There are good races, bad races, and then there are races like the one I ran this morning which make you say "How did I pull that out of my ass?". I went into Grape Stomp Half-Marathon in Livermore, CA hoping to run something like 1:26-1:27 and finished in 1:24:10 on a course with some decent hills on it, good for seventh place overall, and 3rd in the 40-49 group. (Us old guys are kinda fast.) And kudo's to Finish Line Productions who put on a great race on a scenic and varied course.
This race turned into one of those surreal events where good things unexpectly happen so fast, you don't realize what's going on. My plan going into the race was to hit 6:40 pace through 6 miles, which is 40:00. I come through at 38:13 feeling pretty good, and all I could think was "Hmmmm....well, I'm ahead of pace." Expecting to see certain times at certain miles and instead seeing a totally different time on my watch caused me to simply dismiss each mile split without really thinking about what was actually happening. I just concentrated on the runners ahead of me and the hills at the later stages of the race, worrying little about time.. I cross the finish line, look at my watch, see 1:24:15 and think, "Did I just do that?"
After bad races, I typically go through all sorts of soul searching about what went wrong and how to fix it. So with this equally mystifying good run, maybe it's time to reflect on the things I got right and how to build on that. And yes, blogs are great vehicles for navel gazing, but know some of you out there run, so you might actually benefit from a few nuggets of running wisdom I learned this year.
Day to Day, Month to Month, and Year to Year Consistancy is key
I spent the latter half of the last three years in some related injury rehab the prevented me from running. Whether it was bad tendonitis in the knees that I finally gave into in 2008, a bad hip imbalance I had to see a chiropracter for in 2009, and a dislocated shoulder in 2010, I just could never string several good months of training together. Taking a lot better care of myself, doing more stretching and avoiding the layoffs was really key.
Finding a Good Crew to Run with is Golden
I joined the Palo Alto Run Club (PARC) last May, a group full of talented, hard working running and got a bunch of great runs in. Those "easy" five milers where we'd start hitting 6:25, 6:10 pace I think paid off. Do enough 6:25 miles in your regular runs, and it'll start seeming like nothing. And there's something about the shared experience of a run with others that makes all the hard work more meaningful.
Run your long runs fast
I put in a bunch of 12 mile runs along the Sawyer Camp Trail, a nifty running trail on San Francisco Peninsula. Most of them were timed efforts and several of them were with PARC, which meets there every Saturday morning. I'm not a fan of slow long distance runs. Do your long distance fast. But be careful, since fast long runs will take a lot out of you, and I normally did one every couple weeks to give myself plenty of recovery.
Tempo Runs are your Friend
The biggest difference in my training between the Water to Wine Half Marathon, where I ran a 1:28:46 in August and the 1:24:10 at the Grape Stomp were Jack Daniel's inspired tempo runs. (That's Jack Daniels, the revolutionary track coach, not the bourbon.) There's a high school track conveniently one mile away from where I lived, so once a week, I'd run to it, run 4 miles comfortably hard at anerobic threshold pace around the track, and then run home. Tempo runs like that also help build focus, concentration, and create "pace sense" which helps any runner.
I might do another race or two before the end of the year, but nothing major, as this is basically the end of the racing season for me. I still plan to start going to back to work soon, pointing towards the US Half Marathon in San Francisco this coming April.
But after this morning, I am tired. And drinking beer.