Friday, June 24, 2011

700+ Races

I promised some time ago to blog something about my long racing history. I've hesitated, because really it's just a long list of statistics. Maybe I should just share the master file as a google doc or something. We'll see.

In the meantime, skip the rest of this post if you really don't care. I won't mind, really. There is no way for me to summarize over 700 races in one blog post. Nearly every one of them has some kind of memory attached to it, the best and the worst and all in-between. I really do love running races. I love the challenge, the camaraderie, I even love the early mornings and the pre-race jitters. I suppose you already surmised that, because 700+ races is, well, a lot.

The truth is that I've run even more races than that, but I only started recording them in 1978. Before that, I'd run at least couple dozen races in track competitions while in Junior High School. I have no record of them, but it's fair to say that I was a bit of a late bloomer when it came to running. What I can recall from those halcyon days was getting my tail kicked by other kids of the same age who developed - physically - faster than I did. They all seemed so big and strong, and I was just a little tadpole next to them. It really wasn't until I was about 17 that I started to catch up physically (and actually had to start shaving, but that's another story).

My first recorded race was a 10k road race in Reedsburg, Wisconsin called The Butterfest Run. It had a popular reputation locally at the time, and many of the area's high school runners used it as a sword-crossing event mid-summer. I managed to record a time of 39:28 and finished in 37th place out of 104 runners - resplendent in my white cotton t-shirt and shorty-shorts.

The first race I ever won was in September 13, 1979, when I crossed the line first in a high school cross country meet run on my home course in Baraboo, Wisconsin. That course, now completely gone and made into suburban tract homes, was a bear, with two killer hills and one really steep downhill. I ran 17:51 for three miles, and beat the other 27 guys for my first-ever win. I think I sort of roared as I crossed the finish line, somehow at that young age it had seemed a long time coming. But it was also validation and redemption for that little boy who had been left in the dust only a few years earlier. Hard work had paid off. I could do this, and I could do it well. For an awkward teenager, that moment was enlightening and I guess I could say reassuring. You're gonna be all right, kid.

Since those early days, I have now managed to run at total of 706 races, at just about every distance from the half-mile up to 50 kilometers - for a grand total of 4493 miles of racing. I've raced on roads, tracks, trails, golf courses, and even in deep sand. I've raced at all hours of the day and night, and in every kind of weather you can imagine. I wouldn't trade it for anything.

I've had some success, and of course I've had abysmal failures. I've crashed and burned out of marathons on more than one occasion, and simply had to admit that 26.2 miles wasn't going to be my forte. I've taken wrong turns and gone off-course. I've had races cancelled mid-way by horrendous thunderstorms, and I've had races in which I fell down more than once and still did well. In the end, at least to date, I've had my share of top finishes:
Together, that adds up to a top-five finish in 44% of my 706 races. I admit, most of those successful races happened years ago, and these days it only happens in low-key trail races.

My best times are also from years ago. Here's a summary chart of my personal records:
You can see that my glory years were in the mid-80s, and I've never quite been able to match those performances. Of course, matching those times can no longer be the goal as I approach age 50.

I can say that I still run races with the same combination of joy and determination that I had back in the 80s. I'm older, I'm slower, and I'm not trained as intensively ... but put me on a starting line and tell me to go, and I'll be off with all the effort I can muster on that day. I probably won't win, but I'll do my best.

If you don't write down your races, I suggest you start. It's a fun way to look back over the years, and to re-kindle some fond memories.

Do you think I can make it to 1,000 races some day? I can promise you this: if I fall short of 1000, it won't be for lack of trying.

Monday, June 20, 2011

That's a little better, at least

Following Wednesday night's debacle of a run, I toed the starting line for the NYRR Portugal Day 5 mile road race last Sunday with more than a bit of trepidation. If the 6:10 pace I managed to struggle through for 1.5 miles on Wednesday was all I had in the tank, then 5 miles on the roads of Central Park were quite likely to be rather embarrassing.

Jogging to the starting area, I felt awful. This actually encouraged me. Let me explain.

For decades I've had this experience over and over again: how I feel while warming up for a race is almost always in total inverse proportion to my race performance.

I have no explanation or even theory about this odd phenomenon. Seems rather unlikely, and definitely counter-intuitive ... but if I feel like crud during a warm up jog, I seem to race better than average. Go figure. But maybe you too can use this stranger-than-fiction to keep your mental attitude positive even when the first couple miles of a workout, warmup, or race feel horrible: It could actually be a good sign!

Back to the race. The crowded corrals at the start - a now-ubiquitous experience with NYRR races - actually didn't help at all (no surprise there). I find it just plain difficult to be forced to line up almost 20 minutes pre-start for a short road race. Standing in a crowd, literally feeling my diligent warmup and stretching routines fade away, is really frustrating. I can cope with this when it's a long race like a marathon, but for a five mile road race - where you need to get moving at the gun - that's close-to-impossible after standing still for so long.

Be that as it may, I did what I could.

First mile: Slow start as usual, and I saw many of my teammates up ahead as I managed a 6:09 for the first mile. Good enough. I figured I'd fade from there.
Second mile - 5:56. Oops! Too fast, darn. But not feeling awful. And I was passing people. Hmm.
Third mile - Back to 6:09. The legs don't lie. Again, I figured I'd start fading at this point.
Fourth mile - no idea. Where did they hide that mile marker? I recall that there was a hose spraying mist onto the road, and several tables with water cups, and as I navigated the crowds around that point, I glanced at my watch wondering where on earth the 4 mile mark could be. My split time read 5:59, and in retrospect I must have been past the mark already. Never saw it.
Final mile: did my best to run hard, but started feeling really HOT and my legs starting to seize up a little. I covered the last two miles in 11:59, so I'm figuring about 5:57 for mile 4 and 6:02 for the fifth mile, but those are just guesses.

