Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Return of the Equinox

This year's Equinox Marathon endeavor was fun! My first three outings had some bright spots, but were each fraught with minor to major disaster.

My debut in 2004 was a solid 5th place, decent for a carpetbagging rookie/masters runner freshly arrived from the Lower 48. I ran as well as I could have, but the race was marred by an ill-timed train that stopped three of us (5th-7th) dead in our tracks for about 2-3 minutes at the 8 mile point. The top 4 had beat the train and kept going; meanwhile the several from the pack caught up. That pause threw everyone off their game. I kept it steady, and finished well, a 3:12:24. The thing that got me was that I was closing in on 4th (one who escaped the train) and was only 20 seconds back at the end. Then to add insult, I missed an age record by, you guessed it, 20 seconds. No matter I thought, there would be other chances.

So in 2005 after ski season, I whipped into the best shape I'd been in since 1999-2000, when I ran low-mid 34s for 10k and a 2:44 marathon. But in mid-July after my best workout of the summer, a long tempo effort through the woods, I woke up the next morning with a sore foot--a stress fracture. So I worked an aid station at the Equinox at the brutal out and back (15 miles). We had a great time that day but watching the runners parade by on a perfect day, my feelings were bittersweet. I vowed to really rip it up in 2006, and planned for a 3:05 or faster on what is considered to be one of the toughest 26.2 mile races in the U.S.

Last year I built up cautiously and ran almost equivalent to what I'd done in 2005. If anything my base was better. No injuries, save a nagging sore hip by the end of the summer. I was set until the week leading up to the race, when I came down with a cold. I considered not running, but lined up and endeavored to run a cautious race. The pace was pretty fast right away, and it was hard to gauge my effort, so I ran for position. 7th place at 2 miles seemed okay, but my split over that 2nd mile was too fast. I adjusted the pace and rolled along for the next 20 miles feeling much better than exptected and held 4th for about 10 miles. And then came the slowdown of 2006. Molasses legs. On the fastest part of the course, I was mustering 7:20 miles and was unable to respond to a passing masters runner. Held onto 5th until 100 m to go, before folding to a runner who was much younger and who had a better kick. I collapsed into a gasping heap. 6th wasn't bad, but it wasn't 5th. And I lost my first race as a masters in Alaska. I felt humiliated and dejected after that one and the experience only re-affirmed my plan to bypass the Equinox in 2007 in favor of a faster road marathon.

This year I never got on track. Twisted my ankle on the first workout of the season, back in May, which lead to some painful back problems and then a nagging progressive calf injury that has plagued my running since early July. By the end of August I wrote off Chicago, but vowed to do the Equionox Relay injured or not.

Flat out, the relay was the highlight of my running year, not to mention the best of four Equinox experiences. You don't get the glory in the relay. But it's 1/3 the distance and three times the fun.

Paul ran a steady first leg, and he kept in contact with most lead teams, except the Lathrop HS coaches. Took the bib in 7th place at 8.3 miles, about 1.5 min behind the 2nd and 3rd teams, but I was able to reel in 5 of those teams by 11 miles. Carried it in averaging 7:50/mile (over 2200 ft of vertical), 3rd fastest for the on that leg but easily top 10 for the past 10 years. Our teammate Roy took it home resoundingly for a solid 2nd place finish in 3:07:33, about 3 minutes behind the winners.

Next year? They make such a big deal about the Equinox around here. You'd think that this was West Texas and Friday Night Lights. The experience can be fun, but also a little much. I'd still like one more whack at the full marathon either in 2008 or 2009. After that I'm a relay runner (or coach) and to hell with the local hubris.