ORC Race Into Summer 5K: Heat, Humidity, and Redemption

There have been only a few (painfully memorable) times in my adult life when I ran races on back-to-back weekends. Not surprisingly, the “Round II” of those back-to-back races were not among my best performances. As such, I did not toe the line of this race with a bubbly sense of confidence or enthusiasm. Indeed, had it not been for Alek visiting Orlando this week during the break between his spring and summer terms in college, I surely would not have entered the Orlando Runners Club (ORC) Race Into Summer 5K on June 11. Moreover, those of us who have lived in Central Florida for more than 10 minutes know that the concept of “Racing Into Summer” is a foolish (if not catastrophically stupid) proposition.

We arrived at the race far too early (as usual) so that Alek could engage in his “pre-game ritual” of a lengthy warm-up run. By contrast, I stepped out of the car and felt “warmed up” two steps later. I begrudgingly ran a half-mile warm-up while Alek insisted on a rigorous 2-mile venture. He returned rather steamy and sweating profusely. My half-mile warm-up jog was plenty to shake out the kinks and drain about a gallon of valuable water and electrolytes from my body.

ORC 5K - Thing 1 and 2

Thing 1 and Thing 2 are sweaty and ready for the start

The field was small, but remarkably fast.  Let’s face it – only die-hard, well-trained runners would torment their bodies under these conditions. Most of the weekend warriors opted to stay in bed, which inspired incurable envy in my heart. This year’s field was only 180 runners, down about 25% from last year. Not too surprising in light of these conditions. Given this small and fast field, my finish percentage (top 28% — 51St of 180) was not nearly as impressive as my other 5Ks in the past three years in which my finish percentage hovered in the top 10-15%.

But here’s some good news for a change. My 24:38 (7:56 pace) performance in this race was a full minute faster than last week’s race in Hamden, CT (25:36) and the 5K race that I ran with Alek last June in Orange, CT (25:32). Although this Orlando course was mercifully flat and pleasantly scenic on a paved park trail, the race day conditions were extremely unfriendly yet again. Like last week’s race, the temperature at the start was pushing 80 degrees and the humidity was oppressive (above 90% this time as compared to the already-challenging 75% humidity last week). Nevertheless, I battled the elements and placed second in my 50-59 division, this time taking home a medal (instead of some donated cookies) for my trouble.

 

ORC 5K - FinishingHolding on for dear life as I storm toward the finish

For the really impressive spin on these results, chew on the following (since I have no donated cookies to offer you). Alek and I ran this race (and last year’s 5K race in Orange, CT) on the same courses and under the same weather conditions. And yet the old man improved by a full minute in the span of that year, whereas the 21-year-old, 0% body fat, Division I lightweight competitive rower was 10 seconds slower compared to his time from last year. So I guess my aggressive hill training and indoor rowing training in CT last month actually did yield some benefit (and I have the persistently sore legs to prove it). Upgraded training almost always makes an impact in my times in races located reasonably close to sea level, unlike last week’s rocky mountain low. Alek and I both struggled mightily under the grueling heat and humidity in this race, but let’s be clear: I fared better in this longitudinal study of these two races in June 2015 and June 2016. Much to Alek’s chagrin, it’s age before beauty this time, baby.

 

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Alek finishes strong to place 8th overall in 19:09 and secure first place in his 20-29 age group

To Alek’s credit, he has been impressively consistent and strong in 5K races since his high school cross country days with almost exclusively rowing training and virtually no running training. All three of his post-high school 5Ks were within a 10-second margin just above or below 19 minutes.

But my performances have been as variable as New England weather. And yet there’s a disturbing “reliability” in my 5K efforts on closer review. Basically, if you want to predict how I will perform in a 5K in my fabulous 50s, just check the weather and the course profile. My two best performances (Feb. 2014 and Jan. 2016) were on flat courses in cool or cold weather, whereas my two worst performances were on hilly courses in CT in warm or hot weather (June 2015 and June 2016). You don’t need a Ph.D. in statistics or exercise physiology to detect the painfully evident story in the cold hard facts below.

Fly Me Back to the 80’s 5K – Jacksonville – 22:59 – Feb. ’14 – 1st Place  (Flat, cool)

Seasons 52 5.2K – Winter Park – 24:05  – Jan. ‘16 – Did not place  (Flat, cold, windy)

ORC Race Into Summer 5K – Orlando – 24:38 –June ‘16 – 2nd Place  (Flat, hot, humid)

Race Brook Rockin’ 5K – Orange, CT – 25:32 – June ’15 – 2nd Place  (Hilly, warm)

Hamden 5K – Hamden, CT – 25:36 – June ‘16 – 3rd Place  (Hilly, hot, humid)

 

ORC 5k - Medals

Thing 1 and Thing 2 live up to the prophecy of their race numbers by placing first and second in their age groups, respectively, for the second consecutive year.

This race was one of the best organized and runner-friendly races I have run in recent memory. In addition to usual fare of bananas, bagels, and Gatorade at the finish, there were several friendly vendors serving up samples of post-race goodies like smoothies, energy bars, and exotic energy drinks. There was a festive awards ceremony that also featured a raffle for several amazing gift baskets brimming with generous gift certificates to many Orlando-area business.