Finished in 30:12, which was actually kind of satisfying. Searchable Results here.

The fact that I am currently doing zero speedwork shows in obvious ways (I'm a tortoise!), but I did not suffer a repeat of Wednesday night, when even one mile at 6:10 pace felt really difficult.

I'll take it, and I'll see if I can build on it.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

You Get What You Train For

Ran the JPMorganChase Corporate Challenge 3.5 mile road race in Central Park last night (with over 15,000 of my "best friends"). I've run this darned race 24 times, dating back to the early 90s. I used to like it, but it has grown to such an enormous size that's it's become difficult to enjoy.

This year, I had a plan. First, I would be honest about my potential time. That was mistake number one. They seeded runners into corrals, and I received a green bib number, putting me in the 2nd corral. Watching the dozens of people who clearly are much slower than me pile into the red corral in front me was rather frustrating. My favorite: some dude, about 195 pounds, basketball sneakers, chewing a wad of gum and talking into his cell phone as they started the race - yeah, he was at least 10 rows in front of me. What do you think, did he break 8:00 pace for the race? 9:00 pace? I doubt it. He probably walked most of the way. Yeesh.

Back to the plan: regardless of how crowded and frustrating, I was going to run slightly slower than tempo pace for the first two miles, and if I felt okay I would open up and run the final 1.5 miles harder. Aiming for 6:45, I ran the first mile in 6:37; for the second mile, I was aiming for 6:35 and ran it in 6:34. Okay, not bad. However, as I tried to increase the pace, I found I was really laboring. At the three mile mark, having run a 6:10 mile that felt much harder than I expected, it dawned on me: YOU GET WHAT YOU TRAIN FOR.

This year, in an effort to avoid injury and get back to running consistently, I have forgone almost all types of fast workouts. Oh, I do a little tempo running now and then, but mostly I do good old LSD. The result: I'm fairly strong and I can run 6:35 pace and be able to chat with those around me a bit. But drop the pace just that little tiny bit (25 seconds per mile, that's only about a 6.5% change), and I'm wheezing like an asthmatic and feeling weak in the knees. I am simply not adapted to running that pace right now. I'm not trained for it, and it shows immediately.

I wobbled the final half mile in 3:04, and finished something like 250th on the night, with my second-worst time ever for this event. Sigh.

I'm not going to complain, or at least not too much. With me leaving my current employer at the end of this month, where I've been the Corporate Challenge team captain for the past 13 years, it means that I may never have to run this race again - and frankly I welcome that. I'm not so fast anymore, but I am still aware of proper race behavior - and this race is the worst example of race behavior you will ever see. In a field dominated by hacks, wannabes, and has-beens (guys who might have been decent jocks in high school but are overweight and untrained now), what you get is a mess. I was pushed, cut off, kicked, tripped, jammed, boxed, and just about any other bad descriptive racing term you can come up with. Running with a bunch of inexperienced and overly-macho guys is a nightmare. Of course, they push and shove and zig zag all over the course in the first mile to get way ahead of me, then I have to weave back through all of them during the next mile when they seize up and slow way down. And what's really great: they are aggressively pissed at me when I pass them, often giving me a little shove and some "words of encouragement" usually referring to me in colorful-if-not-totally-original terms. Morons. Dangerous morons.

So, I bid adieu to the Corporate Challenge. Used to be fun, now it's just frustrating. When can I get back to the trails?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

When the Walls Come Tumbling Down

Okay, I know it's been awhile since my last post. Apologies for that.

My "running life" is going fine. I ran a nice 10 mile trail race, the final race in the NJ Trail Series Spring line up. Results. What the results don't show: the early pace was fast, and I sat in 7th place for the first couple of miles. Then, we hit a very technical downhill section followed by a very rocky stream-side trail. I picked up the pace, and moved all the way up to 4th overall. There was also a 10k on the day, and during the final 3 miles of my race we were weaving our way through the 10k field (including my sister, who enjoyed the race despite getting lost and adding a mile or two). Before I realized it, I had run up to and passed the three runners in the front. Moving into first overall, I heard one of them shout, "He's in the 10 mile", and immediately I had two of the three right on my heels. I pushed it as best I could, but couldn't shake those young legs. With 500 meters remaining, they shifted gears and left me in their dust. Still, 3rd overall and actually leading the race in the final miles was pretty satisfying. Next up: silly Corporate Challenge tonight (which I will run as a workout), then a 5 mile road race on Sunday (my first road race in a long time - I wonder just how painfully slow I will actually be).

But enough about running. The tumbling walls I refer to in the title of this post are the walls of my career. After 14 years at The Metropolitan Museum of Art here in NYC, I will be leaving at the end of this month to seek my next venture. In essence, the department in which I am currently working is going through a restructuring, and that plan does not include a position suitable for me. Ouch. I've become another statistic of this nutty economy. Ugh.

So, I now enter the job market for the first time in a very long while. I'm rather rusty. I'll be trying to add some shine to my resume, and keeping an open mind about what to do next. I had never planned to work in an art museum, and I have to say it's been a great 14 year ride. I've learned so much, met so many incredible people, and been a part of many, many interesting projects. This is just "one of those things" in life - a forced change, but frankly not a total shock. I could see that my role was a bit unclear looking to the future, so the time had simply come.

Wish me luck. With the support of my loving wife, great friends, helpful colleagues, and of course my old pal Running, I believe I will see this through and find something soon - maybe even something really exciting and satisfying. At least I hope so.

Chin up, as they say. Or "Keep Calm and Carry On".

And, hey, if you are an employer, I'm all ears!