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.
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