The family-like atmosphere that the ORC volunteers provided for the race and post-race ceremony inspired me to register for an annual membership to their running club when I returned home from the  race. I joined ORC to help keep me honest for the brief time that I’m in Winter Park training this summer and for when I return from my sabbatical in December for serious training through 2017. ORC offers three training group runs per week in Winter Park. It is a well-established (40 years strong) and well-organized group of competitive runners. I highly recommend it! Alek and I did a 6-mile training run in grueling heat and humidity at 7:00 AM the day after the race with an ORC running group in Winter Park. It was very challenging but well worth it.  The older I get, the wimpier my training becomes if left to my own devices.  One piece of the barrage of tough-love criticism that Alek threw my way after the race is a point well-taken: my endurance is fine but I need to work on speed work and tempo runs to get  faster in 5Ks.  Easier said than done, but the only way it will happen is if I run in a group with people to chase.

I’ll be training on the CT hills for most of July and August while searching for that perfect blend of fair weather and flat terrain to ensure that I run a sub-24:00 in my next summer 5K during that period.

 

Hamden 5K Road Race: Nightmare on Everscream Avenue

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I visited my father in May, which served as my base camp to undertake a mountain of work on a major book project after completing the semiannual grind of spring semester grading. For diversion and fitness during that month, I had logged 80 miles of hard runs on grueling hills in mostly warm weather in the hilly town of Colchester, CT, and I also did 27K of hard rowing training on the indoor rowing machine. I was eager to test myself in a local road race to see how much athletic benefit I had gained from all that hard work.  Bad move.

I debated long and hard about whether to run this Hamden 5K Road Race because I knew it would be hilly and I knew that the weather forecast for race day called for some seriously runner-unfriendly weather. I was proud of myself for not bailing out and proceeding with my plan to conquer this challenge. (Note to self – stay in bed next time.) After sweating profusely at the starting line in near-80 degree heat and grueling 75% humidity, the race finally began at 9:00 AM, which was far too late for a race scheduled for June.  As I started along “Evergreen” Avenue for this misadventure in competitive distance running, I wanted to whip out a can of spray paint and rename this street “Everscream” Avenue to more accurately reflect the impact that this course had on my legs, even within a few hundred yards from the start. As the hills unfolded into the sky before my weary eyes and stiff neck, I braced myself for this rapid descent into hell that was masquerading as a stairway to heaven.

As I trudged up this mountain of a hill in the first mile (rope and pickaxe not included), my breathing soon became ragged, gasping and gagging like someone who was had just been removed from a respirator. My split for the first mile was 8:45. Just to give you a sense of how slow that is, it’s a pace that is comparable to my training pace for longer runs on hot days in Florida. I literally could have eaten a large pizza and pounded a few beers and still have completed my first mile in training in the time that it took me to complete the first mile of this course. An 8:45 mile split is slow for me at mile 23 of a marathon and yet this was the first mile of a 5K!  I literally wanted to stop and walk at least three times in this race. I can count on one hand the number of times that I wanted to walk during races at the half marathon distance or less.  And yet here I wanted to walk within the first mile in part because I wanted to hold on to a tree to overcome my fear that I might fall over backwards from the extreme grade of the incline.  Most American-made cars would struggle to crest this hill.

But I finally made it to the top of that interminable ascent — more out of anger and fear than gritty determination — only to soon learn that mile 2 featured even more of a challenge for my spent legs –- rolling hills.  So now I had a “royal flush” of all the factors that destroy me in road races: steep inclines, rolling hills, and savage heat and humidity.  Remind me again why I decided to pay $30 and drive two hours round trip for a piece of this pleasure?

After barely surviving the steep incline and the rolling hills, I eagerly awaited the “return on investment” –- the downhill segment in the third mile of the race.  Downhill running used to be my specialty, but alas those days are gone. Now in my ripe old age, the downhill segments hurt as much as the uphill climbs. I was worried every step of the way on those  treacherous downhill stretches that my legs would give out and I would somersault down the pavement to the finish like a runaway meatball (and that probably would have improved my finish time).  It was only by virtue of the laws of physics (“an object in motion tends to remain in motion, etc.”) that I was able to break 8:00 in that third mile (a whopping 7:50 – again, ridiculously slow). And I can’t even claim any credit for that negative split –- I was just the living incarnation of that kid on the bunny slope at the ski resort who missed the class on how to snow plow and just hopes that some benevolent force will cause him to slow down before he suffers a fatal crash. It was truly an out-of-body experience of the worst kind in that last mile as my legs had no choice to keep moving at a jet engine-level of RPMs and somehow not disintegrate as I barreled toward the finish line.

