Archive for September, 2009

Race: Lake Merritt September 15K

I stood on the start line of the Lake Merritt 4th Sunday 5/1015K race feeling pessimistic. I needed to get a 15K result to count towards the Total Time competition, where the best times for your 5, 10 and 15K in the year are added together. Could I really run 15K at the pace predicted by the calculators? Did I even want to?
At a deeper level I realized that this was a little mental game. If the end result of this gloom was a conservatively paced start, then the rest of the race would take car of itself. No chasing after the 5K speedsters today!
The start was called, and we set off in a loose pack. I kept an eye on the Garmin, knowing that this course is something of a GPS Bermuda Triangle. After an initial 6:50 burst I settled in to 7;05, passed three of four runners, and followed a group that was going at a stable pace. Maybe this wouldn’t be too bad after all..
At the end of the 5K circuit the water cups were being held out by a pair of sweet little girls, so I slowed and thanked them graciously, how could I not? Meanwhile the knot of runners in front of me had all finished the 5K leaving an empty road ahead. I pressed on. Later the course did an sharp S-curve to avoid new construction and I had a good look behind. “Oh Crap!”. No one visible in 200 yards. “I know it’s a hot day, but c’mon!” My race had abruptly turned into a time trial, something I’m not too good at.
My pace flagged towards 7:30. Oh look, some runners! They were Special Olympians and I was lapping them, but hey, fellow runners! A little later, looking carefully along the lake shore I glimpsed a runner who must have been a minute ahead of me. No catching him unless he slowed quite a bit. By the end of the second lap I was feeling the heat (high 70s) a bit and cruising along at 7:30-7:40 pace. I grabbed two cups of water and felt a bit better. Another damn solitary circuit to do, A the bottom of the lake I turned onto the bridge and looked back along he shore. Ah, there was someone, but zero chance of getting caught now.
At the finish I discovered that I was 5th overall, and the four in front of me were all under 40. Speedy. I was not too pleased with my 1:09:49 time (7:30 pace), but on reflection the heat and course complexities accounted for a chunk of the extra time, and the lack of pacers the rest. I certainly recovered quite quickly afterwards. So Hi Ho for next week, and the San Jose rock & Roll Half Marathon. I hope it’s cooler then.


The Running Tourist

Thanks, Wikipedia

Thanks, Wikipedia

It’s nice to get to know an unfamiliar place by running it. This last weekend we attended the Monterey Jazz Festival and stayed with a friend at Pebble Beach. The area is known for it’s golf courses, but its pretty good for running too. Tourist cars pay to get in so traffic is light. The views are beautiful, and you have a choice of (mostly) flat or hilly routes. I also managed to hook up with FB, an aquaintance from the Runner’s World marathon training forum, who is about the same speed as me. We ran in company for part of my 18-miler. Later I chugged along a boardwalk that snakes over the dunes at Spanish Bay and ran part of the Big Sur half marathon course into Pacific Grove. There was a headwind on the way back, which was less fun, but a cheery greeting from a golfer helped me along. We take all the encouragement we can get.
The previous day I had been able to impress some of my fellow guests when driving back from the festival. Not only did I find my way to the house on a foggy night, but I was pointing out local landmarks as I went. Telling them that I’d run the road a few hours before didnt seem to dissapate my unearned reputation for navigational talent.

In other news, I’m planning to run a 15K on Sunday. I’m dithering about waering my brand-new super-light Brooks Launches wihtout any break-in. Yeah, I’ve hurt myself that way before. We’ll see.


Sometimes a coach will throw us a puzzler. Particularly if he’s in a book, and you cant grab him and gently ask “What the heck is THIS?”
This weeks puzzler was a workout from Brad Hudson, grandly entitled Specific-Endurance Intervals. After running easily for an hour, I was to run at marathon pace for a minute, then easy pace for a minute. Repeat 15 times. I didn’t need to count them of course, just keep doing it for half an hour. Then run home at an easy pace, thinking “That was so easy, did I really get any benefit?” The realization came much later that it was really a pacekeeping exercise and I’d flunked it badly. I had run the MP portions way too fast, and the intervals too slowly. I should have been alternating between 7:30 and about 8:00 pace, instead of 7:00 and 9:00. Which the is what the Garmin dutifully reported later. We live and learn. I’ll do better next time. Friday’s run has an 8-mile segment at marathon pace. OK, I know how to do that!

Now for a digression into Obsession or, more generously, Dedication. Some would say that running a ton of miles every week, with the ostensible objective of knocking a little bit from ones race times, is a little obsessive. It would be, if that’s all it was for, but of course the task itself has it’s own rewards. I was reminded of this when we went to the movies at the weekend. “Julie and Julia” is about obsession/dedication in the field of cookery, and some of it looked quite familiar to this runner. Early on we see Julia Child (Meryl Streep) in a Parisian cookery class full of men, all of whom can chop onions with intimidating efficiency. So she goes home and chops her way through a sackful of onions. At the end of it she’s still not too stylish, but she’s fast, and satisfied. That struck a chord. We train, we get better, we gain satisfaction. And from time to time we go racing.

Speaking of which, I’ll be doing some racing soon, never fear. And then there will be race reports, which is what you want to see, right?

Mental II

We celebrate the good workouts or races, and take instruction from the others.

Today the schedule called for a race, but there didn’t seem to be anything suitable available. So I thought it would be interesting to run a 10K time trial. I tried to simulate a race, going to Lake Merritt, warming up, standing on the start line while the geese looked on. But of course it was not a race. There was no one to run against and I was quite slow, missing my 10K PR by well over a minute. It’s a soft PR, too. I felt fresh enough afterward to run a third easy lap of the 5K loop, so I had fitness to spare. I was just unable to drive myself hard without any competitors to chase. This is not unusual, but it’s an occasion to think some more about the mental contribution to speed.

Today I slowed because I didn’t have the immediate focus of someone to chase or stay ahead of. With a suitable mindset I could have pushed harder and  unofficially beaten that PR. Harder still, and I could move my performance up a notch. Sports psychologists earn their living by teaching us  such mental techniques.

How hard is it possible to push, assuming we have the psychological wherewithal to do so? Could we run ourselves to death, like Phaedippides? That may never have happened, but it’s an appealing story. It doesn’t really happen that way, since top athletes rarely drop dead in competition. Those that do generally turn out to have an undiagnosed heart condition or something of that kind. So mental preparation, brain training or whatever you call it would seem to be a safe activity. Push as hard as you like. It (probably) won’t kill you.

Another famous collapser didn’t die. Italy’s Dorando Pietri was leading the marathon at the 1908 Olympics in London. He reached the stadium with a substantial lead before falling to the track five times. He was helped to the finish by shocked officials. Pietri was disqualified but it didn’t matter. He was a popular hero, and ignited a marathon mystique that continues to this day. When the IOC standardized the marathon distance some years later, they picked that London race, with it’s oddball length, as the exemplar.

So Phaedippides inspired the marathon, Pietri gave us 26 miles 385 yards, and they both did it by falling down.

Race PRs

5K20:43 (LMJS 6/28/09
12K54:36 (Across Bay 3/21/10)
15K1:09:51 (LMJS 19/27/09)
Half1:31:28 (Kaiser 2012
Marathon 3;13:14 (CIM '11)


September 2009
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