Starting two Fridays ago, I was in Memphis for some awesome training with the boys. The days were long, hot, and muggy, which didn’t leave me with much gas at the end of the day. I did manage to squeeze in a couple of runs, but when you spend 12 hours a day on your feet, running around in full battle rattle, going for a jog at the end of the day isn’t the first thing on your list. As if that wasn’t bad enough, I got about 5 hours of sleep a night, and usually knocked back a couple of beers around the table each night. Add some long travel days, and what arrived back in Anchorage Saturday night was a nicely de-tuned machine.
So this week was all about getting back into rhythm, but managing things so I didn’t end up overloading. An easy single on Monday, followed by a challenging double on Tuesday, to include AM strength work and afternoon with the Peak Performers again: 6 x 800m @ 2:36-41 with 2:00 rest. Wed was 6.5M in, and 10+ back out, Thu was an easy AM jog with Rider followed by 4 x 30s/45s/60s hard hills + strength; Friday was an EZ 6.5M home. By Fri, I accumulated 50M, two strength workouts, two Quality (Tue/Thu) workouts, and eight separate runs. Not surprisingly, my legs weren’t exactly fresh when I woke up Saturday morning, but they weren’t supposed to be. I made the decision to “train through” the race, meaning I didn’t really take it easy during the week.
Jen, Rider and I loaded up and headed to Clark Middle School, in the Mountain View neighborhood of Anchorage. It’s an interesting place; low-income and a higher crime rate from what I hear. I guess a few years ago, some developers made a concerted effort to try and revitalize the neighborhood by putting in a lot of modern architecture structures and renovating homes here and there. The jury is still out on the long-term effects, but it was interesting to see some new homes with nice lines sandwiched in between pretty rough-looking joints. 100% of the race proceeds went to the Mt View Boys and Girls Club; last year they raised $7000.
The course was pancake-flat, so as I warmed up I knew the terrain would be no excuse for the day. The weather was ideal – 40s and very little wind. If anything, knocking the rust off, and establishing a baseline for my current fitness were myobjectives. I harbored a faint hope that I might slip in under 17:00, but I knew it was a long shot. I shed my watch before I stepped to the line, which was something I haven’t done in a long while. I had no idea what kind of pace I might be able to run, and my intent was to simply run hard, with as little objective feedback as possible. Don’t get me wrong – having a GPS strapped to your wrist is an incredible tool in terms of data and instant feedback. But my mental game is terrible – there have been races completely wasted because I’m working hard, see a slower pace than I’d like, get negative, and tube the rest of the race.
When the starter released us, there were some kids who took off at a dead sprint, and I just let them go as I settled into a nice hard pace. By the time we made the first turn, about a half mile in, I was in the lead. I judged my pace to be around 5:15, but couldn’t be sure without my GPS. Somewhere before the first mile, I noticed there was someone was on my shoulder, breathing as hard as me. I thought about letting him pass with the idea I could catch a draft, but decided against it. As we approached 1M, he pulled even, and I was struck by how much he reminded me of my old friend and Academy running mate Patrick Shanahan. He surged just before the mile, and we both crossed in around 5:23-24 according to the person announcing splits. At this point a few things happened. I was a little disappointed I wasn’t moving more quickly based on my effort level, but tried to push it to the back of my mind. At this time, the kid was pulling away, and I lost mental contact until he had about 10 meters on me because I was too busy thinking about my split.
In retrospect, this was the critical point in the race. I should have covered his surge and hung on his shoulder. Instead, I just kind of minimalized him, thinking he might be a low-16s 5k runner, so I wouldn’t be able to stick regardless. But deep inside my little oxygen-hungry mind, a doubt registered: this guy is going to run high 16s, and if you don’t stick with him, you will not. I let him go.
By Mile 2, he had a significant gap on me. I tried to keep up the positive self-talk. There were brief periods where I looked at the gap and felt like it was manageable to start closing it. I would take a couple of hard strides, but that was about it. Nobody announced the splits at Mile 2, so I had no idea how badly my pace was falling off. There are only two possibilities when you get passed: either you’re slowing down or whoever is passing you is speeding up. While I hoped it was the latter, I knew it was the former. Then I realized someone else was pulling even with me around 2.5M into the race. At this point, all I could think of was the finish, and there wasn’t a lot of positive rattling around in my brain. I matched his surge for a about 100m, then let him go. I was now in third.
That’s where I stayed through the finish, not even sprinting for the finish. I saw 17:32 as I crossed the line, and that was it.
I’ve processed the race over the past 48hrs, and there are both positives and negatives to take from it. On the positive side, 17:32 for my first race since Nov isn’t too bad. It’s only about 10-15s off my best mark from last year. It tells me what I did over the winter gave me a good cardiovascular base and capacity, and that my leg turnover didn’t suffer much. The speed is there. On the negative side, my lack of mental focus and tenacity yesterday was a little embarrassing. I should have hung with that guy until I was absolutely ad extremis and struggling. Instead, I took a mental break and lost contact with someone who could have helped drag me to a faster time. I’m not sure if I had a sub-17 in me yesterday, but I know 17:30 wasn’t the best I could have done.
Moving ahead, I have my work cut out for me if I want to break 17:00 by the end of July. But then again, putting in the work has never been an issue. Putting it all together on race day is the real challenge, and to get there my mental game is going to need some serious improvement.