2009-07-12

I've got the speed; do I have the stamina?

As most of you have heard a little bit about how I'm running some races this summer, I figured I'd fill you in on the whole story. Not that it's really a bit story, but maybe you'd find it interesting how I'm trying to have a sort of track season for the first time since college, way back in 2003.

Having not raced since the marathon on Mallorca with Jeff last October, after which I didn't run for six weeks, and barely ran for another two months, I started running regularly again in February in preparation for a half marathon in Heidelberg, Germany at the end of April. I have friends near Heidelberg -- I met them through other friends at a backwards running race -- and they invited me to be on their team for the race. The three fastest people would count towards the team scoring. I was rushing to get into shape, because after the marathon I had taken more time off than ever, or at least since junior high school. Even though I didn't win like I thought I could have, I enjoyed some great racing on that course, and came in fourth place, less than a minute behind the winner. It was this great racing, strategy, surges, and just having fun out there which kind of re-ignited the spark of wanting to race again.

I continued training and improving quite rapidly. Within a few weeks I knew I was in much better shape, and could most likely win that half marathon, if it were re-run. Then, an interesting thing happened. On the evening of May 28th, I came down with a stomach ache and a fever. I didn't sleep much that night, but by the next day my stomach ache had gone away, but I was still feverish and extremely tired. Even sitting watching TV wore me out, and I had to lie down often during the day. Before I had gotten sick, I had planned to go buy some vitamins at the drug store, which is close to a half mile away. I was so tired, I knew it would be a kind of challenge for me to get there, but I did it anyway. I also bought a thermometer, which it turns out doesn't work very well, but I think my temperature was around 101 degrees that afternoon. After sleeping a ton and drinking only fruit juice all day long, and lying down even when I wasn't sleeping, I felt much better by early afternoon on the third day, a Saturday. After being so tired and weak, I felt a little like Superman. I also had this strange feeling feeling that this fever would be a sort of positive turning point for me, much like the weekend fever I had in August 2001 was a turning point for the negative, because that's when
the mononucleosis started. One thing that being sick did accomplish was that I went from being the heaviest I'd ever been to my ideal racing weight, which means I lost about six pounds.

Even more than that, I felt pretty good the entire next week, better than I usually do, and on the following Friday I decided to try some fast running to test myself. What I did was run easy up one of the big hills around here, and then run down it very fast, to let my legs practice running faster. I found a nice, gradual downhill road that is about 5% downgrade for over 5km. I ended up running a 14:30 downhill 5k. I've never done this sort of thing before, but I was pleased with the result. Still even better, only three days later, I stepped on the track for the first time in years, and tried some 400m repeats. I decided to do 12x400m with 1 minute rest between them, with a goal time of 69 seconds per 400m. I could feel that my legs wanted to run that day, so I was excited to see what I could do. I was very surprised to find out that not only did my legs have no problems running 69 seconds, but that they gradually wanted to run faster, so my average for all of them was 67 seconds, and my last two were 65. This is one of my best track workouts ever. (I think the best I ever did at Miami was maybe 66 average when we did 3-minute goes, which is almost twice as much rest). Anyway, I was extremely happy with this workout, and afterwards I was more excited to race than I had been in years.

I laid out a plan, starting two weeks later:
June 21st: local 5km road race to kick off the racing season
June 28th: 5000m at an international track meet in Villach, Austria
WEEK OFF
July 11th: 1500m at an international track meet in Kapfenberg, Austria
July 18th: 5000m at HUGE track meet in Heusden, Belgium

July 18th would be the main focus, because the conditions could be perfect for a fast time. Last year, there were five heats of the 5000m, and the THIRD heat had a group of twenty guys between 13:50 and 14:10, which is ideal for me. This meet has more fast 5000m runners than any meet I've ever heard of.

The little road race turned out OK. On a very nice day, I ran 15:08 (my goal was under 15) by myself the whole way. And then my backpack got stolen afterwards, which wasn't cool. I'm still working on replacing everything from my wallet, my mobile phone, etc.

The following weekend in Villach, the plan was to run 2:50/km with an italian guy who was trying to run 14:10 to qualify for a championship race. Unfortunately, it was raining pretty hard before and during the race, so we started at "only" 2:53 pace until 3km, when I couldn't even hold that pace any more and dropped off. The italian must have run 2:45 for the last two kilometers, because he finished in 14:09, and I must have run 3:07, because I finished in 14:54, which was still second place. I was incredibly disappointed about this race, and I reminded myself that I shouldn't get so excited about races, because if they don't turn out well, I get... well.... very disappointed. The problem here is that I don't have many races, so I only have one or two chances to run well, and if I don't, then I'm out of luck for a few months.

Of course, I don't know if it was the rain, or something else, but I was a little sick and had heavy arms and legs for the following week. I was hoping that I had been sick a little even during the race, because then I'd have a good excuse for the poor performance, but that's hard to say. I hardly ran that week, and I started regretting the €200 I spent on hotel and flight to Belgium, because it was clear I wasn't going to run well. At least I had a weekend off, when I could rest.

The week after the weekend off, last week, I felt better, but not 100%. I managed a 3x500m workout in 1:19 per repeat. That was my tune-up for the 1500m in Kapfenberg. It was barely a workout, but I don't know if my sickly body could handle much more without getting run-down again.

Something worked in my favor. Yesterday I ran in Kapfenberg, on a very nice day, and I got out well in 63 for the first lap, in the second lap there was a sort of traffic jam, and everybody slowed down. I had to sidestep a bit to not step on people's heels, but once I got out to the side, I passed several people and was feeling really good at that pace. I maintained a good tempo, and then with 600m to go, I tried to start hammering for home. I was on the second place guy's shoulder at 150m to go, but of course I'm not a miler, so I got buried on the final straightaway to finish sixth. I didn't know my time, until after I cooled down, but I was thinking I was under 4:00, and my PR from 2001 (sophomore in college) was 3:58.62. Like I said, something worked, because the results on the wall read 3:56.55! That's over 2 seconds off my 8-year old PR! It might even be a bigger accomplishment than my 3000m PR from last year, because 2 seconds in a 1500m is more than 3 seconds off my 3000m time, and in my life I've run at least ten 1500s, whereas I've only run five or six 3000s. (Then again, I could have gone a lot faster in that 3000m race) Anyway, I'm excited about my 1500. Now I'm happy with running again, and I'm not really thinking about quitting.

So, fresh off a big improvement over a time I ran when I was a younger, sprightlier 20-year-old chap, I'm both excited and nervous about this coming weekend. I've got a lot of pressure on myself for this, partly because I'm traveling all the way to Belgium and spending a lot of money for this one race, but I'm trying to get into the mindset I know is the best for me. Back in college, when I ran 14:03 in 2001 and then 14:02 in 2003 (both at Penn Relays), I went to the races thinking mainly of staying relaxed in the first part of the race, and then simply *racing* the last part. Obviously worrying about times is not good for me, and it's not fun. The feeling I had yesterday of passing people on the third lap was simply awesome; it's something I had forgotten about. I want to have that feeling next week again. That means I have to forget about the clock and just race. I hope I can do that.

The race is late Saturday evening, Euro-time, and the web site is
http://www.sport.be/kbcnacht/2009/eng/
in case you're interested in having a look at results.

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