Sunday, March 9, 2014

Boston Training Week 12, Hard Climb Hill

Every runner has probably had a run that went far better than expected, but yet still fell agonizingly short of being completely fulfilling.  We runners are difficult ones to please, and I suppose that stubbornness and lack of complacency is what keeps us hungry to tackle the next race.  

I have one such story, which I’ll start in the middle…

I am 15 miles into my Sunday run and 7 miles into the Carolina Godiva sponsored Hard Climb Hill event.  The sun is shining, the temperature is in the 60s, and the air smells of pine trees – for the first time all year it actually feels like winter is yielding to spring.  I am surging down a hill on a gravel path in the middle of a particularly challenging section of Duke Forest.  I am well under 7 minute overall pace for the 10 mile segment of Hard Climb Hill, which was designed to be miles 9 through 18 of my penultimate “long run” before Boston.  Mentally I struggle with having to run 20+ miles, and so I brought upon myself this painful idea of incorporating a low-key race as part of my run simply to make it “more interesting.”

Most years, not far below 1:10 would be enough to snag a win at the 10 miler, and simply sub-7 minute pace was my stretch goal for this segment of the run.  In truth, my initial goal was simply being faster than last year – which given the kind of shape I was in last early March compared to now was the ultimate example of sandbagging.  

But I didn’t know what I’d have left toward the tail end of this run.  At this point toward the later part of the run, I almost forget "I am on mile 60 for the week."  I have never run more than 62 in a seven day stretch.  Ever.  In my life.  By all measures, the fact that I was still knocking out miles in the 6:30s and 6:40s and venturing into uncharted mileage on a tough course was affirmation that I *should* be as prepared as I've ever been to run a sub-3 marathon.

I look ahead and Colin Jones, who had led the event, decided to finish after 7.  Hard Climb is a unique race in that affords a few opportunities to “bail out” (after 3 miles or after 7 miles – as each is their own event within the broader event).  I knew I wasn’t going to keep up with Colin – he’s going for some absurd time at Wrightsville next weekend.  I thought he’d run away with this one, but I guess he needed the rest. 

With Colin out, I realize quickly:  I am leading the race.

In a smaller race, I can usually snag an overall top-3.  In a mid-size race, I’ll get an age-group award or sometimes even an age-group win.  But I hardly ever cross the finish line outright first in anything.  My last win and one of the rare few ever was on the same course last fall – the New Hope Turkey Run, a similar type of low key affair on those rugged Duke Forest trails.  My goal for the day all of a sudden shifts – what was just supposed to be a hard workout at a good pace has become something altogether rare for me.  To cross the line first.  And I thought I was alone and pending a blow out, it was my race to win.

But a mile later, I hear the footsteps behind me as I round the turn up the “Hard Climb” hill.  I catch George “Monk” Linney out of the corner of my eye, and I am shouting expletives in my brain.  George is a really good runner – in truth he is one of those I never expect to be close to in a race, let alone lead.  In the world of running there are the untouchable elites (the types of guys who run in lead packs in races like Boston), the sponsored athletes in the chase packs, and then the local studs – ex-college runners and guys like George, who make their livelihood in some capacity off of running (he is the new manager of Fleet Feet Durham).  After these types of guys and gals, there are the “rest of us.” I've just never considered myself to be at that level.

Or so I've always thought.  If I lead this long, who was to say I didn't have a chance to hold my spot?  I decided I wasn’t going to let go that easily.  My goal was to keep ahead for as long as I could – and maybe he would pass me – but it would take some work.  This one was going to hurt.

I push up the Hard Climb for the second time that morning.  I tell myself "the hill hurts for everyone."  The footsteps creep closer behind me as I round the corner after the hill as I am heading down to the turnaround.  He could have barely been ten yards behind me at the last turnaround.  I am trying to throw in a surge, but I know I have a mile and a half left, an eternity in a run like this.  I have never had a post race surge or devastating kick on tired legs - and my legs are clearly tired.  I give it one last shot.  I extend my legs back striding down Hard Climb and I am moving well on the way down and I round the corner to face the long climb… and that’s where I had to let it go.  Less than a mile left.  17 miles down for the day – the last 9 easily below my target marathon pace, but that last hill was too much.

When George passed me I looked over and thought I’d see him floating effortlessly up the hill, but he wasn’t.  It was hard for him too.

I went on to finish 2nd somewhere around 1:06:35.  Last year I ran a 1:15.  So I set two personal bests – one for the course (by a lot) and one for weekly mileage after a 2 mile cool down (65).

So by any measure I should be proud of where I am – my speed, my training, and my effort today.  Having that extra bit at the end, yes, would have been nice. Truth be told, one of the things most difficult about marathon training is being in good shape, but not being able to race much.  I’ll get one more “race” type effort before Boston – the Merge 25K, then one more high mileage week, then taper.  

The year moves by so fast.

Monday:  8 miles in AM (54 degrees at start at 7 AM, 15 degrees cooler by noon, almost 40 degrees colder by the next morning).  Glad I got this one in early.

Tuesday:  8 miles in AM on treadmill.  Was fighting off a cold and thought better of being outside.  Progression run, or as I’ve started calling it “boiling the lobster” (start at easy pace down to marathon pace in subtle increments).

Wednesday:  10 miles, with intervals at Al Buehler with BCTC.  2-3-4-3-2-3-4-3-2 (in minutes), with half time recoveries jogging between sets (26 minutes of hard effort in total).  This was a good one.  My legs felt flat early, but seemed to get stronger mid way through (was hitting sub 6 minute mile pace on a few of the intervals).

Thursday:  10 miles in PM on treadmill while the sleet fell.  What a winter.  10 miles is a long time on a treadmill... so I broke out my running playlist from the fall featuring Matthew Dear, Big Black Delta, Future Islands, and Marnie Stern and let it roll...

Friday:  much needed rest day

Saturday:  9 miles in AM on ATT at ‘natural’ pace to my 90s and 00s playlist (Placebo, My Morning Jacket, etc...)

Sunday:  20 miles in total; 8 miles at ~7:20-ish, hilly 10 miles at 6:45 per mile, 2 miles easy

Weekly Total:  65

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