Today, I am still in the same AG

Now our lives are changing fast
Now our lives are changing fast
Hope that something pure can last
Hope that something pure can last
- Arcade Fire, We Used To Wait

Does the passing of years have any meaning outside of a racing context? I’m not sure that it does. Yesterday I was 35 – 39, today I’m 35 – 39.

One difference is that my age is now an even number. I haven’t studied the subject thoroughly, but I’ve noticed a pattern developing: one year is even, the next is odd. Not sure what the significance is, just thought I should mention it.

I rested on Sunday after the Martinsville Half, ran easy on Monday, hill repeats on Tues, easy yesterday. Today I’m going longish, around 10 or so. Tomorrow is easy, Saturday longish again. Sunday I’ll be sitting between turns one and two at the Martinsville Speedway, watching cars duke it out on the half mile paperclip track. I’ll be rooting for BB&T. Monday will be easy, Tues will be long, like 18 to 20. Then taper.

I’m going to keep the pace up for my taper runs this time. I seem to do better when my legs are tight. The only cramp-free marathon I ever ran was the time I covered the distance by myself, five days after the Danville Half marathon. Maybe previous marathon efforts met with loudly protesting quads and hamstrings because I was too loose, Lautrec.

I guess on a day when one’s age goes from being an odd number to an even number it’s appropriate to discuss future goals and ambitions. Comment blogger Kelly suggest I sign up for Chicago and focus on preparing myself to be really fast there. The idea is tempting. Tempting because it plays into the fear of aging and death: I’m faster now than I ever have been before, but I’m getting older. Hurry! Before the Decline!

Oooooh, we used to wait. When I first read George Sheehan’s excellent book, Running and Being, he notes the faster race times of the recent past. I looked for and failed to find a quote, but I remember something along the lines of “a 17 minute 5k wouldn’t get you in the top 20 back in the day.” That was before Gu, Chi running, special diets, garmins, heart rate monitors, bpm running mp3s, and readily available advice from a rainbow of experts on the internet. They also waited for letters. They waited for dinner. They waited in lines at the bank. We used to wait.

They were also less sensitive to pain and violence. In the 60′s, a young brat swinging a cat around by its tail would make an onlooker chuckle, maybe get a little misty recalling the whimsy of youth. Nowadays, not so much. Empathy is certainly a good thing, I’m just saying such a culture is going to have a greater acceptance of pain as an inevitability of life.

So imagine it’s the 1960′s and you want to start running races. You have a better understanding of delayed gratification and you have a greater acceptance of the struggle required to achieve that gratification than does the modern hominid. That’s my competition. I want to be able to get in a time machine, enter a race, and be able to hang with those who would have been my peers had I been born decades earlier.

All of that is just a long way of saying my marathon ambitions shall remain humble from a speed perspective. I should wait for it. I have plenty of time, really. Time best spent learning how to embrace the puke threshold and tired legs. Time spent running for fun. Racing shorter distances. Achieving a better understanding of how this meat-prison for my brain works.

The rest of my 30′s is base building for my 40′s. That decade will be spent trying to get faster in a more organized fashion. I think it would be cool if my 50′s turned out to be my fastest decade. I don’t have any plans yet for my 60′s and beyond.

Long term plans are a good way to achieve goals. They’re also a good way to tempt fate; either way, if a piano lands on my noggin tomorrow, I’d have few regrets. Never running a super fast marathon wouldn’t be one of them (I don’t think. It’s easy for me to say now, since I don’t expect a piano to land on my head anytime soon. But, like the Spanish Inquisition, no one expects the piano to the head). I’m already running faster than I ever thought would be possible for me. I can start at or at least near the front of just about any race I enter and belong there. That alone fills me with more astonished pride than a yahoo like me deserves to feel.

If I’m going to make the most of my running life, I can’t get greedy. It’s not just fear of injury. It’s like drinking water on the run: it’s better to sip frequently than to gulp rarely.

Martinsville Half Race Report

Time: 1:28:32
Overall: 9th
AG: 1st

Awesome day.

It was a little warmer than forecast, so I stuffed my socks in my pockets moments before the starting horn went off. The ground was refreshing.