The results are in. The good news is that I finished 39th of 297 runners (top 13%) and placed 3rd (only 9 seconds away from 2nd) of the 20 runners in my 50-59 age group in an abysmal time of 25:36 (8:15 pace). And now for some brutally honest commentary. Let me begin by noting that I have never left a road race prior to an awards ceremony when I was in the running to receive an age group award as I was for this race.  This race was a step back in time in terms of efficiency and use of technology. The race finished in a narrow chute, like most races do, to funnel the weary runners to a buffet of refreshments and support. But this race was different for runners in that chute. The volunteers in the chute were removing the tabs from our race numbers BY HAND to calculate the results. The last time someone removed a tab from my race number at the end of a race was at the height of the disco era in the late 70s. I suppose that (barely) “Stayin’ Alive” would have been a good theme song for my race experience. I knew those bell bottom pants would become fashionable again one day. To add insult to injury, other volunteers in the chute were handing out nice, glitzy-looking medals that said “Girls on the Run” for the little girls who finished the race today.  Conspicuously absent from the volunteers hands were batches of “Old Men Who Almost Died on the Run” medals. The finishing chute also was devoid of any Gatorade, which was a first in as long as I can remember in running hundreds of races in the past four decades. But who needs electrolyte replacement after a nice easy run like that on a cool pleasant day? I grumbled and stumbled away from the finish area as sweat erupted from my every pore as if expelled from a fire hose.

The “feel good” slogan of the Hamden 5K Road Race is “Bringing Our Town Together.”  Kind of makes you feel warm inside, doesn’t it?  Well, here are a few friendly tips for the race organizers if they would like to do a better job of bringing the town together in the future.

  1. Post the race results online within 24 hrs after the race occurs. Come on, this is 2016! A team of preschoolers could have delivered the race results faster than the race organizers did for this race. I didn’t see results online until almost FOUR DAYS after the race!  And this was after the race organizers said that results would be delivered by e-mail the day after the race, which did not occur. Even though I still use a flip phone, I’m nonetheless entitled to technological efficiency from others who greedily seize $30 from me to deliver a service.
  2. Consider offering cookies as post-race refreshments for runners and not as “trophies” for the top 3 runners in each division (especially after some of those runners narrowly dodged cardiac arrest while trying to navigate your Mt. Everest-esqe race course). And it’s a good thing I didn’t experience cardiac arrest on those hills because I surely would have died – I don’t recall seeing any medical personnel onsite as is the case for all road races. The cookies were donated by a local bakery (a nice touch), but the race organizers decided to cut yet another corner and offer these goodies that they received for free as the race awards rather than investing a few bucks (like every other race in the country) on actual trophies, medals, etc. for the age group winners.
  3. Perhaps slip the police officers on duty a few of those donated cookies to ensure that they know where the start of the course is located. This is a small race and there were police officers stationed at the edge of a major road that runners had to cross to access the starting line for the race. They were the “crossing guards” for the runners to access the start. Yet when I asked one of them where the starting line was located, he replied, pointing westward, “I’m not sure – somewhere over there.” Good thing I brought my compass. But I can’t blame the police officers for their ignorance because this low-budget event didn’t even have a sign that said “start” or “finish” on the course. No, I’m not kidding.

And here’s one final musing that encapsulates my race experience.

This is my face …..

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… and this is my face at the top of that monster hill in mile 1 of this race:

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Any questions?

Needless to say, the next time I see a course profile for a race that looks like the one in the link below, I will be sure to run (in the opposite direction!)

http://teammossman.com/images/hamdenrr_route_map.png

But to end on an upbeat note, my blog was recently selected as a Top 100 Running Blog for Fitness Inspirationhttp://blog.feedspot.com/2016/01/25/running-blogs/  That is why you now see the nifty Top 100 ribbon logo at the top right sidebar of my blog.  I am comforted to know that at least my writing ability hasn’t declined with age!

Seasons 52 Park Ave. 5.2K: A Chilly Jolt of Unpreparedness

Seasons 52 Park Ave. 5.2k Presented by Florida Hospital

The only reason I decided to run this race was because I was scheduled to run the Shark Bite Half Marathon in New Smyrna Beach last Sunday, but I made a game-day decision to bail out on that race because the forecast called for thunder showers, 25-35 mph winds, and 100% humidity for the start of the race.  Any one of those factors would have been the kiss of death for me in a half marathon, but all three of them working together made it a no-brainer decision to stay home.  I was angry and frustrated that Florida weather had thrown yet another wrench in my competitive distance running plans – this was the third time in the past five years that I had to decide not to run a half marathon race for which I had pre-registered because of absurd and unseasonable weather conditions. It’s a good thing that climate change isn’t real though, right?  Anyway, my competitive energy needed an alternative outlet, so I immediately registered for this race scheduled for the following weekend.

I will start with “sunny” headlines that make today’s outing seem reasonably successful.  I finished 166th of 1952 runners (top 8%) and finished 9th of 94 runners in my 50-54 age group (top 9%).  My time of 24:54 for 5.2K (a 24:04 split for 5K) put me at a 7:42 pace per mile in some very inhospitably cold and windy conditions for today’s race.  This time was 1:30 faster than my last 5K, which was a miserably hilly misadventure in Connecticut last June.  And I turn 52 tomorrow (good karma given the Seasons 52 race title), so I can celebrate one more year of being slightly better than athletically irrelevant.

