Friday, June 27, 2014

Jim Loftus Mile

Formally known as the Flint Hills Mile, this was the first Jim Loftus mile, named after long time track race director here who was national/world ranked masters middle distance runner (2:12 800 m at 55). Jim passed away from cancer last summer, and we all miss him. I thought about him a lot on Thursday.  

The mile is exciting as it is tough. Although the physiology is very different the mile is like the marathon because you have to force your body to push at levels that are uncomfortable.  In marathon you bonk, in the mile your legs and lungs usually seize on the last lap—or two—but sometimes you can float through and accelerate all the way to the finish. Running ecstasy.

I used to love the excitement and rush of pouring it on with a lap to go, with knowledge that the training had paid off and now was the time unleash bundled nerves and to rejoice in a welling of speed. However, my love-hate affair with the mile might be ending.

I’ve always wrestled with some pre-race anxiety when preparing for the mile, but learned to overcome that and even embrace it. This year following the Midnight Sun Run I just didn’t feel like I was ready, not just physically but mentally.  However, I had trained for this race since early May and I had wanted to improve on my time from last year.

Compared to previous years I was less nervous this time. The weather was about perfect a cool 60 or so, overcast and only a light breeze down the homestretch. I had hoped for 76 sec laps (the pace I ran in 2012), but in workouts I had not been feeling comfortable at that pace so I settled for 77s in my plan, with hope of  a good kick and maybe something like a 5:03-5:08 if everything went well.

Everything was near perfect—instead of forging my own way in no-man’s land, I followed a good group running near my goal pace—and we were doing even splits so all I had to do is hang with them. I was in contact at a half mile (2:35), and close enough through 1100 meters to maybe make something happen. Or not.

Back in the day (say from about age 26 to 50) I’d start to pick it up at 1100 and pass people on the home straightaway, right before the bell. This time I had nothing. They just ran away and I could not muster the speed. At three-quarters I was 3:53, maybe 3-4 seconds behind Ted, Joe, and Andrew as they had jumped early. Around the turn they pulled completely out of contact and on the backstretch I was 6 or 7 seconds back.

I did regroup on the final curve and, even though I could feel the headwind, I focused on knee lift, form, and tried to accelerate. Well two out of the three isn’t bad.

I crossed the line in 5th place at 5:10.6, just 0.1 faster than last year. Not quite what I wanted, but at my age maintaining means moving ahead. Age grade 86.1, which is actually my second best ever for the mile (2012 was 86.6), and that includes bettering my all time best as an open runner or any other races as a masters.

Still something is missing this year. I’ve heard that a runner’s speed drops off precipitously at 55 so this could be some of the last vestiges of hanging on. I do plan on the Alaska Senior Games 1500 in August, but not sure about anything on the track beyond that.

I do look forward to road racing, trails, and cross country. So maybe it’s time to put track aside. Whatever the future holds I will keep my race bib, which aptly bears the name of the Jim Loftus Mile.


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