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.

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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.

Pirates on the Run 5K: A “Peg Leg” of a Performance

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The Pirates on the Run 10K/5K entered its 10th year in 2013 and this winter tradition grows stronger every year.  Held in Fernandina Beach, FL, a quaint fishing village in the northeast corner of the state dotted with pick-up trucks on every street corner peddling their “fresh local shrimp” catch, the race has a cozy, small-town, coastal Florida feel.  It features a low registration fee that includes a nice technical running shirt and an impressive hot breakfast of pancakes and sausage after the race, along with friendly, smiling volunteers decked out in pirate costumes.  What’s not to love?

I have run the 10K and the 5K versions of the race in the past several years and placed third in my age group in the 10K (2008) and second in the 5K (2010).  I opted for the 5K this year because the 10K is my least favorite distance in competitive distance running—it just feels like a long and miserable 5K to me.  It always helps to be prepared to unleash some speed when you toe the line for a 5K race, but I soon learned that my fast-twitch muscles apparently didn’t wake up for today’s race.  Even in my first mile, which was exclusively on pavement with a few rolling hills, I was only able to muster a 7:02.  My first miles for 5K races have been consistently below 6:50 for the past several years, so I knew I was in trouble after this slow first mile because I didn’t exactly feel comfortable as I entered the dreaded “greenway” (a.k.a. “brownway” at this time of year) portion of the course, which would consume most of mile 2.  Even in high school as a varsity runner on the #4 cross country team in Connecticut, I hated running on grass and dirt, and my disdain for the off-road stuff has only ripened with age.  I work twice as hard to maintain my pace on soft surfaces compared to asphalt, and my quads turn to jelly on this terrain about as fast as the air leaves a punctured balloon.  I was relieved to return to the road for mile 3, but then I encountered another challenge.  My lungs were spent.  The abysmally slow 7:30 second mile I had run on the Jeep-commercial brownway terrain had taken the steam from this tank engine.  My efforts to pick up the pace in the final mile fell flat.  I haven’t trained at a pace faster than 7:40 in my training runs in the past several months and it certainly showed in this performance.  I may run the St. Patty’s Day 5K in Jacksonville on March 17 to regain my 5K mojo.  I ran a 21:53 there last year on a flat, fast, and FULLY PAVED course.  Give me asphalt or give me death! (Famous last words of a die-hard environmentalist.)

My embarrassing time of 22:47 in this race (7:20 pace) enabled me to finish 14th of 324 runners (Top 4%) and was good enough for second place in my 45-49 age group.  I am now one of the the oldest guys in my old man age group – just a tad depressing.  I look forward to my sense of renewal when I turn 50 next year and “age up” to be the “spring chicken” in the 50-54 age group.  I also understand that “50 is the new 30,” so that’s good news, too.

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Planning to refurbish your bathroom?  If you like the color purple, I’ve got just the thing for you (so much for my “manly” hopes for a nice hunk of metal or wood for my efforts in this race).

To add insult to injury, an 8-year-old girl almost beat me in this race.   When her barely 4-foot and 50-pound frame passed me, I almost accidentally stepped on her like a stray dog that sneaks up behind you.  And then I said to myself, “O.K., you’re having a bad day, but the buck stops here,” and I am loathe to admit that I struggled mightily to catch and pass pint-sized Barbie within 200 yards of the finish.  I hope this embarrassing late-race duel says more about her soon-to-be-an-olympian star power than it does about my underperformance in this race.  Her name is Reef McGee.  Easy to remember—like Spuds McKenzie—and it kind of has a superhero ring to it, don’t you think?  For the sake of my evaporating pride, I hope she is a household name on the national running scene sometime very soon.  I can remember when I was 4 feet tall and weighed 50 pounds, but the only “running” I was doing at that time of my life was inside my playpen.

I ran 144 miles in December, which was the highest monthly mileage that I have run in December in my 32-year distance running career.  I also ran 1,255 miles in 2012, which is the second highest annual mileage of my running career.   And I managed to run 101 miles in January while juggling an insane work schedule and 15+ hours of Orlando commuting each week.  And yet my lackluster performance in this race is all I have to show for these efforts?  All I can do is stop whining and get prepared for my next race – the Swamp House Half Marathon in DeBary, FL on March 3, www.swamphousehalfmarathon.com.  I will have the benefit of the ever-reliable pacing services of my son, Alek, for this race, so I’m already feeling better about my chances to excel.  My training in the past several months has been geared more for distance than speed, so we’ll see if I can get back on the right track with this one.  Stay tuned!

 

Space Coast Half Marathon: A Total Eclipse of Last Fall’s Half Marathon Performances

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The Abate family placed two runners in the top 10% of today’s race.

Our day began to the sound of a loud and rude alarm clock in the middle of the night.  The clock regrets to inform you that it’s 3:30 a.m.   It must be race day.  Time to get your game face on and proceed through your pre-race ritual of getting ready and consuming your pre-race food and beverage of choice with sufficient lead time prior to the start.  The race began at 6:15, well before sunrise, and featured gloriously crisp and cool temps in the 50s.

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The sun slowly rises on the course about 4 miles into the race.

Make no mistake:  this race is space-themed in every possible way.  The race begins with the theme from Star Wars blaring from large speakers while a Jumbotron displaying the liftoff of a space shuttle marks the official start of the race (in lieu of the traditional start “gun”) after the clichéd “3-2-1 … blastoff” command.   Volunteers and competitors decked out in space-themed attire appeared in every direction, including aliens, astronauts, and characters from Star Wars. 

