Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Racing Toughness

Part of me doesn't want to make this post cause of some of my lesser "fans" who think little of me as a runner due to my lack of consistency. However, it's just something on my mind since the Half, so I thought I'd just type it out, for the heck of it.

For those I've talked to at great depth about running, there's one thing I really admire about many runners that I don't necessarily feel that I've really shown, and that's toughness on race-day. It's not trainable, nor is it something you can teach someone how to find. It's just something that you either pull out at the right time in a race/run or you don't. When I think about my racing, that's something I feel like I've lacked and it's cost me some good race times.

A for instance could be this last race, the Houston Half. I have no doubt that I ran my butt off that Sunday, and I'm pretty proud of the time and the effort I gave out on the course. When I crossed the finish line, I could barely slow walk, and I felt 100% confident in saying that I'd given it all. And maybe a lot of this is hindsight being 20-20, but I'd love to have another shot at that final 1.5 miles. Actually, maybe the final 3. I know that I ran hard, but I just wonder if I really did have the ability to pull out one final gear in the final stretch, to have prevented those 4 women from passing me on Rusk. I know I pressed hard, but it just wasn't that finishing "kick", that I'm sure many of us "fantasize" about... the sad part is that I feel like many if not most other runners who's blogs I read and just runners I talk to have that gear.

Now, my explanations could be viewed as me just trying to explain it away, but I don't think so most of the time. There's the group who fly out of the blocks when the race starts, then battle through the middle of the run at a much slower pace, then just hammer it the final half or quarter mile. There's the folks who start out at a realtively "easier" pace (not to say an easy pace, but easier) with the intention of kicking at the end.

I can't even tell you how many times I wonder what's wrong with me when, even when I'm trained and well prepared, I see someone tell me they aimed for a goal time and came in a minute or more ahead of their goal for a race, and we're talking 5k and 10k. It's not how much they come under, but just how often I see that folks hit their goal times.

Then I think back to my best race of 2008, the Bayou City Classic, where I shot for running 5:30s, and came home with an average of 5:38, I think...whatever 35:04 is. Long and short, I missed that goal time too. So, do I just set goals that set me up to fail? Do I set myself out to run a time and hit a pace that leaves me wasted at the end, to where even the toughest of the tough-as-nails types wouldn't have enough to kick? Do I just push myself hard enough in the first 90% of the runs I do that I have nothing left to "pick it up" in the final 10% of a run? Well, I don't really know, but it bothers the heck out of me.

With the fact that I didn't feel well-prepared for the Houston Half, my biggest fear, so to speak, was what was coming around 9 or 10 miles. I approached it, though with an attitude of anticipation this time though. I ran smooth and worry-free and just looked forward to when the time to press through would come. While I ran a good time, I feel like I let myself down some by falling off the pace. With Boston on the horizon, I can't help but feel some anxiety and some excitement at what will come in miles 17, 18, 19, 20 and 21....this is the time that I need the most toughness but, as I've said, I don't know that I've ever shown it.

What I hope to do in my prep for Boston is to be so well trained that I put off the need for 'toughness' till as late in the race as possible, so that if I call on my body to respond and it doesn't, that I am far enough in that I lose as little time as possible, and can still finish at or close to my goal time. This brings in the dilema I have of whether I want to run to have some time in the "bank" late in the race, or do I run the 1st half in a manner that sets me up to run a strong 2nd half? My inexperience with Boston may be part of the reason for my dilemma, but it's all part of my mental gymnsastics.

If anyone ever looks at the mile splits of my long runs and wonders why I run the way I do, why I finish a long run seemingly pushing the pace, it's this feeling I have inside of feeling like I'm preparing myself for those closing miles. Preparing to finish strong. Granted, it's in a different realm trying to close a long-run @ 6:30 pace and closing a race @ 5:30 pace, but it's the mindset, I guess. I don't know that it makes any physiological difference, but psychologically it seems to for me.

I don't know... just something I've been thinking about and thought I'd put out there. Time to snack and get to sleep.

