Runner maturity, Part I

Sorry this took so long people. Wifey took our computer on a business trip and I've been stuck with our old dinosaur--which has a tendency to shut down unexpectedly.

This is a story about hills. Well, no. At one point hills were defined as any peak less than 1,000 feet above sea level, so technically this is a story about mountains.

Let's compare. This is the elevation profile from the Fairfield Half-Marathon I did back in June, which was by all accounts (including my own) a hilly course:

Now here is the elevation profile from the Maple Leaf Half-Marathon this past Saturday:

It doesn't actually look so bad until you pay attention to the numbers to the left and realize that the first hill (mile marker four) is about a 200 foot climb and that the second hill (mile marker nine) is somewhere between 300 and 400. I didn't notice this at the time, but the total climb (815 ft) is about 80% of the Empire State Building's height.

So there were mountains to contend with, but remember when I said the rain should hold out until 1pm on race day? Turns out Tropical Storm Hanna was moving a little faster than anticipated:

When I woke up at 6am it was raining--not just a mountain misting, but full on rain. I checked the weather and it looked like this early band of showers was passing, but wouldn't be over until well into the race.

So that was the situation while I stood at the starting line. There were mountains all about and the rain was coming down hard. Oddly enough, instead of getting cold feet and shying away from the hard race in the rain, I embraced the challenge and couldn't wait to get started. The small race atmosphere helped tremendously. Just like the previous year, there were only 230ish runners in the Half-Marathon and from the looks of it there were about 100 for the 5K. Immediately I noticed the crucial benefit to the small crowd: the shortest port-o-potty line ever! There were seven stalls and a line of 20 people. It was as if I had died and gone to runner's heaven! Ok, maybe it isn't raining in runner's heaven but the fast moving line was definitely a Godsend.

I quickly found out that this race had all the signs of your small town race, all of which were personified with this one image: As they called the runners up to the starting line I saw the race director standing on a makeshift platform. He was in white khaki shorts, a polo, a baseball cap, and a poncho. He looked like he had run a race or two in the past, but now devoted his time to the Lion's Club and his breakfast & breakfast. He spoke without regard for the weather or the fact that everyone was still talking and couldn't hear him. To top it off he was talking into a microphone connected to a handheld speaker being held by someone who looked like the caddy from Happy Gilmore aged 30 years. To top it off the speaker kept on squeaking like a high school PA system. It was the quaint New England race I always fantastized about! (Right? Runners fantasize about quaintness and New England--you know, where running started?)

We took off as the rain reached its worst. As we exited the park there was a stunning view of the mountains. The storm clouds were so heavy that the entire layer of cloud had sunken below the mountain range. So there was a dense gray strip of clouds swirling below the dark, ominous mountain peaks set against the gray overcast skies.

The first few miles went pretty well. The pack thinned out by mile marker two and once I got into a nice pace at mile three-ish it was going really well (even though I could feel a tickle in my abdomen). I tried to get mile splits, but the mile markers were printed on regular 8x11.5 sheets of paper (i.e., tiny) and were close to the ground (i.e., easily blocked). I did spot the second mile marker and got a split of 17:33, about 8:46 per mile, but didn't see another marker until mile six.

In the long, hilly straight-away from mile three to six I was really happy with my performance on the inclines. They weren't nearly as bad as they appeared when I drove this stretch the day before. About this point I started talking with woman in a pink top who was running her first Half-Marathon. She was training for the Hartford Marathon and had already run five miles before the race AND drove over an hour to get to the race. She was used to running nine minute miles, but from both our watches we could tell that she was going much faster than that--which was really exciting, not just for her, but also for me who tried to take on the role of pacer.

We cleared mile five and were doing really well. After we passed through a major intersection we saw the sixth mile marker. 35:07--still near an 8:46 pace. Sweet! (Also, I have to note that the fact that the streets were still open to cars wasn't much of an issue. There were great race volunteers at each intersection, holding back the cars if necessary and directing us into the turns. There were also volunteers on bikes patrolling each segment of the race. This was actually turning out to be one of the best organized races I've run in a while.)

I was cruising until mile seven. I hit the marker with a split of 8:35. At the same time, I got a stitch. Yup, again. I was doing so well and just so generally happy and motivated to finish that I was not going to let a silly thing like a stitch slow me down. I told my buddy to go on ahead, figuring I would catch up with her eventually. I didn't know it, but I wouldn't see her again until right before the finish line.

