Sunday, April 17, 2011

Skill Searching

I am jealous of people who have skills (use your best Napoleon Dynamite voice here). The Wife, she's got crazy good computer, problem solving skills. The BIL, he's a genius in meteorology and quite the skilled brewer of ales. My dad can fix things, a real handyman of sorts. (Granted, he's lazy and unmotivated, of which I have inherited, but has fix-it skills that I did not inherit). Me? I've got nothing. I've been long searching for a skill that can set me apart from the average man. Something that I can say, "Yup, I can do that better that the average bloke." After my first race of the season, I think I've found it...

Get ready to laugh

I'm relatively good at running down hills. I had no idea that this was in my skill set. I have been doing hill repeats since I can remember. I don't like them but I recognize their benefit. And, after all these years, I have been focusing on the uphill. My progress on the ascent has been stagnant at best. I never thought that there was a collateral benefit of developing any skill on the other side. How did I miss this? Or, rather, how do I know? Race data.

Two weeks ago, I competed in a 15k hilly course run. Having lost all of the important data to the mythical Garmin Never-Never Land, I got none of the heart rate, speed, distance, hills profile, pacing stuff that I wanted to analyze. Not that I am all that great in data analysis (remember; not many skills), I really wanted to look at the graphs as pretty little pictures of a day's work well done. What I got was a big void for the morning's run. I had to look at the anecdotal evidence to help. And the anecdote that repeats in my brain was a story told by Bob.

As a warning, I am not good with names. Bob may actually be this guy's real name. On the other hand, it may not even be close. I remember what Bob looks like. I remember that I beat him in the race. I also remember him being one of the older runners that passed me around the 9.2 mile mark in a 9.3 mile race. You can go back to my original tale if you want the full(er) story. If I checked the official race results, I am sure I could find his real name. But, I have not downloaded the official results as of yet (see note above on my dad and inheritance). Alas, his name is not all that important in this ditty, only his recap of the event to his other friend, during which I was present.

We were walking down the path towards or respective vehicles with smiles ablazing. Bob was reciting how he thought he was going to beat me in the race because it was quite obvious that he was better on the uphills but I smoked him on the downhills.

Bob's Tale

Fade in:
It's a blissful, crisp spring morning. About 500 idiots gathered on a park road to go for a run. Just a run. No swim or bikes present. In the background, there's a woman announcing various race related garble-de-gook voiced-over a musical mix of supposed pump-up tunes. The starting line, where I was standing, was just a white-chalked vector with the word "start". It was roughly a quarter mile away from where the woman's chatter and music seemed to be sourced. Nearer the starting line, a man with a bull horn shouted out the ever-important race instructions with such authority and intensity that no one was listening. The crowd knew the drill and was singularly focused on a spot about 800 yards ahead, to which they would soon be running. Suddenly, there was a yell that stirred the people into action, hundreds of watches beeped to life, and we were launched forward into our human Pamplona.

The first mile was a bit chaotic. The mass of flesh and spandex was being hurdled southward. To stop was to die underneath the pitter-patter of all sorts of colorful shoes developed for every kind of pronation imagined. After the first gradual uphill and some distance away from the chalkline, the shoulders of my neighbors thinned from about 15 across to about 3 across. We had dropped into our paces. The biggest hills loomed off in the distance begging to be conquered.

I was running in a mixed pack of about 6 or so. We'd be together on the flats hitting the same pace for the past three-quarters of a mile. As we turned the corner, there she was like Olympus laughing at the Greeks, the first real hill of the day. My pack and I start going up. Based on the views of their butts, they were gapping me. These men and women with relatively nice, runner-type figures were ascending the hill. They showed me no mercy. They tackled that hill with ease and grace, leaving me behind to wallow in my own self-struggle for precious oxygen. They were gone and I was betrayed. I made the crest and they were still in sight but I started the descent alone.

Then, a miracle happened. I caught my group roughly halfway down the slope. I was not happy to see them. I was seething with vengeance. "How dare you leave me?" I wanted to shout! But, I held it in. I let gravity work its magic and widened the gap between me and my now-former running mates. The slope was long enough for me to catch a new pack and run with them, my old allegiances forgotten.

That's the way the morning went. I'd go searching for a new group on the downs and flats only to be betrayed on the ups. I was making good time and had yet to develop any true adversaries, except for Bob. Bob was in the original pack and had his sights set on me. Why he chose me I did not know. It's just that in Bob's eyes, I had a target painted on my back and he just got his hunting license renewed. Bob was not only older but wiser, more experienced, and had run the course several times before. He knew exactly when to fire his shot.

I, of course, was completely oblivious to all of this. I didn't even know Bob existed until that morning. And I, in my arrogance, did not pay him any attention. I was the prey on an island in which I believed existed no predators. Therefore, I kept running. I'd limp up the one side and fly down the other ignoring all those that I passed. Up slow and down like a flash flood.

The course was cruel. Between marks 8.5 and 9.1, there was a lot more ascending than the opposite. Despite having built a sizable lead over Bob, I was being reeled in. Step by laborious step, Bob was closing the chasm. Worse for me, he brought along the pack. They all followed his lead for he was the Alpha with a plan and I was a pawn just trying to survive the storm. At roughly the 9.15 mile mark, Bob and the gang overtook me. I saw their familiar backsides and became enraged. The emotion was wasted. There was still a smidgen more hill and it was pointed up. They were better than me but the event was not over. This was a 9.3 mile race, my adversaries were in the lead and time was slipping away. But, Pandora let Hope out of the box as well and I clung to that thought as I started the flat.

I came now where near winning the overall prize on the day but inside every race are many other races not reported in the newspapers nor covered on TV. Just because the media refuses to acknowledge the sub-races does not means they do not exist. I am sure there were hundreds of battles waged that morning and this is only the tale of mine. Had the race ended at the chalk line, I would have lost. But remember, the lady was announcing from a distance. She was camped near the finish line. Her voice was the one that welcomed the battle-hardened survivors. She was also downhill from me. Downhill. The battle-tide was about to turn for the last time this morn.

From mile 9.2 to the glorious arch labeled "Finish" was a sharp gradient leading to a lake. Fortunately, they put the arch several hundred feet in front of the beach allowing for plenty of stopping time before you took the plunge. A quick dog-leg right started the sprint. Bob's pack spent their wad on the last bit of ups and I surged for the victory buried in the 90'th places.

Bob was a gracious loser in our personal battle. He, after the conclusion of the race, walked right up to me with a big grin on his face, looked me in the eye, shook my hand, and said, "Wow, what a run!" Several members of the pack did the same. As it turns out, they had the same goal as I did on the run, sub-1:10. I had apparently helped them achieve their goal. Adversaries no more, rather we were allies in a war against a common enemy.

"Still," Bob said as we were heading towards our get-away vehicles, "I wanted to beat you. I thought I had succeeded too. I had forgotten about that last down." A member of Bob's gang, who had beaten us both, looked at Bob quizzically. "We'd go past on the uphills and this guy would fly right on by on the downs. I don't know how he did it. He was clearly better at running downhill than us."
Fade out.

After all of my skill searching, it took a keen observation from a guy who may or may not have been named Bob to identify my skill. So there you have it. Based on this race, I can finally say these words. I can run downhill better than the average bloke. It's not much and has very little real-world, practical applications, but I'll take it.


  1. So... you are going to add down hill training into our workouts now right? If you have a skill..gotta share it!