Monday, January 19, 2009

1/18 - Aramco Houston Half-Marathon, 1:17:18-PR

Half-Marathon - 1:17:18
5:54 avg pace
Overall - 91 (11th
Overall Male - 65
Age Group - 7th (1st Non-Elite)
12th Texan (I'll take that)

6:02, 5:41, 5:40, 5:58 - 23:21
5:55, 5:47, 5:52, 5:48 - 23:22
5:56, 5:58, 5:54, 6:04 - 23:52

When training began, I wanted to run 1:15 for this race. I knew it would take a ton of work. Having not done all the work necessary, I modified my goal a couple of weeks ago, and just saved my legs. I wanted to run in the 1:16s, and thought I had that fully in my grasp. In order to do 1:15, I'd need a 5:43-5:45 pace. I thought I'd give it a shot at 5:45 if could get there and hold it.

As the gun sounded, and a whole host of elites in front of us, I was a little unsure of where to "settle" in to get my pace right. I got a comfortable stride going and got into a rhythm right away, as I ran past a few folks. As we hit Elysian, I got in right beside a few folks, and just thought I'd sit right there... then we came upon the first mile marker, and as we approached, I knew I was going way too slow. So, I picked it up right away... and it felt good too. No strain, didn't feel too hard. At this point, I felt very encouraged.

As we cruised through miles 2 and 3, I was amazed at how quickly the race was going by. As we wound towards Montrose, this was the part of the race that I thought would be the most important, as it's a long stretch down one road, no turns (curves, but no turns) to the turn around @ about 8.5 miles. At this point in the course, I felt fast and strong...faster and stronger than I did in the first 4 miles, even though they came out just about even. I knew at this point that 1:15 was out of the question, but I wasn't worried about that, cause the pace was just what I wanted.

The best part was passing people all along this part of the race... from Studewood to Studemont to Montrose, turning around @ 8 and heading back towards Allen Parkway. All along here, I was passing people...not because I was accelerating, but because I was running my race and holding a steady pace.

Once we hit Allen Parkway and turned towards downtown, I knew the race was on. Here is where my faltering in training hurt me. I was able to get about half of this part running hard. But as we neared downtown, each time I called on a little more, I became quite well aware that the tank was done. In the final 1.5 miles, I was overtaken by 4 runners... all elite females, and all finished within 2 seconds of eachother and about 6-7 seconds in front of me. One other guy who I ran side-by-side with from about mile 9 through 12 also put on a strong closing mile, and he finished a good 16 seconds ahead of me.

Despite the finish, I felt proud of my effort. When I tried to close on these folks, I made up ground, but just couldn't get to them, so I had something for the finish but not much. I really do feel like I left it all on the course today. When I saw the time clicking as I approached the finish line, I was extremely happy at the huge PR. One of the other exciting things was the PR @ 10-miles. I've never run under 1-hour for 10-miles, but today I did....58:40, by my watch. No mats there, so nothing electronic, so technically it's unofficial, and it will remain unchaged on my PR section of my blog, but I felt amazing @ 10-miles for having run almost a minute and a half under the best 10-miles I'd done to date.

Some notes about things along the run. Friends cheering me on... awesome. I loved seeing those that came out just to cheer, and it's especially appreciated when you're on the list of specific people that someone is looking for. That was awesome. Hearing your name called out as you run by is a great feeling.

I made an effort to rely on my legs and not go to my arms till the going got tough late in the race. Until that point, it was all a leg race. Not sure if I'm conveying that correctly, but I believe it's been a problem for me in distance races. When the time called for it, I went to them, but I made every effort not to do that a second sooner than necessary.

I'm definitely needing to experiment with Gels for racing. I didn't take one today, but I can't help but wonder if that would have made a difference for me, either mental or physical, in the last 2 miles. I've only taken Gels in one race... last year's Houston Marathon, and I believe it helped me hold off the effects of having had the flu full force 6-7 days prior.

Okay... it's late, and I need to get my butt out of work. I worked late, then thought I'd get this done before heading out... now it just got later, darn it. Gotta scoot!