Now for the “cold and harsh” realities.  I wasn’t ready for anything that this race threw my way today.   First, my distance running training base wasn’t where it needed to be. 2015 was the lowest mileage year (840 miles) for me since moving to Florida in 2006.  I had logged more than 1000 miles of training in all of my other years in the Sunshine State, with the last three years coming in at more than 1100.  Second, the nature of my training was a far cry from what it should have been.  I only did a handful of training runs all year at a sub-8:00 pace.  Worse still, I have become a “fair weather fairy” with my training in the past year in that approximately 2/3 of my training was on the treadmill. Most days in Orlando in the past several months have been too hot, too humid, too cold, too windy, too rainy, too dark, etc. to inspire me to brave the elements.  Here’s a friendly suggestion from my disgusted conscience:  Just shut up and run (outside).  You’re from New England, man – what’s wrong with you?  Not surprisingly, I paid the price for my prima donna training habits in today’s race.  I wasn’t prepared for the cold (in the 40s), the wind (gusts of up to 20 mph making the “feels like” temp in the 30s), and the unpleasant pounding on the uneven and unforgiving brick-lined streets that covered more than half of this course.  I want my treadmill back.  And can you do my nails and fix me a latte while I do my “workout” while watching TV?

It’s actually ironic how wimpy my running training had become in 2015 given how grueling my rowing training had been in that same year.  The only positive feature of my training in 2015 was that I had joined the Orlando Rowing Club and had engaged in competitive rowing training and racing all year. (My business travel schedule this semester has caused me to take a temporary hiatus from competitive rowing, but I plan to return to it by late 2016 or early 2017.) We had practices at 5:00 a.m. and we would trudge through ankle-deep mud and wade in pitch-black water laden with water moccasin snakes to place the coach’s launch (motor boat) in the water, then do land workouts in the boathouse on ghastly hard concrete in some very cold temperatures, and then do demanding workouts on the water for 60-75 minutes, and come off the water completely exhausted before the sun rose.  If I braved the elements to endure all of that on a regular basis in my rowing training in 2015 (not to mention the nagging blisters and sores on my hands and butt), I’m not sure how or why I became such a “spa runner” with my distance running training.

I huddled in my car for 30 minutes before the race in the dark, windy, and cold conditions, refusing to emerge until 10 minutes before the start.  I was hoping that after the sun rose there would be some relief from the relentlessly windy and chilly conditions, but no such luck.  Grimacing from the cold, I found my way to the start line, which was located about half a mile from my car.  To give you a more accurate sense of how cold it was this morning, I was wearing a winter fleece hat instead of a racing cap, along with arm warmer sleeves and warm-up running pants on top of my racing shorts. All of this dorky attire stayed on my body for the entire race and I never felt warm at any point during the race. If you had told me that I would be running races in Florida sporting this kind of clothing, I would have never left New England.  I have run more than 100 races in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region of the U.S. and I can count on two hands the number of times that I had to dress like this for a race.  It’s just wrong.

I knew that today wasn’t going to be a banner day within the first mile of the race.  A little kid who was about four feet tall was standing in front of me at the start.  My pet peeve is when slow and/or small runners crowd the front of the starting line for races because I always have to bob and weave around them so I don’t trample them like a steamroller.  This perky young lad with a seemingly overdeveloped sense of ambition turned to me before the start and asked, “Is this race 3.3 miles?”  I gently corrected him and said, “No, it’s only 3.2 miles” and continued my response in my head by saying “Perhaps you just focus on finishing the race in one piece, pee wee, so you can have plenty of energy left to continue playing your video games and eating Doritos when you get home.”  As it turns out, the little shit was for real and beat me by more than a minute in today’s race. He claimed first place by a 5-minute margin ahead of the second place finisher in the 10 and under age group.  Shame on me for scoffing at the dreams of the next Olympic marathon qualifier to come out of Winter Park. But my skepticism was well founded.  In my experience, almost all of the elementary school-aged boys who run 5ks crash and burn by the end of the first mile and are incurably annoying with the way that they start and stop all over the course.  But this little whippersnapper was an inspiring exception to that general rule – good for him.  I wanted to shake his hand after the race, but he was too occupied with eating the post-race donuts by the dozen.

Apart from the rude awakening of chasing the powered-by-donuts superhero in front of me in the first mile, I was treated to an even ruder awakening about half way into the first mile.  The wind was horrific and the wind has a way of delivering unwanted items in your direction.  Cupid appeared a few weeks early this year apparently because a runner in front of me was nice enough to blow a saliva-laden kiss my way which landed square on my kisser.  I spent the next half mile wondering what kind of fatal disease I would contract from this unwanted smooch that I feverishly wiped off with my sleeve about 32 times in the span of 10 seconds until my lips were almost bleeding. And then my law professor mind kicked in for further distraction as I pondered whether this unwelcome gift could be considered a battery, reckless endangerment, or negligent infliction of emotional distress.

The race was over sooner than I knew it. I found myself holding back in the third mile when I should have started my kick because I just didn’t know if my fast-twitch muscles would respond when I summoned them due to my poor training.  As I stormed toward the finish, I heard a faint and familiar voice say, “Go Professor Abate!”  It was my faculty assistant, Celia, who is also a distance runner and, unlike me, is training the way a good distance runner should.  She had just completed a 10-mile training run with her distance running group in Winter Park in those miserably cold and windy conditions and she was nice enough to look for me at the finish because she knew that I was running this race.  While it was nice to have someone at the finish line to congratulate me for my lackluster effort, it was also a painful reminder of how far I have to go to get my mojo back in my distance racing in 2016.  I used to regularly do long training runs in very unpleasant conditions just a few years ago and not think much of it, just like Celia did today. I need to jump start my training soon, but it will be challenging with my upcoming business travels to Australia, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the U.K. in the next six weeks.  In the meantime, perhaps I should eat more donuts.

