Monday, April 18, 2011

Running in a Glass Vessel

At this stage in my life running is like treading lightly in a glass room, where you don't want to get too riled up, lest something shatters and you're left with only pieces.

The ceiling is my aerobic capacity, or lack thereof. The conundrum of an aging masters runner is that the memory is still there, and pure aerobic endurance and anaerobic threshold can be almost as good or better than ever. Thus, cranking out an 18 mile run at 50--be it 7,8,9 minute per mile pace--is often no more difficult than it was at 20. And holding a threshold-type pace (say 80 to 90% of maximum heart rate) is also not too much of a problem for trained masters runners.

What breaks you is the ability to speed up (even just little faster than threshold) and to hold that for any amount of time. Push past a heart rate of 170 BPM for more than a couple of minutes, and your race comes crashing down.

And now the glass floor for me is that knee. It feels like glass. At 25 or or 30 miles a week now, with no speed work, the joint feels pretty good. But I can kind of tell as soon as I bump it up some more, and start some speed work at 5K pace or faster that floor--the interface of my right femur and tibia--can crack, if not shatter. Again. I want to avoid that this year, and that's the rub.

Train hard enough to get in shape, to maybe push that ceiling up a bit, and presto, you're injured again!

What about the walls you might ask? That's the feasible distances and types of races that I might do. Last year I got hurt by doing a set of 5X 300 meters at mile pace on the track a few days before the Midnight Sun Run, and in 2009 it hit at about 12 miles into my last 18 miler, about 2 weeks before NYC Marathon. So this I'm planning on having a season that includes 5K to 1/2 marathon, and it would be wise to stay off the courses with steep and gnarly downhill sections.

So that's a bit of a prelude to this weekend's Beat Beethoven 5K. This is the earliest I've raced since 2003, and over the past 25 years or so, only a couple times have I raced before mid-April. But as a first timer for this one, I enjoyed it.

I felt simultaneously good and awful on Saturday. Lined up on the front row not seeing many of the usual local suspects, and thinking hmmm maybe top 5 today? Then everybody and their brother and sister blasted out of the start like a snot rocket shot out of a sneeze cannon on a cold day. I was no better than 25 or 30th at the base of the big hill, 2 min into the race and already 100 meters back.

Worked my way up, and was in the top 10 by the top of the long hill on Tanana Loop (skiing really helps for hill climbing), and the mile split. Two young bucks passed me in mile 2 and 3. Other than that I simply held on, fighting oxygen debt, but trying to keep it going by striding out on the downhills. However, no speedwork = no turnover (as if I ever had that fast thing going anyway!)

The overall damage:
17:51 for 8th place, 1st in AG and 1st masters too. Nothing to write home about but blogging is forgivable.

Knee intact and not too achy (that's a big one).

The highlight, however was after. Really exciting to see Tamara, a former elite runner who has had had MS for 20 years, run 24:07 for 3rd in her age class and looking comfortable. She also to has to operate in a glass vessel, and it's a smaller one. A soon as her core heats up just a little, her motor ability slows down, and her muscles start to act as if powered by a weak battery. Nevertheless, she's now running better than in years and lets hope that continues.

Finally, being Patriots Day, good job to the Boston Runners. Rochey (whom I've been coaching for the past two years) ran a PR 3:03:20!!! She was aiming for sub 3, but it was not quite her day even though she paced it perfectly. And my local 50-something friends Andy Holland (3:05), Kent Karns (3:29), and Bruce Gard (3:46) all had good showings. Local kids in their 30s, Charles and Jenny Mahlen went 3:01 and 3:24.

Cannot beleive the winning time 2:03:02 by Mutai!


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