Sunday, June 26, 2011

Well that was fun

If you've been keeping up with my blog posts over the last few weeks, you know that I've taken a little break from serious ultra training to work on my leg speed a little bit.  My "goal" 5k race was yesterday at the Hyde Park Blast.  

The Blast is truly a unique event that I wanted to participate in at least once before I became too slow.  (It also falls on the same weekend as Western States).  It starts with an open 4 mile run/walk event in the morning (over 2500 finishers!) and then is followed by several races for the kiddos.  The real fun starts in the evening when they close off the streets of Hyde Park Square and have criterium cycling races on a one mile loop.  The course loops in and out of the square where a huge block party is being held, complete with food, drinks, and a stage with a live band.  After a few bike races they take a break and contest the elite 5k on the criterium course.  They finish the night with the a professional category criterium race lasting 90 min while the party is still going full blast all around.

If you can't tell already, I really like the way they set up this race.  It took a sub-16 min 5k to get into the elite race, required no entry fee and they were offering $3800 in prize money for the top 6 places for both men and women.  And the race organizers also took really good care of the runners before and after the race.  There's not a whole lot of incentive out there for mediocre post-collegiate runners to maintain a high level of fitness just for local road races, so it feels really nice when you have an event like this that seems to acknowledge how hard we work.  The race announcers sounded genuinely excited and made it feel like a true race as opposed to simply a participation event that most road "races" have become nowadays.  

After few brief introductions of the 30 men and women toeing the line, the race goes off under weather conditions that don't get any better in June: mid 70s and only moderate humidity.  The criterium course which we run just short of 4 complete loops is lined with spectators virtually all the way around.  I quickly got swept up in all the excitement and latched on to the back of the pack.  That wasn't a mistake.  I planned to try to go out fast and mix it up and just see what happened.  It's a strategy I don't often employ, and it's risky, but I wanted to give myself a chance to race.  I felt really good for a while, even after hearing a 4:46 first mile split.  But I soon realized that is an awfully fast mile for my legs.  It didn't help that there is a small hill on each loop, and you run up it twice during the second mile.  So I had to back off the pack a bit to save myself from a complete bomb on the last mile.  I split the two mile in 9:50 and just tried to keep pushing, but I was pretty much alone now.  One more time of the little hill and back down the straight into the square.  Easily the most crowd support I've ever seen in a road race.  As I kicked across the finish line I could hear the announcer talking about me being on the US 100km team and racing the Netherlands this fall and how this really is not my distance of choice.  You can say that again.  

Even though the winner went 14:30, in his second race of the day, I was very pleased with my 15:23 and 11th place out of only 16 guys.  I think my road 5k PR is 15:06 back when I focusing on the shorter races, so I'm really not too far off that now which is encouraging.  I believe with a few more weeks of speed work, some nice weather, and a track race, I could dip back under the 15 minute mark.  But, I am on to bigger....err longer...and better things.  It was fun, but I will now be returning my attention to getting into 100k shape for September.  The US 100k team has been officially announced now - it's in writing - so that is a relief to know I officially have made it.  Though I spent some time training for this 5k, I still have averaged 80 miles per week over the past 7 weeks.  I am really confident in my fitness right now and I'm looking forward to building on that and seeing how I stack up against the best in the world in the Netherlands.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Right on Track

I shared a few weeks back about my goal of racing a road 5k for the first time in a very long time.  I knew I needed a little break from racing ultras and thought returning to some faster track work would be fun and good for my overall fitness while giving the body a break from the really long stuff.  But just because I'm not racing ultras, doesn't mean I can't jump in one for fun.  So what if the trail 50k falls only 6 days before my first attempt at a fast 5k in 18 months?

Last summer when I first moved to Cincinnati, I spent a few weeks living out of a hotel by myself.  I had already started working, but Stef hadn't moved up yet, and we hadn't closed on our house.  I happened upon an small, easy, trail 50k in the area and decided to hop in it since I had nothing better to do.  I enjoyed myself so much last year, I decided to return to Another Dam 50k again this year and use it as an aided long run.

I went in really focused on running relaxed and making sure that I didn't get caught up in the race and go harder than I intended.  I am so competitive that it's really hard for me to "turn it off" and just run relaxed when there are other people on the course.  So I have to do things like make of game out of it for myself with rules like: No leading the race on the first loop (out of 4 total).  I also set conservative time goals each loop and instead of trying to blast the time, I see how close I can get to hitting the split without going over.  The no leading rule didn't go so well.  It's a small race with only 120 starters, but last year I had company for two whole loops.  This year, I was slower than 7:30 pace at 3 miles and taking the lead.  I knew I wanted be around 7 min pace for the whole thing, so I just focused on running comfortable.  I was alone for the rest of the race.  My splits game was more successful.  I held the pace in check for the most part and cruised the whole day.  The course was in great condition this year and that allowed me to shave four minutes off my course record from last year when the trail was a muddy, slippery mess.  I distinctly remember how my legs felt after last years race and I felt much, much better this year so I knew I'd done a good job of resisting the temptation to race.  It was just a good, fun run, with a great group of runners and volunteers.