The mile seven marker also marked the beginning of the massive two-mile climb on dirt roads. Stitch + climb + change of surface is not a recipe for success. But that is what training is for, right? To prepare you for when conditions are not ideal. So I pressed on, with my lackluster performance in Fairfield replaying in my head and determined not to repeat it.

Oh man. Did that stitch put up a fight. And oh boy, were those climbs hard--I swear parts of them were vertical. I passed mile marker eight: 9:16. My abdomen felt like it was in a vice, constricted and unable to move in any direction. Mike marker nine: 9:54. Ouch. I was hurting. I was grimacing. I was holding and applying pressure all over the place. The one thing I wasn't doing was giving up. I was going to run through this. I knew I could do this.

Oddly enough, the uphill parts made the stitch pain go away, but the downhills heightened it. So once I passed the crest of the mountain at mile marker nine, every one started flying by and I only grimaced more. That was hard. That was when I almost gave up, but knowing that a stitch messed up MY FIRST MARATHON EVER and that hills screwed me in Fairfield, I just couldn't.

The decline was aggravating the stitch, and everything after mile nine was decline. I was concentrating on regular breathing and trying to keep my posture straight. Slowly the stitch would fade. But then I'd start picking up the pace, which only aggravated the stitch more. I went through this cycle until I hit mile marker 10: 9:28. Well, that was an improvement.

At this point the course leveled off and the stitch was fading away and staying away. I started to tease at a quicker pace and the stitch stayed at bay. I went a little faster and the stitch didn't get worse. It felt like someone was taking the vice off my abdomen one piece at a time. What a relief! I passed by mile marker 11: 8:27. I was back!

I started picking off people one by one. There's the guy that passed me going uphill. Gone. There's the girl that sprinted between water stations. Bye-bye. Here's some guy I hadn't seen before. See ya. After three miles of dealing with this stitch this was a much deserved reward. There's mile marker 12: 8:21. Yes!

I knew the last mile since it was the downtown strip of town plus the street leading to the park (same street we started on). I was getting excited, but I could feel the endorphins wearing off. I could also feel my stomach being not too happy about those sub-8:30 miles. But just like with the stitch I was not going to let my stomach win. Not after I had scaled an 80 story building and overcome a stitch and only had a mile to go.

The final marker for me was the turn off the main street where the downhill ended and the uphill to the park started. I zoomed through the last water stop, saying no thanks--I had a full water bottle to keep me going the rest of the way. I blasted over a little 10 foot hill and passed another runner. I made the turn onto the street leading to the park and the finish line.

With less than a mile to go I really wanted to lay it on. I was itching to crank out one of my 6:55 miles from my speed intervals, but I was still recovering from the stitch and speed was not coming easily. I held steady and focused on picking off the runners in front of me.

Eventually I saw the final turn into the park--and my buddy in the pink top. I set my eyes on her determined to catch up. I switched to a new song and started singing along. I pried open my stride and passed another straggler. The trees cleared away and I could see the finish line! I tapped my buddy in the pink top on her shoulder and told her "I caught up!" Then proceeded to blast on by--if I have one talent in running it is great finishing speed, I've had it since race #1, and I fully intended on using it.

I bolted to the finish. Since the field was so small they were able to call out my number way ahead of time and have my name ready for when I crossed the finish line. I spotted wifey in the final 20 feet and had a big goofy smile on my face as I clocked in the last 1.1 miles at 9:06 (an 8:16 pace).

Watch time: 1:55:50 (there were no timing mats at the start)
Official time: 1:56:00
What awesome feels like:


CyclingDivas said...

congrats awesome nephew...you make a tia proud....:)

FLYERS26 said...

great job.
I have my 1st 1/2 next week, the Philadelphia Distance Run.

Jess said...

Great job! Especially considering the rain and hills!

The Laminator said...

Wow...that's quite a story. Congrats. The wait for your race report was well worth it. Maybe we need to plan more training runs in the rain and drizzle. J/K =)

J said...

Picture looks great! Good job on those hills! The elevation profile once against proves never judge a book by its cover!

Nitmos said...

Awesome. It even looks like you are holding your stitch in place at the end. you are showing it who's boss.

Laura said...

Congratulations! And so cool that you got to act as a "pacer." Someday I want to do that officially!