Abate Duo Rocks the “Race Brook Rockin’ Road Race” 5K in Orange, CT

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Gold and silver swag

My son, Alek, and I were visiting my father in Colchester, CT. We traveled to compete in yet another hilly and challenging road race in this state where I spent my childhood. This self-torture has been a bitter-sweet tradition for me since Alek’s competitive running career began in 2008 as every race on this challenging terrain seems to hurt more than the last one.

The headlines from yesterday’s race are impressive.  Alek (20 yrs old) placed 1st in his 20-29 age group and 2nd overall in the race, just six seconds behind the winner of the race. He finished in 18:59, which is 12 seconds faster than the 5K he ran in another CT town last year, where he also placed 1st in his age group.  Alek is in peak condition now after just completing his second year on Dartmouth’s varsity lightweight crew team, which competes against the fastest collegiate rowing programs in the nation.

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Alek strains to keep contact with the race leader

My performance wasn’t quite as “rockin” as Alek’s performance.  I placed 2nd in my 50-59 age group and 20th overall in the race. I hadn’t raced in a 5K since February 2014, and for good reason. My 5K training has been non-existent during this period as I focused on distance training throughout 2014, gearing up for two half marathons that I ultimately didn’t run because of work and schedule conflicts (but I did run a respectable 10-mile race in November with that training – see previous blog entry). Then I transitioned to competitive rowing with the Orlando Rowing Club in January 2015 after a 30-year hiatus from the sport. Rowing is a great and demanding sport (with practices at 4:45 AM), but it doesn’t prepare you to run 5Ks at my age.  Given these realities, I had no business racing in yesterday’s 5K, but I caved in to Alek’s persistence for old time’s sake.

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Hating life as I crest the last miserable hill

I ran an abysmal 25:32 in this race, which is slow even by CT hills standards (8:14 pace). To give you a sense of how slow this time was by comparison, I ran a much faster 7:53 pace for my 10-mile race in FL last November, and my last 5K in FL was a 22:59 in February ’14 (7:25 pace). How is this possible?  Two words: relentless hills. In similarly hilly races in CT in the past five years, I had run close to a 24:00 in one of them and a 25:20 in another. But this race was even more challenging than those races. These hills were incessantly steep and rolling and reminded me of the courses I had run in high school cross country races – never more than a few hundred yards of flat terrain before the next hill was summoning you. And the bigger you are, the more your legs scream on these courses, so my not-so-dainty frame was more of a liability than ever on this course.  Even experienced CT runners who train on hills regularly were about a minute slower than normal on this course (Alek researched the race times of the runners in the top five of this race online). But even given these realities, I still could have and should have been faster, but there were other complicating factors.

Five Explanations for My Sub-Par Performance

(Alek prefers to substitute the word “excuses” for my reference to “explanations”)

  1. In the week leading up to the race, I had driven 28 hours up the Eastern Seaboard from Florida to New Hampshire, from New Hampshire to Boston, and from Boston to Colchester, CT and (as if that weren’t enough), we drove another 2.5 hours roundtrip for this race. I ran two short shake-out runs on the days leading up to this race but to no avail. My legs were incurably stiff from all that sitting and every step I took in the race hurt more than the previous one.
  2. I hadn’t done any 5K speed training to prepare for this race and had done limited running training in general. May was my first 100-mile month of 2015. I had averaged only 60-75 miles per month in January-April this year because of my transition to competitive rowing. To give you a sense of how low my mileage has been this year, I have averaged 1100-1300 miles per year for the past five years, whereas based on my mileage to date this year, I will likely only run about 800 miles in 2015.
  3. Ever since moving to Florida in 2006, races with hills always kill my times even when I am in peak running shape. Even Alek bemoaned the challenging hills in this course.
  4. As one of my colleagues aptly remarked recently, the warranty on your body starts to expire when you hit 50. At 51, I feel like I’m living on borrowed time as a competitive distance runner. After 36 almost entirely injury-free years as a competitive distance runner, I feel like maybe I shouldn’t push my luck. A temporary moratorium on road races may be in order soon as I try to make a full transition back to competitive rowing after a 30-year hiatus from my success in that sport in my college days. I have a one-year membership at Orlando Rowing Club (ORC) and I want to compete in a few more races in 2015 to see how things play out as I continue to try to juggle these two sports. In my first race in the Men’s Masters 8 boat with ORC, we won a bronze medal at the Florida Masters Regatta in Orlando last month.  Some bigger races are on the horizon that will provide ample challenge in the months ahead.  I likely will not even think about competing in another road race until November at the earliest when the FL heat and humidity subsides.
  5. 2015 has been the busiest year of my career for my workload at the office and travel for speaking and teaching engagements throughout the nation and the world (Cayman Islands, New York, Los Angeles, Washington, West Virginia, Spain, Guatemala, Texas, Indonesia, Vermont, and Oregon). Sometimes, just finding the time to exercise (let alone train properly) is an enormous challenge.  So I just do the best I can under the circumstances.

DeLand Thanksgiving Day 10-Miler: “The Incredible Bulk” is Baa-ack!

And they're off!

And they’re off!

