Saturday, April 4, 2009

First Age Group Victory!!!

Today was an absolutely incredible day! After saying goodbye to my wonderful wife, I headed off to Memorial Park to run the 4 the Park 4-Mile Fun Run. This inaugural running event supports the Memorial Park Conservancy, and had an amazing 1,000 runners.

After meeting-up with friends Paul, Mary Beth and their daughter we ran a relaxing 3-mile warm-up, following which we lined-up for the 4-mile race. It was with some anxiety that I awaited the gun, since I will be running my first Boston Marathon in only two-weeks, and continue to struggle with my Achilles tendinitis. While my warm-up had not revealed any significant pain to the sore right Achilles, I was nevertheless cognizant that by starting-off too hard, and especially by toeing-off too vigorously I risked a potentially disastrous tear to the Achilles, which would destroy any chance of completing Boston.

Nevertheless, with the thought you only live once and the announced count-down I felt growing confidence that I would put in my best effort. With Paul initially running adjacent to me I shot past the start line, and after a few minutes was amazed that I had just knocked down a very comfortable and in-control first mile at 6:53. Since my prior personal record pace was 7:03 I knew I was running faster than I had thought possible! Nevertheless, I did not slow since I felt strong and my right Achilles - though tight - was not hurting. So I kept-up the strong initial pace, concentrating on alternating my breathing technique between relaxed deep breaths and allowing my natural respiratory pace to take over.

Despite having started 6-seconds after the gun, with perhaps 30 or 40 runners in front, I was surprised to continually pass other runners during the second mile. After a brief time I was astounded to see the second mile mark ahead, and noted my second mile pace was 6:52! This was insane! I was running faster than any other race in my life - at age 50!

Doing a quick status check I realized that I had made a mistake by not having removed my T-shirt prior to the race. Though the starting temperature was cool at 65F, I should have known that by running at top speed I risked overheating. Not wanting to slow down to remove my shirt I instead tossed a volunteer's provided cup of water over my head, then concentrated on my right Achilles - while it wasn't in pain, it was getting distinctly tighter.

Beginning in the third mile I shifted into pure racing mode, using the mental technique that I learned from Olympian Jeff Galloway, whose book Marathon was my initial running Bible in training for my first marathon in 2004. First, I visualized throwing a steel cabled lasso over a runner ahead of me, cinching the cable to prevent my target from gaining any further distance, then reeling them in until I caught them. I repeated this technique for several runners, then saw a grey-haired man quite likely in my age bracket (age 50-54), in front by about 20 yards.

While not even dreaming of placing, much less winning my age bracket (I had been disappointed in all my prior races upon realizing that I was worse than tenth behind my age bracket winner), I nevertheless knew with confidence that I MUST reel in that man. Using the same lasso technique I realized to my frustration that this target would not be as easy to catch as the others had been. Seemingly whenever I stepped up the pace my quarry sped up simultaneously - as though he had eyes on the back of his head! While I was not falling behind, neither was I gaining ground.

Fearing that I may not be able to catch him, I noticed a slight hill ahead, and was encouraged to see my opponent slow! Shifting into passing gear I applied another racing technique described by Dr. George Sheehan in his great book Running and Being. As I passed my target I listened carefully to his breathing. While mine was labored and fast, his was more rapid and strained, so I relaxed realizing that if I maintained a consistent effort he was not a threat.

I passed the third mile marker realizing that I had run my penultimate mile in 6:54. Despite not purposefully doing so I was seemingly locked within a very narrow 2-seconds variation in pace - with only one mile left! Truly buckling down I remained in racing mode the final mile via continuing the lasso and reel-in techniques with additional runners, including two fast young men who were both likely in their mid-twenties. To my frustration, however, with one-quarter mile remaining both got their revenge by simultaneously passing me to my left and right! Try as I might to re-catch them, I was simply unable, and while I was unhappy to see these competitors irretrievably pass I was mollified that at least they were not in my age bracket.

With the finish-line now less than 100 yards ahead, to shouts of kick it in I did - and shut-off my Garmin Forerunner with a 4-mile time of 27:34, representing an average pace of 6:53 - improving by 10-seconds per mile my prior personal record! I was completely ecstatic that I had done well while not further hurting my Achilles! I then happily waited a brief time to cheer Paul, Mary Beth and other running friends from the Houston Fit "Green" training group. After a final cool-down 3-miler I was astonished to learn from Mary Beth that I had won my age-group competition with my closest competitor being a full one-minute behind!

Afterwards, with the benefit of retrospect I learned several things from this race:
  1. Caffeine rocks! I had about 150 m.g. of caffeine via a 12-ounce cup of strong coffee 20-minutes before the race. My intuition tells me for a 10K or shorter race caffeine should be ingested 20-30 minutes prior to the start, but for full or half marathon it should be taken 45-minutes to an hour in advance;
  2. The racing technique that I had utilized in the final 2-miles worked great! It directly takes one's mind off of the discomfort of running so quickly, and allows one to focus solely on running via mentally keying directly on the target runner in front. Furthermore, with each new victim passed the final distance is punctuated with a series of rewarding victories which provides great motivation to keep up the effort;
  3. An easy and relaxing warm-up run, preferably run with friends, ideally warms-up the muscles while simultaneously providing a relaxing confidence before the event;
  4. Unless you're convinced you have no shot at placing within your age group, start extremely close to the starting line! While I was fortunate to win my competition by a good margin, I realized later my mistake through having ceded 6-seconds - as my closest age-group competitors had more shrewdly lined-up at the starting line;
  5. Regardless of how well or badly you think you may have done, always check the official standings prior to leaving the post-race area. Had I not had the fortuitous conversation with Mary Beth alerting me to my unexpected victory, I almost certainly would have walked away, thereby foregoing both the opportunity to have my picture taken with the others who placed in my category while also relinquishing the generously provided gift!
  6. After checking it turns out there was one older and faster runner than myself, who finished with a time of 26:18 - i.e. 6:34 pace). I've got my work cut out for me next year!
  7. Per Daniels' Running formula this race predicts a potential marathon performance of 3:21.
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1 comment:

  1. Congrats Mark! Not likely that I'm missed winning an age group at my races, but its nice to hope. I wasn't too far off at the WWH last year. And yeah, I'm a firm believer in caffine, but avoid getting to the point where I have to take sleeping pills to sleep...