The finisher medals, of course, are in the shape of a space shuttle.  They are quite heavy and artistically appealing. 

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Stiff neck guaranteed when sporting this “schwag”

The race organizers may have taken the cute space theme a bit too far this year, however, by introducing “Moon Pies” as the official “space-themed snack” of the race.  These “nutritional anti-Christ” snacks (marshmallow filling sandwiched between cookies and then blanketed in chocolate) are just about the worst thing you can put into your body, second only perhaps to the infamous “deep-fried twinkies” available at country fairs throughout this great country of ours (check out this link for a description and photo of these “widow-maker” delights:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twinkie#Deep-fried_Twinkie).  High among the inalienable rights of Americans apparently is the right to shamelessly abuse our bodies with what we affectionately call “treats.”  I’d say that these fat-and-calorie bombs are more like tricks than treats for our bodies, but that’s just my humble (and hypocritical) opinion as I regularly succumb to cravings for donuts, chocolate covered pretzels, and kettle corn, so who am I to preach?

Today was my 28th half marathon race (and it makes my legs sore just stating that statistic).  Crazier still, I have run approximately half of those 28 races within the past six years.  Perhaps I should take up a more age-appropriate hobby soon, like finding a comfortable chair.  I recently had an amusing exchange with a fellow (aging) running buddy of mine on this very topic.  It went something like this:

Running Buddy:  I’ll be honest and say that I’ve stopped running for time/speed anymore.  It seems that when I push myself, I just get hurt and then I enjoy running even less.  It sounds like a cop-out in my own ears, but with everything I’ve got going on (not unlike you), I must have an outlet, both mental and physical, and it’s running.

Me:  Unfortunately, after racing for 32 years, it’s impossible for me to be that sensible.  I’ll stop racing when I’m incapacitated or dead.

Running Buddy:  Good luck with that!

My singularly focused (and perhaps misguided) competitive determination led me to run a 1:44:05 in today’s race (7:57 pace).  I placed 172nd of 2002 finishers (Top 9%).  Today’s race was faster than my pace (7:59) for the 10-mile race I ran last month in Jacksonville and more than 3 minutes faster than both of my half marathons from last fall:

  • Jacksonville Marine Corps Half Marathon (Oct. 2011) – 1:47:31
  • Philadelphia Half Marathon (Nov. 2011) – 1:47:16

I wore a new pair of running shoes for this race, the Saucony Kinvara.  Despite Alek’s incessant lobbying to go “minimalist” with my running shoes, I have resisted that bandwagon for a long time.  I come from the “well-cushioned’ generation of distance runners and that is a hard habit to break.  But Saucony running sneakers have always held a special place in my heart, dating all the way back to my senior year cross country season in high school in which I wore Saucony racers for my career best times at the 5K (18:35) and 5 mile (30:36) distances.  Well, these new sneakers felt like they had that magic in them, too, when I ran a training run in them earlier in the week.  But I detected mild soreness in one of my toes after that training run, and that soreness was much more pronounced during and after today’s race.  I also now feel soreness in my calves and hips, which are unusual areas of post-race soreness for me.  So, I just might be too big, too old, or both for these lightweight training/racing shoes.  I may decide to wear them only for shorter training runs and races.

I ran a smart race and held relatively even splits for most of the race in the 7:48-7:55 range.  Not surprisingly, my pace slipped a bit to an average of 8:05 for the last three miles, but that’s still better than many of my finishes in half marathons.  Overall, I was pleased with my performance, especially on the endurance and mental focus side of things.  It was a good (but not great) performance.  I still need to develop my speed and build my mileage from its current level (30 miles per week) up to 40 miles per week in the coming winter months.

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Thundering toward the finish line in the last 200 yards.

Though I ran well, it was Alek who put on a clinic on how to train and race properly today.  Mind you, this kid has no natural speed.  I can still beat him in a 100-yard dash and most of the girls on his cross country team beat him rather easily in the 400 meter dash.  And this grim reality is precisely why it is so impressive to see what Alek has achieved as a distance runner.  By-the-book dedication and self-discipline in his training (70 miles per week for several weeks this fall) have yielded some remarkable results in his distance running career, including his recent 5K personal best of 17:34 at the state regional cross country meet in Tallahassee earlier this month, but today’s race is surely the crown jewel.  Two years ago at this race, in one of the previous standout performances in his competitive running career, Alek placed 24th overall and 3rd place in his 19 & under age group in a time of 1:26:38.  Today, he eclipsed that impressive mark and ran a mind-boggling 1:21:31 (6:14 pace), good enough for 9th place overall of 2,002 finishers and 1st  place in the 19 & under age group.   Alek is actively considering competing in cross country at the intercollegiate level.  The distance for men’s college cross country is 8K (rather than 5K in high school), so his best days are surely yet to come. 

 

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Alek grinding it out at Mile 8

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Alek on the award platform with internationally acclaimed distance running legend, Bart Yasso, and some tag-a-longs posing as astronauts.

Alek and I both owe a debt of gratitude to Nigara for another remarkable effort in supporting two runners in the same race over considerable distance in a short period of time.  She has virtually mastered the art of being in two places at once and always serves our race-related demands with a smile.  Nigara is training harder than ever in her own distance running efforts and will likely be running her third 5K race next month in St. Augustine, so stay tuned.