Competitive distance running and massive body mass don’t mix well.  Granted, part of what makes distance running a great sport is that all shapes, sizes, and ages can participate and each competitor can aspire to reach their own goals and feel fulfilled from the experience while doing something good for their health.  But, if you want to be really fast, take it from me:  it really helps to be built like a Kenyan.

For 35 years, I have trained and competed as a competitive distance runner. In every day of those 35 years, I have been haunted by the reality that I chose a sport that is made for featherweights.  Competitive distance running is grueling for everyone, regardless of one’s body mass.  But for those who have the body mass of a Hummer rather than a motorcycle, distance running is particularly vexing.  And you don’t need a Ph.D. in physics to know that it’s harder to initiate and propel the movement of a large mass through space as compared to a small mass.  The sport of boxing has long understood the significance of disparities in body mass.  You would never see a featherweight in the ring against a heavyweight–it would be an instant slaughterhouse scene.  Yet, for the first two decades of my distance running career, competitive distance running did not recognize the reciprocal premise of this painfully evident reality – why would a 140-pound featherweight be compared directly to a 225-pound heavyweight in gauging success in distance running?

Much to my delight, that conspicuous oversight finally got resolved by the 1990s.  Someone to whom I owe great debt of gratitude changed all that – for the better – in the mid-1990s.  The term “Clydesdale” emerged to describe this category of “body-mass challenged” distance runners.  Other names for this category that were considered were “Steamrollers, “German tanks,“ and “Those who should have stayed on the couch.”  So I’m grateful for the label, “Clydesdale,” too.  Typically, Clydesdales are men weighing 200+ pounds (but for today’s race, the Clydesdale division was 220+ pounds — that’s even better!)  I latched on to the Clydesdale division two decades ago, which was a great confidence builder as I won or placed in the Clydesdale division in dozens of races, the pinnacle of which occurred in the late 90’s when I won the Clydesdale 20K National Championship at the New Haven Road Race in New Haven, Connecticut in 1996, 1997, and 1999.

So, at the risk of stating the obvious, whenever a road race gives me the opportunity to be compared against those who are of comparable body mass, I respond by saying, “Hell, yes!”  I have spent my entire racing career having to compete against (and struggle to outperform) scrawny competitors who are on average 50+ pounds lighter than I am.  This was also true even when I competed as a varsity high school cross country athlete and weighed 190 pounds when the average competitor weighed about 150.  And so begins the story of my Thanksgiving Day stampede at the DeLand Thanksgiving Day 10-miler.

Ideal weather conditions beckoned us on race morning as my son, Alek, and I dragged ourselves out of bed at 5:00 AM.  Temps were in the mid-40s at the start with low humidity, no chance of rain, and gentle sunshine that would yield a high of only 68 degrees much later in the day.  I couldn’t have engineered better race conditions for this 10 mile run if I tried.  Alek and I discussed some pre-race strategy, which went something like this:  “What kind of pace are you shooting for?” Alek inquired.  I responded, bluntly, “I want to hold a 7:45 pace until I can’t hold it any more.”  To which Alek replied, “Are you sure?  You haven’t raced since February, your training hasn’t been close to what it should have been the past few months, and you’re old.”  While he was absolutely correct on all three points, I didn’t appreciate his lack of faith in my ability to rise up against all odds.  And I would prove him wrong in the end, which is always gratifying.

Alek has paced me in several races in the past five years and he always helps bring out my best.  He was particularly attentive in his role as my pacer today.  He would turn his head and ask if I wanted water as we blazed past water stations, to which I would loudly grunt, “NO!”  I rejected his offer of water every time for several miles until he finally stopped asking.  It’s very dangerous for someone my age and size to run a blazing fast 10-mile race without consuming a drop of water, but I was simply too tired and too “in the zone” to disrupt my mojo with trying to throw fluids down my throat.  We maintained a 7:47 pace for the first several miles (the second and ninth miles were slightly slower due to rolling hills) and we finished the race with a 7:50  in the final mile, which hurt IMMENSELY.  Alek was urging me to pick up the pace, turning his head to look back at me to make sure I was with him.  I never heard what he said throughout the race when he would turn and grunt something at me, but I got the idea.  “Run faster, old man,” was the gist of it, I think.  My cardiovascular stress in that last mile led to a serious lack of oxygen-rich blood flow in my legs, which caused me to tighten up something fierce in that last mile.

Thanks to Alek’s impeccable pacing service (running just five yards ahead of me for the entire race), I ran an impressive time of 1:18:38 (7:52 per mile pace) and placed 79th of 310 runners (top 25%) in this fast field.  My time was 1 minute and 20 seconds faster than my last 10-mile race two years ago.  So, while I may be getting older, that’s OK as long as I’m getting FASTER, Alek.  And the icing on the cake was that I placed first of ALL of the Clydesdales in this race (those that were 40+ years – my division — and those that were below 40 as well).  The nearest Clydesdale competitor was more than five minutes behind me.

You can call me “King Clyde.”  I won’t mind.

You can call me “King Clyde.” I won’t mind.

Tom Turkey shows his gratitude to his vegan and vegetarian pals on Thanksgiving Day.

Tom Turkey shows his gratitude to his vegan and vegetarian pals on Thanksgiving Day.

Sharing the celebration with Dad as he models the latest in finisher medal fashion.