But, I've really been working on my speed over the last few weeks and was ready for a 5k to test out my wheels.  Even though it was held only 6 days after AD50k, the Jet Power 5k, run at my place of work, was a perfect opportunity to have a little dress rehearsal 5k race.  I would say that it was a small 5k, but it had over 400 entrants.  It was a pancake flat, single loop course that circled the plant.  The race started just before a summer thunderstorm hit with temps in the low 80s and the requisite high humidity.  To make matters worse, the course headed due south for 1.25 miles straight into the gusty winds that were preceding the rain.  Myself and a regular training partner, Eric Bair, separated from the rest of the field early and were aiming for Eric's goal of a 5:08 first mile.  He led for most of the first half mile, then I took over and we split 5:07.  If not for the wind, it would have been faster than that though.  I made a conscious effort to push the pace slightly during the second mile, knowing we would be turning back north and running with the wind.  I split a 5 flat for the 2nd mile and had opened a 10 second lead on Eric.  I continued to push hard the last mile, trying to remember how to race a 5k and make it hurt a little, but I definitely did not feel smooth.  I was having to force the issue.  I crossed the finish line in 15:34, splitting 5:26 for the last 3.1, so the last mile must have been sub-5. 

Overall, I was pleased with my finish.  It was on the fast end of what I thought I was ready to run and the conditions really weren't all that great...but they weren't terrible either.  I definitely felt rusty and hope that helped my legs remember what its like to run fast again.  Unfortunately, it just occurred to me that I only have 2 more weeks until my "goal" 5k, the Hyde Park Blast.  That really only leaves me one, maybe two, more hard track workouts before I have to coast it in.  It would be fun to spend a few months really getting back into 5k shape, but I have to keep my focus on the big goal in September.  While my training will return to more typical 100k stuff after the Blast, I'm still planning to run a 5k/10k double for the GE track team at corporate track nationals in July.  It's a little too close to the World 100k to be a major focus race, but I should be able to help the team and spend a fun weekend in California as well.

So that's the plan.  I'm having fun and feeling good.  I'll check back in and let you know how the Blast turned out in a couple weeks.

P.S.  Still got in 80 miles last week coming off the 50k and in a week that included a 5k race.  Solid.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Western States Regrets?

The official trailer for the Western States Endurance Run has been floating around the last few days and it's pretty intense.  It will definitely get you motivated if you're looking for a little boost.  A Cincinnati running buddy, Kyle Fahrenkamp, asked me if I regretted my decision to pass up the automatic entry I earned last fall at JFK.  Seeing as how I haven't written a blog post in a couple weeks, I thought this would be a good place to respond in detail.  But first, here's the video:

It was definitely tough to give up my spot in the country's premier 100 mile race especially knowing how difficult it is to gain entry through the lottery.  But the short answer is, no, I don't regret my decision, and there are several reasons why I am happy with my choice. 

1)  I didn't want to end up injured.  JFK was my first race over 50km and I was happy to have performed well, but felt like 7 months was too soon to move up to 100 miles, not to mention having to deal with the elevation change and summer heat of WSER as well.  I have been running competitively since the 7th grade and haven't had a serious running injury yet.  I'd like to keep it that way.  I think numerous guys have proven that you can still be a top-notch 100 mile runner at 40 years old.  I want to still be competing in ten years and rocking it Dave Mackey style.   There's no rush.  That was probably the most important factor.

2) But, I also had a very worthwhile goal that presented itself after JFK as a nice alternative to Western States: running the US 100km champs to try and qualify for the US 100km team.  This was only 62 miles as opposed to 100 miles, so it was a more gradual step up.   It was also a flat road loop, which I thought would really suit me well since I do most of my training in Cincinnati on the roads and still have good leg speed for an ultra guy.  That race was in April and I finished in 2nd place, running my goal of just under 7 hours.  The team is due to be officially announced later this month, but it still appears that I have qualified based on time and will be racing in the Netherlands this fall.  It's hard to regret not running WS when I successfully achieved my alternative goal.  Could I have done both?  Maybe, but it's a moot point because I don't have enough vacation time to run both.

3) The wife wanted to go to Europe.  Need I say more?  This probably should be #1.

Anyway, my decision also allowed me to run the Flying Pig Marathon a few weeks ago, and now I get to play around in some 5ks for a few weeks.  Speaking of 5ks, you may be wondering how my training has been going the past couple of weeks.  Last week I did 16x400m and even surprised myself by cranking the last two out in 62 seconds a piece.  This week I did 8x800 @2:23 w/800m jog recovery + 4x200m.  The 400s were fun, but the 800s were tough.  I did 6 mi marathon pace runs for my second workout each of the past two weeks.  Long runs were 16 or 17 miles and total mileage was 75-80.

I'm looking forward to a fun long run tomorrow morning with about 120 friends, some of whom might be racing a 50k.  I, however, will not be racing, just looking to get in some time on my feet.  Looks like it's going to be some good hot weather training as well, with a highs forecasted in the low 90s.  And then Friday, I'll be racing in a little 5k we're having at work.  It's a certified course, and there are a few speedy guys that work around here, so it should be fun. 

I know I'm walking a fine line trying to do both speed and mileage.  I can usually do one or the other, but it's hard to combine them in high volumes without getting injured.  I'm having fun though, so I'll just try to be smart and listen to my body and hopefully I'll make it to this fall healthy and faster than I was before.