I’m very familiar with the coarse course (Freudian misspelling? The course was pleasantly coarse). The Dick and Willie Passage is such a pleasant path, Iris and I make the 40 minute drive to do long runs there as often as time permits. I’ve been fast there. I’ve cramped there. That’s where I encountered the seed pods of Hades. I love it. It’s one big gradual hill, and I felt pretty confident that a few runners ahead of me would misjudge and over-run the last incline. The long slog can be tough if you spent too much on the fast decline.

Once we sorted ourselves out after the first mile, I saw who I was racing. There were two runners close behind me, and two far ahead. I focused on the two ahead of me – a guy in a blue singlet and RJ, who has beaten me at other races in Virginia. He seems pretty well known and respected in the local running community to the north of the Barefoot Josh compound/roadside attraction. If I could finish within eyesight of him, I will have run a good race.

The entire time they were pulling away from me. I had shaken off the two behind me around mile 5 or so, but Blue Singlet Man was frequently out of sight around distant corners. RJ was pulling away from him. I figured the placement was set, so my task was to keep a steady pace.

There were two out’n’backs. Iris was looking strong – no chance of being anywhere near last today. So was Patrick, who was running his first half since breaking his hip. They shouted numbers at me: “11th! or 12th! Maybe 13th!” The only thing that mattered place-wise was to not get passed as the guys ahead got tinier and tinier.

“I’m trying to catch them, but they won’t slow down!” I huffed at one of the many well-populated water/cheering stations. When I felt my pace slacken, I sang to myself, “to run with the gods, you gotta run harder…” Then I would smile. Intentionally. I had spent so much of the race staring holes in the backs of the runners ahead of me, my face would knot up a bit. Now that I could barely see them, the focus went inward. Time to unfurrow my brow and be happy to be alive etc etc etc.

Then something weird happened. The Blue Singlet guy started getting bigger. He was kicking his legs back, looking like he was trying to wake them up. I got a little nauseous when I realized I might catch him. He heard my noisy breathing and gave a startled look back. That, by the way, is one of the best things about being a barefoot racer. Because the runner ahead couldn’t hear my feet, he thought he was alone. Then I startled him, causing his HR to spike. Makes passing a lot easier.

Ahead of me was RJ.

He saw me as he rounded a tight switchback taking us back into town. No surprise for him. Still, I didn’t try to catch him. I was on the edge, and knew I had time to spare to finish under 90 minutes.

The route to the finish was the route from the start. I remembered running down some steep hills. My brain was still functioning well enough to remember that means steep uphills. Stay even, almost there.

On the last big hill, RJ was making some angry noises. I started feeling nauseous again. Up we went. I considered he might be bluffing (seriously – it’s a dramatic little world inside my brain), so I slowly crept beside and ahead of him. I held my pace to see if he would stick behind. He didn’t. Don’t puke. Let’s finish this.

I finished. I didn’t puke, but got close enough that I felt like I had given an honest effort.

The ol’ feet feel great. Usually after a bunch of sub-7 miles they feel really sensitive for a few hours, but not this time. The foot muscles feel like my leg muscles, though. That being sore. The good kind.

Iris beat her goal by five minutes. So did Patrick. He also won a very nice Determination award for overcoming the broken hip. A real humdinger of a day, any way you slice it.

Kudos to everyone involved in this great event.

To run with the gods, you gotta run harder

I particularly like that line in the song, City Of Refuge by Abigail washburn:

That song wrecks me.

UPDATE: un-embeddable high quality recording here.

Saturday is the Martinsville Half Marathon. I’m using it as a long run for Blue Ridge. That’s not to say I’m not going to try to run with the gods – I plan on running my socks off (looks to be a chilly morning). Going by how I’m feeling and knowledge of the course (the Dick and Willie Passage), I think I can get pretty close to 1:30. Not that that’s what I’m shooting for or anything; I just think a near-puke effort will result in me crossing the finish around that time, plus or minus.

Patrick wants to know how other racers prepare. Since this is week one of my two week training program for the Hilly Big One, I ran hill repeats on Monday, easy run on Tuesday, yesterday raced a tornado watch on two up’n’overs at the Go Kart hill (yellow skies and sideways rain guarantee a course record!), today and tomorrow I rest.

There are many ways to run races. One way is not to train for it specifically, but rather use it as a gauge for what my best physiomental (new word) effort is. To say to the uncaring void “this is who I am right now. An accumulation of successes and failures in the past, and a precursor of who I may become, sure, but ultimately all that is irrelevant because now is now.”

Apparently, some races make me all deep and stuff. I think it’s that song.