Sharing the celebration with Dad as he models the latest in finisher medal fashion.

Close-up of the award

I think the race organizers commissioned a local third grade art class to design the awards for this year’s race–kinda cute, eh?

Swoop the Loop 5K: “Fly Me Back to the ‘80s”

 

IMG_9304 - StartToday’s race was misty and nostalgic for a few reasons. First, the start and finish of the race were held at the University of North Florida (UNF) arena in Jacksonville.  My son, Alek, and I worked out here regularly for many grueling speed work and distance training runs during his high school years, and it brings back fond memories of father-son camaraderie and sore muscles.  Second, Alek’s high school graduation ceremony was held here last May, where he made us very proud in delivering an eloquent salutatorian speech. Third, this race’s theme, “Fly Me Back to the ‘80s,” brought me back to a special time many years ago when the music was awesome and my legs moved faster than they do today.

Not surprisingly, UNF students were well represented at this race.  Many of these students were dressed in silly costumes that bore only a loose relationship to the ‘80s at best (perhaps they aren’t familiar with ‘80s music legends?)  I thought about dressing up like Paul Stanley of Kiss for this festive occasion, but I think I’ll save the shock value of that outfit for Halloween.  Besides, I wouldn’t want my makeup and lipstick to run from all that sweat (and I suspect that the leather pants and boots wouldn’t be conducive to a fast time).  For additional visual guidance, click on this link: http://www.allposters.com/-sp/Concert-Poster-KISS-Posters_i8377453_.htm  (Paul is the one on the far left)

As today’s race doubled back and passed by the start/finish area by the UNF arena in the first mile, the race organizers delivered on their race theme and had “Don’t Stop Believin” by Journey blasting out of the speakers.  That helped energize me to bob and weave past some “weekend warrior” college student runners so I could chase the more serious runners at the front of the pack.

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Since I haven’t been training for shorter distances in the past year, my old legs didn’t respond well when I summoned them for additional speed. I ran a slow 7:15 first mile and it was then that I knew I was in for a long race.  I held on as best I could through mile 2 (7:21) and braved too many turns in the course during the final mile.  I picked off about a dozen runners in the last two miles, but the field was too thin at the top and I didn’t have too many runners in my immediate vicinity to help me push the pace.  I gave everything I had in the final half mile, determined to break 23:00.  I didn’t leave much of a comfort zone as I barreled across the finish line in a 22:59 (7:25 pace), which was slower than I would have liked in these excellent conditions (50 degrees and sunny).  IMG_9340 - Home Stretch 2

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Question:  Which of the Following Best Describes My Race Outfit?

A.  Too much neon green

B.  WAY too much neon green

C.  Pre-gaming for St. Patty’s Day

IMG_9348 - FinishI’m definitely not getting faster with age, especially in shorter distances like the 5K, but at least I’m still in the ball park of where I was when I moved to Florida in 2006 (my first 5K that year was a 22:35).  The good news is that my competition is slowing with age, too, so my less-than-stellar performance today was good enough to earn me first place in my 50-54 age division.  I placed 39th of 344 runners in today’s race (Top 11%).  All but five of the runners who finished ahead of me today were less than half my age (and much less knowledgeable about ‘80s music).  I gleefully approached the awards table today with vibrant melodies from the Rolling Stones, U2, and Springsteen in my head that had filled the air at the finish area immediately prior to the awards ceremony.

IMG_9350The reason why there has been such a huge gap since my last blog entry (March 2013) is because the weather did not cooperate with me in the past year.  I ran a miserably hilly and hot 5K in Connecticut last July (92 degrees), which I didn’t report on because I was too ashamed of my time.  And then I dropped out at mile 5 of the St. Augustine Half Marathon in November because it was 70 degrees with 90% humidity, which was not conducive to running that distance at a fast pace. Then I had planned to redeem myself by running the Jacksonville Bank Half Marathon in December, but it was pouring rain, high humidity, and a threat of lightning that day, so I wised up and decided not to run at all.

I’m hopeful that today’s race is a sign of things to come after being betrayed by the weather for most of 2013.  I ran another year of 1250 miles in 2013 (identical to 2012) and I’m feeling ready to compete in my favorite distance, the half marathon.  I really enjoyed the Swamp House Half Marathon in Debary, FL last year. I ran a very strong time there (1:43) with the help of Alek’s pacing.  I’m planning to run it again this year on March 2 (weather permitting), and hopefully I’ll bring home some more age group hardware for my efforts. http://www.swamphousehalfmarathon.com/  Alek is at college and won’t be there for this year’s race, so I will have to dig deep for an impressive outing.  Stay tuned.

 

 

 

Swamp House Half Marathon: Frigid, Fast, and Festive

Don’t make me hold this smile too long because I have already burned all available calories today.

Don’t make me hold this smile too long because I’m freezing and I  have already burned all available calories today.

This handsome finisher's medal does more than merely collect dust -- it helps you celebrate or drown your sorrows with its handy bottle opener feature.

This handsome finisher’s medal does more than merely collect dust — it helps you celebrate or drown your sorrows with its handy bottle opener feature.

