Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Cape Cod marathon was not snowed out, only the roads between me and it.  As such, I found that early November, instead of being a time to recover from a marathon, I was in race shape and looking for a race.  Because of the aftereffects of Hurricane Irene in September, the Mt. Toby race was reschedule to the time I was ready for a race.

As with any race, I try to go in with a clear goal.  Having trained and tapered for a marathon I didn't run, I decided that this was the year I would beat my 2002 Mt. Toby race time.  I wanted to beat my PR set when I was 31, racing fast and well but training very inconsistently.   In 2010, with more consistent training, I had missed the mark by 1 minute.

I slept surprisingly well the night before the race.  Usually, I've been thinking about a focus race for months as I train.  With Mt. Toby, I hadn't done any workouts specifically thinking about it, just some basic weeks of training.  As such, I was less hyped about the race which was nice.  Unfortunately, the kids were both a little sick.  At Mt. Toby 2010, I had cramped up at the end of the race and later, was sick in bed for 3 days.  Would I repeat again this year?  I kept waking up in the morning feeling groggy - or was it the beginning of being sick?

As is usual, I wrote out my schedule the night before - wake 3 hours before the race for a good breakfast, plan to arrive at the race 1 hour before to do some chatting and sign in, warmup 20 minutes before the race, start eating 15 minutes after the race had started.

During the chatting part of the race, I spoke with two guys from Worcester who had never taken on a trail race before.  It was satisfying, as a veteran of 4 of these races, to be able to give a nice race report.

At the start, I knew two guys who were going to go faster then me.  One guy, Aaron Stone, I see a fair bit in races but only at the start.  As a fluke, I had beaten him in 2010  but with one Mt. Toby under his belt, I was sure he was going to easily beat me.  After these two guys, the field felt thin so I was curious how I would finish overall.

Pacing is always a question.  I had mentally thought about how I had pushed for the last 10 miles of the Pisgah trail race.  I remembered the feeling of pressing down on the uphills and strongly accelerating at the crest of small rises.  I knew that I needed to maintain this type of pacing to meet my main goal - run the fastest I ever have for this race.

From the start, I was running at what felt like the speed was good load on my legs.  I almost immediately longed for the more languid pace of a longer race.  At 14 miles, this was still a "go-go" race for me - I couldn't relax.

After the short pavement climb, we hit the trails - a muddy jeep trail.  This race is 5 miles of rolling hills  and general climb followed by a long 2 mile grind to the top of the Mt.  This is followed by a harrowing 2 mile descent as we retrace our steps.  As is my usual pace strategy,  I start comfortably and slowly increase the effort.  I am almost always finishing the last mile of a race faster then the 1st mile.  This can be a generally good strategy but unless I get that pace right in the beginning, I don't run my fastest race possible.

When we hit the woods, I was in maybe 15th pace.  I would run with a few guys for a minute or two then push on past them as the realized the pace they had choosen was too fast.  I ran this way for a while until I caught up with Scott.  I see him at many races - at the starting line and about 1/4 of the way through the race.  He is a rabbit runner - starts out fast and slows down.  I'm a negative split runner, start out slower and drop my time as I run.  As I do most races, when I catch him, we chat a little.  I always joke with him that he started too fast.  In 2010, I beat him by 10 minutes.  This year, the gap was at least 15 minutes.

The long slow slog began.  I wondered if I was working hard enough.  There were several times when I started walking when the slope was just too steep.  I found that a secondary goal besides setting a PR had set in - I didn't want to hurt that much.  As such, I kept the climb to a speed where I would get a slight burn in my legs but kept riding the edge, knowing that I had the very demanding descent still ahead.  I found it strange that at this speed, my lungs were not working anywhere near their capacity.  I had run into this earlier in the year at the 7 Sisters race.  Here, there were many small climbs and my breathing was incredibly relaxed on the hills.  As I write this, I see a clear weakness in my training - compared to my lungs, my legs are weak.  While I feel like I run a fair amount of hills, it is not near enough.  It's time to increase the incline on the treadmill more.

 Near the top of the Mountain, the climb levels out for the last 1/2 mile or so.  Here, I caught up to 2 runners.  I had been slowly gaining on them the whole climb and only when it level out was I was able to accelerate and pass them.  After tagging the fence, I refilled my water bottle and they both passed me.  I took off after them and quickly repassed them.

They were not happy about this and for the next mile, as I worked at gliding the downhill, one of them was on my tail.  In my pre-race planning, I had planned to not push the downhill as I had in the past.  As a younger runner, I thought about the downhill as free speed.  Now, as an almost Masters runner, I think of the downhill as free damage - a chance to shred your legs.  In earlier Tobys, at this part of the race I was nearly blinded by speed wetness in my eyes and hyperventilating from the effort as I tried to push the downhill as hard as I could.  This time around, the downhill felt relaxed and almost comfortable.  When it finished, I was a little melancholy - now, based on my  pre-race plan, it was time to start making the running hurt.  Now was the time to go.

Coming out of turns, I would pump my arms to sprint back to my race speed.  I found I was still leaping over logs, a good sign that I was holding up well.  When a branch needed to be swatted out of my face, I still raised my arm to the challenge, not yet tired enough to simply squint my eyes and duck.

As I squeezed down on the speed, working to keep smooth, I was feeling good about my time.  I had been careful up to this point and was now running what I felt to be my maximum speed.  As I ran along, barreling toward the finish, I felt that here, for this part of the race, this was the fastest I would ever run this portion.  This, I thought, is my top speed.

Another running came toward me and I quickly passed him.  He was a younger runner who looked like he was suffering.  My race journal states that the year I ran my best race, I had bonked about 2 miles to go and got passed by an older runner.  Today was this kid's turn to bonk and get passed.

I passed the last aid station and did not refill my bottle.   I was running empty, light and knew I could hold the pace to the end.

When I hit the paved road, I knew I had basically 2 laps of a track to go.  I thought, ok, two laps at 85 seconds each, just like in training.  I knew how much that pace could hurt at the end of a workout and knew that now was the time for it.  As I came down the last paved hill and headed for the turn on the dirt road for the park, I saw another runner ahead of me.  Keith Schmidt has been beating me for years and here he was. I was closing in on him pretty quickly but not fast enough to close the gap.

I had checked my watch at the turnaround point and knew it had taken me about an hour to get to the top of the mountain and so I had only about 40 minutes to retrace my steps.  As I surged toward the fiinish line, the was a small rise.  I charged and felt my pace barely slow.  I was satisfied to hear a few of the onlookers let out an audible "Woah!" as I sped into the corral.  I crossed the line about 30 seconds behind Keith, unsure if I had attained my main goal.  After my breathing came back to normal, I checked in on my time.  1:38:45.  I had accomplished my goal and gotten 5th place in the process.

Strangely, I was no elated.  Earlier in the year, at the Pisgah 50km race, I had set a PR by 30 minutes over a  course about twice the length of this.  Today, I had only set a PR by about 2 minutes and while I know that a 1/2 hour PR is quite unusual, part of me had begun to expect massive PRs.  While this had been a year of PRs - 10 minutes at 7-Sisters (12 miles) , 1 second in road 5km, 30 minutes at Pisgah, a simple 2 minute PR seemed less then I could have expected.

Writing this, it has been an impressive year.  I probably won't again set so many PRs in 1 year, thought next year I do have 4 PR goals on the list.  That said, this race, which I only committed to 2 weeks before the race, meant less to me and as such, setting a PR also means less to me.  I think that had I caught Keith, who had beat me at Pisgah by 45 minutes in 2010, I might feel different about the race.  Maybe next time, next race.