostly due to substantial time commitments that haven't totally excluded exercise but have prevented any sort of concerted effort to train for stuff.  I'm not that torn up about it, since I saw the busy times coming, knew they wouldn't last forever, and decided that ruining myself to do it all wasn't quite worth it.

Anyhow, things have calmed down a bit, and a few weeks ago, I remembered that approaching soon was a race I'd been meaning to do for a while.  Unfortunately, this race, a marathon, has always been a few weeks before Silverman, and the -last- thing I'm gonna do is smash myself to that degree just before the proverbial A-race.  However, Silverman is on hiatus this year for the ITU Long Distance World Championships (same course, same weekend, and no, I'm not racing that :) ), so the planets aligned to let me run Bizz Johnson.  Except that I've been a total dirtbag since, oh, about November last year.

Google "marathon training plan" and you'll be assaulted with schedules that average 16-18 weeks.  Those, apparently, are for people with some sense of self-preservation.  I had three weeks.  Now, to be fair, I hadn't been a total dirtbag, just mostly.  My yearly mental workout log is about like this:

Swim: about 6 times since November '10
Bike: a couple dozen rides
Run: more than the other two, but 15-20 miles per week

So, presented with the opportunity to piece together a marathon in 3 weeks, I devise the following brilliant plan:

Week 1: ~30 miles
Week 2: 67 miles
Week 3: Recover and race!  Happiness ensues!

Through some measure of luck and dumb luck, I survive the ramp-up to 67 miles without any drama and arrive at the start line kinda fresh and blissfully willing to see how long I can hang on.  Another little bit of disclosure is that after a handful of iron-distance triathlons, I'm not worried about the distance, but rather the pace.  So by "how long I can hang on," I don't mean "finish the race," as I'd done the distance several times, but instead how quickly I can fling my shrieking carcass across the finish.

Notably, I'm not the least-prepared for this race.  Accompanying me is Andy, who's got a fairly deep running resume but hasn't done anything whatsoever in half a year.  When he decides to run this race 3 weeks ago, he makes a plan like this:

Weeks 1, 2, and 3, including the 26.2-mile race: Run no more than 50 miles total.

True to form, Andy comes off the couch, puts in one training run measuring 16 miles and another measuring 8, then laces up his shoes on race morning.  Good lord.  I've got no doubt that he'll do just fine given his background and attitude, and for that matter, I'm half expecting him to jog by my lifeless body crumpled into some willows about 4 feet after my "fitness" vanishes.

This race is a certified Boston qualifier, and it has a reputation as being a fast course, making it attractive for people who are looking for a way into that race.  However, not really worried about making it into Boston, I figure I can go as hard as I want, race strategically as long as I'm able, and if I blow up...hey, no worries; there's nothing riding on it.  So that's the lead-up.  On to the race!

Shortly after the start, a group of three forms at the front, and we run comfortably together until about mile 7, chatting and getting to know each other ("My name's Scott!" "I'm Eric!" "MghElhhiokktk!"), when Eric goes off the front.  Scott leaves to run him down after about a mile, and I'm languishing in the doldrums 200m off the back without much kick to bridge up.  Then again, it's still early in the race, and just so long as I keep them in contact, it ain't no thang.  Eric and Scott stay off the front for miles and miles, and then a curious thing happens.  Eric drops a glove at about mile 14, Scott misses it, and, not really thinking, I pick it up.

Well, now I'm carrying something that's not mine, and the guy it belongs to is a couple hundred meters up the road.  The miles are melting away, and now's as good a time as any to work hard.  I catch Eric at mile 16, return his glove, and find myself in a pretty high gear from bridging up to him.  Scott is another good bit up the road, so I keep my pace up and start chasing him down.  I eventually catch up to Scott at mile 18; he's slowed down quite a bit and we chat for a minute.  Then, hoping to open up a gap, I turn the pace up to Smash; gotta make hay while the sun shines!

Suffering; a 1-part series.  Photo courtesy D^2

By mile 22, the previous 8 miles of chasing, bridging, and then gapping have taken a huge toll on me.  The wheels start to come off, the veil of fitness and preparation is cast aside, and I retreat deep into my cuddly little pain cave where everything's Just Fucking Peachy.  Having learned from Scott (early in the race) about his ultrarunning exploits, I know I can't limp it in without having him destroy me...guys like that don't stay down for long. 

What I learn later is that Eric catches Scott at mile 20, and that reawakens Scott's pace.  He climbs out of his rut and returns to 6:10 miles, which means that he's closing on me at a furious rate.  Thankfully, I've opened up enough of a gap that, after hallucinating through the last few miles, I arrive at the finish line 30 seconds ahead of him.  Eric is another couple of minutes behind Scott, so we three musketeers are reunited soon enough.  I clock a 2:50:42, and I must say I'm pretty happy with it!

Surprise visitors at the finish are Grant and Shawna, and D^2 is there after chasing Andy and me to various trail crossings via car.  We stand around and chat over a cold beer with Scott until Andy finishes.  High fives go all around, we absorb some more knowledge from Scott, and then head for home.  As an aside, Scott is a member of the Patagonia Ultrarunning Team and is an excellent ambassador for the sport; you can read his ruminations on running here.

Now, a day later, the consequences of my "plan" are apparent, as I'm utterly shattered.  Call it a lesson in being just fit enough to get myself into lots of trouble...  Racing plans are starting to take shape for next season, and hopefully reports from races devoid of any training are a thing of the past!

Stay in school, kids; Photo courtesy Korg


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