Or what I learned from a year in rehab…Short version:
First road race after a year on the DL and the comeback trail. 1:27:32, 23/1358 OA, 1 AG.Long version
(best consumed at bedtime after a heavy meal):
At last year’s edition of the Grand Rapids half-marathon, I capped off a great year of running with a big masters PR
. I was psyched and looking forward to an even better year in 2009. But within just a few weeks, things started going wrong. My left Achilles, which had been tender right after the race, flared up more as I blithely continued to train hard. Instead of calling it a season right there, I thought I’d squeeze in “just one more race”, an inconsequential Thanksgiving-day Turkey Trot. Dumb, dumb. After that one I was limping painfully and knew I was in for a long time off.
But it took even longer than I expected. I couldn’t run at all again until March. When I was finally pain-free, I made the further mistake of thinking I could now run as much as I wanted. By June I had re-aggravated the same injury and was back on the DL. Gloom and despair. Finally I called up my massage therapist and asked, “When the pros you work with get injured, who do they go see?” He referred me to a PT who listened to my story, shook his head, and said, “You’re trying to come back way too fast. Here dummy, do this.” And he handed me a run-walk program that looked like something you would give to an overweight chain-smoker. “If Olympians can come back this slowly, so can YOU.” The first workout consisted of running for 30 seconds and walking four and a half minutes, for half an hour. Then resting the next day. It took more than a month to build from there to a full 30-minute continuous run. Then the runs could not increase by more than 5 minutes per session. Speedwork was banned until the AT was completely pain-free. By the end of August, I was finally able to run about 30 miles per week, nothing faster than GA pace.
Of course during all this time I was cross-training vigorously to maintain fitness. Over 100 miles of swimming for the year, plus a lot of biking in July and August. I was in good enough shape to pull off a couple of successful late-summer Olympic-distance triathlons. But I still didn’t have the training or confidence to attempt a road race.
In September I started adding a weekend long run longer than 10 miles. To my surprise, the pace wasn’t far off where it had been last year. By late last month, I felt it was safe to incorporate a weekly tempo run. They too were faster and better than expected. My weekly mileage remained around 30, with a high of 38. I was continuing to swim and bike. How would this translate into a half-marathon? Only one way to find out.
So MarkGuy and I drove over to Grand Rapids on Saturday afternoon. Brief moment of concern when we saw a license plate that read “BLINGER”. Was Byll lost on his way to Columbus? Phew, false alarm. Went to the expo, got our stuff, had dinner at the same Italian place where we’d met rosie and the Rocket Scientist last year. Ate our pizza through a veil of tears at their absence. Drove to MarkBro’s place and retired early.
The morning broke clear, crisp (29F), and still – perfect conditions for a long race. Lacking any race results to help predict my pace, I’d estimated from the tempo runs that 6:40 pace would be reasonable, though I secretly hoped to do a little better. I jogged two easy miles through dark side streets, then made my way to the start. No aggressive, lightweight racing flats like last year, just brick-house trainers and orthotics to keep the AT safe. Shortly after sunrise, the horn sounded and we were off!
It’s very easy to run the first mile too fast, so to keep myself honest I tuck in behind the 2:59:36 marathon pace group, “The sub-3:00 Lancers”. (Pace groups at Grand Rapids don’t come in the usual boring increments but instead are named after times of celebrity marathoners, e.g. “Al Gore’s Inconvenient Pace Team” (4:59:25), named after the inventor of pace teams.)
Mile Split Cum AHR
1 6:45 6:45 162 Perfect! Thanks Lancers, see ya!
The middle part of a half-marathon is all about settling in and finding your groove. We crossed the river and looped through Grand Rapids, past the signature Amway Grand Hotel and the Gerald Ford museum. Then we headed out of town. The miles seemed to click by and I was happy with the pacing:
2 6:38 13:23 165
3 6:39 20:03 164
4 6:38 26:41 165
5 6:39 33:20 165
6 6:40 40:00 164 Best guess first half: 43:40
7 6:34 46:34 166
8 6:41 53:15 165
Shortly after the 8-mile mark, the full marathoners continued on, while the wuss half-marathoners made the turn for home, following a bike path through the woods. Unfortunately, nearly everyone around me turned out to be running the full. The only half-marathoner in sight was maybe 50m ahead. I reeled him in over the next mile and listened to his loud slap-slap footfalls fade behind me. Now I had the wonderful feeling of running alone through the fall colors, like on my river paths back home. These two miles were my favorite of the course.
9 6:37 59:52 164
10 6:37 1:06:29 167
I try to treat the last 5k of a half-marathon like its own separate race, and reach down for whatever’s left. So I reached down and found… er, not much. Here’s where my poor distance base and lack of speedwork made itself apparent:
11 6:52 1:13:21 166
UGH… slight uphill; rejoining the main course and encountering a hoard of outbound runners coming at me.
12 6:44 1:20:05 167
My legs can’t seem to get moving, but I give it what I can.
13 6:42 1:26:49 169
13.1 0:41 1:27:30 170 Best guess second half: 43:52Official results:
1:27:32, 23/1358 overall, 19/550 men, 2/64 AG (but the top finisher took first overall master, so I got the 1 AG medal)
I know of no race that takes better care of the runners from beginning to end than Grand Rapids. The race director personally greets every runner as they cross the finish line. The post-race spread includes hot chili and FREE BEER. I stopped in the med tent to get some (purely precautionary) ice for my AT, and was treated with great kindness and concern. After MarkGuy finished his PR
performance, we made our way to the brand-new, 5-star YMCA for hot showers and a soak in the hot tub. Fantastic! But the day got even better when word started coming in about the day’s other races, especially Bylghl’s thrilling Byll-Q.
If you’d told me back in July, after that first run-walk session, that I’d win my age group at Grand Rapids, I would have laughed. Careful rehab really does pay off. And the cross-training! I’ve run 1000 fewer miles this year than last, but was only about two minutes slower. It makes me rethink the value of many of the miles we run, relative to the wear and tear we endure.
I’m deeply grateful for all the friendship, support, and silliness on this board. It’s great when things are going well, but even more essential when they’re not. Thanks everyone. This time around, I will recover sensibly, stick with the cross-training, and try not to repeat last year’s mistakes in 2010.