Sunday, March 31, 2013

Racing Nuptuals

Spring has finally arrived. Well, sorta. In theory, spring is supposed to bring thawing temperatures, birds, flowers, and a rebirth of annoying insects. All of that seems to be postponed this year. The only thing that you can actually depend on anymore is the start of race season!

The first weekend in April is my traditional "fine I'll do a race" kickoff. Since multisport temperatures are still waiting in the distant future, racing is limited to monosport activities such as running. On Saturday morning, I lined up for the Spring Forward 15k Run, brought to you by Fleet Feet and Yellow Jacket Racing. This race would normally happen on a Sunday, but apparently there's some sort of Pagan/ Christian holiday on Sunday this year forcing the RD to change from the norm.

Pre-Marital Bliss
Race time was 8:30 am. Note to future triathlon organizers: Take lessons from a well organized running race; you don't need to start at 7:00 in order to have a good event. You are allowed to start a little later, allow your athletes to get another hour of sleep on the weekend, and still have a good turnout. Rumor has it that more than 800 runners were scheduled to attack the distance. Some self-identified 'slow' runners were allowed to start early, at 7:45.

As this was my first race of the year, my body seems to have forgotten how to relax and enjoy the moment. I suffered from the ever-present desire to not eat. I tried to force some food down my gullet but that is never a winning battle. I tried to drink some calories and had a slight success. I did drink some water, which went down smoothly.

I arrived on race campus, which was located at the beautiful Mendon Ponds Park, at 8:10. I had 20 minutes to warm up, which I took advantage of to its fullest. For the Banter, warming up for a running race goes as follows.
  • Sit in car
  • Turn on heat
  • Make sure the heat is directed towards legs
  • Recline
  • Work up a nice sweat in the supine position
  • With t-minus 6 minutes on the clock, head over to the starting line
  • Hit the Men's room (pictured)
I knew exactly zero people in the race this year, which was about how many I was expecting. That fact gave me a chance mingle and meet new people. Race temperature was 33ยบ. I saw a vast display of race garments represented in the group. It was hot stuff. There were running shorts that end 1 inch below the hips, running tights, booty shorts, Lululemon yoga pants, and various forms of lycra. Now, let me describe what the ladies were wearing...

So instead of using the extra 4 minutes I had left to chat, I stood like a clown ogling and drooling like a peepshow freak rubbing my gloved hands together trying to stay warm. Somewhere in this crowd, not far from me, was my new bride-to-be. I did not get to cuddle ahead of time.

At T-2 minutes, a man started making announcements on some sort of loudspeaker/ noise-making contraption. Most of the sounds emanating from this device were reminiscent of Charlie Brown's teacher. Abruptly, the crackle stopped and was replaced with a drawn-out "Gooooooooooooooooo!" We got the idea that we weren't welcomed here anymore and started running.

Delusions of Grandeur
I've done this race before. Several times, in fact. The first time was in 2010, and then again in 2011, and finally in 2012. Each and every year that I've raced here, I've gotten better. Last year, I ran just under a 1:07 holding an average of a 7:07 per mile pace.

I had no reason to believe that I wouldn't run that 'fast' this year. My training recently has been going quite well. Why- just on this recent Tuesday- I did an 8.3 miler with half mile repeats holding a 6:50 pace or better on each. Sure, I was a little sore from that effort but I felt that I could run through that. Plus, I've upped my cycling and swimming these past couple of weeks. Granted, I haven't done any actual hill work this season. But is hill work really that necessary, especially when given this hill profile?

So, I went into the race with the hope of going sub 1:06 and a plan of running 7 min miles. When I came across the first mile marker, my watch beeped in at 6:58.

The Courtship
After about a mile or so, the initial crowd starts to thin. Pace lines form and we are really nothing more than a pack of 2-legged lemmings. It was right around the 1.5 mile mark that my legs started to protest. I looked at my watch and saw why. My pace had increased to a 6:40. I still had 8 miles left to run and I was doubtful that I would be able to do this on my own. I needed support.

That's when I saw her. She was the 5'6 beauty wearing regular running shorts and a purple top. Her brunette colored ponytail swayed back and forth like a happy puppy chasing a ball. She was wisely wearing sunglasses. I held my distance for a short bit and marveled. She was running at the pace I wanted to hold.

I settled in next to her and did what every man should do when entering into a long-term relationship: I apologized. I have my watch set to beep every 0.25 miles. I find it comforting and a great aid while training. It forces me to check my pace and ensure that I'm not being overzealous or too pansy when working out. I know that it can be annoying to others but I simply didn't have the energy or focus to meander through the watch menus to turn it off. My fiance was tolerant of this incessant beeping and she told me so. Compromise is vital. We ran on.

The Wedding
The ceremony was short and sweet. It lasted about 35 seconds and it was clear that we were a perfect match for each other. Normally, I am uphill challenged but have a downhill skill. This means that I plod up while everyone else floats over the top. Then, I come screaming back down on the other side. Up until our hitching, I was pretty much the only one who practiced this technique. My new bride matched me step for step on both sides of the hill.

After the first big monster, we were officially bonded. Up and down we went attached at the running hip. We were on our honeymoon and refused to be separated. After the second big hill, I whispered sweet nothings in here ear such as, "Good hill." She lovingly responded, "<cough> Thanks."

My running bride kept the pace hot. We held a 6:48 for the third mile and I was about 20 seconds ahead of schedule if I wanted a sub-7 pace and 40 seconds ahead of schedule if I wanted a PR. My quads were on fire.

We settled back into a 7:00 mile pace but my stomach was starting to turn. There was a low rumbling sound that was audible over the pitter patter of a young couple running side by side. I'm confident my running wife heard it. This was probably her first sign that things weren't as hunky dory in our relationship. She surged up the next hill encouraged me to follow. I did my best. I was able to catch her again on the downhill but I could see the disappointment in her eyes.

The Divorce
I'm not sure who saw the warning signs first: me or her. I was becoming more labored. My breathing had intensified. My gaze had glossed over. Spittle was present on my chin. I was nothing more than the shell of a runner she once knew and loved. She did her best in the latter stages of our relationship. Over the next hill, she actually yelled "Come on."

I swear to you, I tried. I wanted to make it work. It was clear that we were drifting apart. First it was just a couple of steps. Then it was a couple of yards. She never looked back. I was wallowing in my own misery after our trial separation. She forged on ahead with her own life leaving me to figure out how to put myself back together. I decided that I needed to slow things down a bit. Way down. I walked for about 30 seconds to catch my breath. Then I started running again.

I saw her every once in a while. I would catch glimpses of her in the distance. She motored on while I was left behind with nothing but my aching legs, my lurching stomach, and my overt loneliness. I missed my PR by about 3 minutes and was able to finish with a 7:24 pace.

We met up later on for drinks. Just drinks, served in those tiny paper dixie cups. She was enjoying a snack and hanging out with her girlfriends. That's what women do after a relationship ends. I swallowed my anger at what could have been (meaning my lost PR). We exchanged pleasantries. She introduced me to her friends and told me a little bit about her up-and-coming plans (she's running Boston in a couple of weeks).

It seems like this is becoming a theme to me. My issue: bad pacing and over-zealousness in running. I recognize that I trained through this race but I absolutely hate it when I don't improve from the previous year. I've got some hill work to do. Some endurance work to do. One thing is very clear: I need to get counseling.

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