 

The alarm rang at 2:30 a.m. (why did I even bother going to bed?), rudely disrupting my brief and blissful slumber on a freezing cold night.  And I’m not talking “freezing” by wimpy Florida standards.  I’m talking freezing as in freezing.  Temps had dipped below freezing overnight with no sign of relief for the first several hours of the day.  Great.  It’s pitch dark, freezing cold, and now I’m about to drive 90 minutes to the Swamp House Half Marathon start so I can run 13.1 miles in these conditions (and pay for that opportunity).  Have I officially lost my mind (again)?  These conditions reminded me of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro – huddling in our tent to ward off the cold (without much success) during a sleepless night only to get dragged out of our tent for an all-night assault on the summit.  I felt that familiar pre-execution dread envelope me again as I loaded the car with my race day supplies and my trusty sidekick and pacer, Alek, who looked like he was still dreaming as he slumped into the car.  My only travel companions driving to the race at that insane hour of 4:00 a.m. were the light of the moon and the bright oncoming headlights of trucks in the Northbound lane of I-95 (because Alek was fast asleep shortly after we got moving).

The race started almost on schedule at about 7:00 a.m. as hundreds of frozen Floridians toed the start line.  This course was challenging by Florida standards  (not pancake flat) and I ran it aggressively, working the downhill segments to my advantage.  I felt very comfortable in the crisp air and settled into a comfortable 7:48 pace for the first five miles.  My splits for the three miles that featured some downhill stretches were in the 7:35-7:40 range.  But hills always take their toll on my legs, even when running down hill, and I really felt that unpleasant aftershock in my quads in the last three miles of the race, which were primarily flat.  I held on with a 7:58 pace for mile 13, though, which was faster than many of my recent half marathons (including Space Coast), when I have crashed and burned in the last few miles with splits at 8:15 or higher.

The race organizers bill this race as the best post-race party, featuring lots of beer.  The small town and friendly atmosphere was refreshing and the race was well organized with nice amenities (great technical race shirt and decent post-race food).  But drink beer after a race at 8:00 in the morning??  Never.  It’s like a death wish.  First, I hate the taste of beer and I would probably puke if I had any with my chronic post-race sour stomach.  Second, I am always severely dehydrated after my races, so the last thing I need is a diuretic to exacerbate my compromised state.  Third, studies have shown that beer is probably the worst thing to drink after a race because it can delay your body’s ability to recover as soon as possible from your efforts and may strain your heart when it is already in a taxed state.  But I suppose that people doing stupid, self-destructive things is a good form of population control for this overcrowded planet.  But who am I to talk about stupid, self-destructive actions?  I was the one who woke up at 2:30 a.m. to drive 3 hours round trip on a Sunday morning, to run 13.1 miles in freezing cold weather at the end of a two-week stretch when I was in the air more than I was on the ground with speaking engagements at conferences in NYC and Kansas, and when I wasn’t flying, I was trapped in a car with 15+ hours per week of commuting.  Hardly a recipe for success or health, especially with the toxic quantities of coffee I have consumed lately to get me through all of these commitments. The only post-race “festivities” that I was looking for after today’s race (and after most races for that matter) was a hot shower and my bed for a decadent post-race nap.

I finished 74th of 796 runners today (Top 9%) in a time of 1:43:07 (7:52 pace), which was a full minute faster than my time at the Space Coast Half Marathon in November.  The half marathon is probably my most competitive distance, and today’s race was my landmark 30th career half marathon.  I have run about half of those 30 races since moving to Florida in 2006 and today’s effort was my 4th best half marathon time since 2006 (and it was within approximately 30 seconds of my 2nd and 3rd best times).  Rest assured that there were no 8-year-old girls anywhere near me in today’s race.  Alek’s pacing services were indispensable in those last 4 miles, which is when I always start to unravel in half marathons.  I just focused on staying with him and fought hard to keep my head from reminding myself about how much pain and discomfort I was experiencing (compounded by a nasty cold headwind for most of the last 4 miles).  Alek would grunt something unintelligible at me and point to a spot behind him to indicate that’s where I needed to be, even though my legs could rarely take me there.  Alek promptly ditched me at mile 12 so he could run the last mile at a 6:30 pace and get a decent workout on the day.  I held up pretty well on my own for the last mile mile and picked off three or four runners as I closed in on the finish.

I was very pleased with my performance overall and felt that I ran a smart and strong race, but Coach Alek had a different view.  He bombarded me with “constructive criticism” (read: daggers) after the race:  “You’re running form is terrible,” “You slowed down too much in the last four miles,” “You need to control your breathing,” “You didn’t even try to stay with those runners who passed you late in the race,” “You were too aggressive in the first five miles,” and “You race like you train – like a weekend warrior.”  With “tough love” like this from your family members, who needs enemies?

Here’s a You Tube video that previews the course that I ran on this frigid day in Florida through the back roads of the “real Florida,” as the race organizers like to call it:

The Swamp House Half Marathon in DeBary, FL is a quaint and enjoyable course overall and I would definitely do it again, especially since it will be a “local” race for me when I move to Orlando in August.  My next half marathon will likely be the Orlando Half Marathon in December.  It will be nice to roll out of bed and be at the start line a few minutes later for a change.  My next race this spring will likely be the St. Patty’s Day 5K in Jacksonville on March 17.  It’s time for redemption after the disappointing outing at Pirates 5K.   Stay tuned and stay warm.