Saturday’s Races

Park2Park Half Marathon

Don’t ask me how I did it.  I’m still trying to figure out the answers myself.

Yesterday morning started off cool, and with only partly cloudy skies.  Perfect conditions for running.  I decided to include the Park2Park Half Marathon as part of my training for Chicago.  My previous PR was a respectable 1:39:14.  Based on the good time I had at the Riverbank Run in May, I figured I could run a 1:35:00 half marathon.  I figured that would make for a good goal, given the number of miles I’ve been running in training over the past couple months.  That plan for Saturday’s run went out the window pretty fast.

I started near the front of the race right from the line, mixed among actual collegiate cross country runners, and used the first half mile to warm my legs up.  But everyone around me was moving too slow, so I went ahead, and well, found myself isolated pretty quickly.  Apparently when you run fast, there are not so many runners to keep you company on the road.  It gets lonely.  I took the first mile out in 6:20.

I quickly got used to running alone, just like all my training runs.  I passed and/or got passed by a grand total of only 3 people the entire rest of the race.  I kept my pace steady, and somewhere along mile 5 or so, Matt Smith was on the side of the road cheering and said “you’re in the top 10”, which I know he wasn’t actually counting, but I started to think about it, and, well, given the number of people who I saw take off up the road ahead of me from the start, it didn’t sound ludicrous.  I had to definitely be in the top 20, probably top 15, even.

If the mile markers on the road were accurate (which they very well may not have been), I ran the sixth mile in 6:03.  6:03!  I have never in my life run a mile under 6 minutes, and there I was, out on the road trying to reel in one guy ahead of me, being wary of the dark, dark clouds suddenly coming into view off the lake, and running faster than I ever have, ever.

I’M FLOATING! Also, OMINOUS CLOUDS.

As the course took us out to the state park, my new goal was to run fast enough to finish before the rain started falling.  I stayed light, told my feet to keep kissing the ground, and just cruised.  I was pushing myself, but was still comfortable, as comfortable as running 6:25 min/miles can be, at least.  I passed one more guy after mile 10, and just before mile 12, got passed by the 1st place woman.  Who, apparently is a runner at Western University.  I picked up my pace to try and hang with her for a few minutes, before giving in to the lactic acid and letting her open up a gap on me.

I heard thunder as I rounded the last corner, and finished feeling strong, if in a lot of pain, and then I crossed the line in 1:23:51!  Seriously!  15 minutes faster than my PR.  10 minutes faster than what I was guessing I would run.  13th place overall.  An actual placing out of a huge field!  (Somehow 4th place in my age group)  The storm rolled in right after I finished, and the race directors “black flagged” the race, effectively cancelling the rest of the race.  There were only 15 official finishers before everything was torn down.  It pays to be fast, apparently. I never thought I could run this fast, though.  I am on cloud 8-3/4.  If the seeding for corrals at the Chicago Marathon hadn’t closed awhile ago, I would’ve been in the A corral.  Like, the one right behind all the elite runners.  The one full of people who run fast enough to qualify for Boston – which seems suddenly possible.  Certainly not this year, because I haven’t done quite that level of training, but why not next year?

Kisscross Highland Park

Jack Kunnen Photography: Highland Park &emdash; IMG_5890
But of course, even with a race in the morning, I felt the need to also race in the afternoon.  This time on a bike.  I don’t have as many words to say about the cross race at Highland Park in Grand Rapids, just that the course was mostly grass, not very technical, and meant for the power guys.  That’s usually good news for me, because I struggle with technical courses, but my legs were tired, so I just had to hang on and do my best.  And take multiple beer hand ups.  And have fun bunny hopping a barrier.  And hurting my legs in as many ways as I could think of in one day.  And just having fun riding my bike again.  I finished 14th, getting out-sprinted at the line once again, pretty much right in the middle of the field.  But it didn’t matter, because there were microbrews to recover with afterward.  And my legs were so gloriously tired at the end of the day.  God I love bikes.

Hello, Fall

can we get real for a moment
So the summer heat has finally given permission for fall weather to arrive, and I’m maybe a little less enthusiastic than normal.  I’m eager to wear sweaters and flannel and hats and drink darker beers and fall asleep with an extra blanket on top of me, but there’s one thing I would really prefer to do without.  I’ve always had relatively cold hands/feet, chalk it up to a combination of a low resting heart rate (under 50bpm these days), lower than average blood pressure, and just not a lot of fat to insulate things, and it’s not a surprise that I have to opt for gloves and wool socks before most.  But last winter it was worse, and I wasn’t sure why, but I slowly figured out, that well, yeah, Raynaud’s syndrome is my new reality thanks to all the long term damage that chemo did last year.  I went for a run today, and I lost feeling in my fingertips halfway through.  It was 55 degrees out (not really all that cold), and I was wearing gloves too!  And really, the only cure is, “bundle up”.  My fingers and hands will be turning white a lot this winter, methinks.

Exactly a year ago, I was completing a half Ironman with very little training.  Tomorrow is the one year anniversary of the last chemo I treatment I had.  Wow.

It’s been an entire year, and I still don’t really know how to process it.  I know one thing though – the fatigue that comes from a half Ironman, or multiple marathons with no training, will never match the fatigue from chemo.  There’s something about lying in bed, feeling like all of your limbs are made of concrete wrapped in lead with the gravity of Jupiter, physically unable to sit up to turn off the alarm clock in the morning that makes running a couple extra miles after a long day at work pretty easy.  Even with numb fingers.  There’s fatigue, and then there’s fatigue.

And so, these days, all of my focus is on running the Chicago Marathon in 3 weeks, and how I’m actually more confident that I’ll be in good shape for it as the days go by.  I keep going for runs and bike rides and my legs just never get tired.  It’s magical.

Lots of Miles

watch the corners
At some point on the Sprint Ride yesterday morning, I ticked off the 3000th mile on my bike for the year.  In January, it was my goal to ride 3000 miles by the end of 2012, and I’ve reached that point 3 months early.  I’m a little proud of riding so much, but also a little apprehensive, because, like, that’s all I do with my free time, and it can get lonely.  I feel stronger than I ever have on my bike, and it’s nice to look back and see how much I’ve improved over the year, but when you think about it, cycling really is a weird sport to dedicate so much time to.  After a long day of work, or a long week of setbacks outside of work, I get on my bike and try to escape.  I try to suffer.  I try to cause my legs pain.

I finished reading The Secret Race this week, and in it, Tyler Hamilton mentions how when he was first discovering his love for cycling, the main draw was its escapism.  He was had a coach tell him to “stay within himself” during a race, and Tyler’s only reaction was to think how backwards that advice was.  Wasn’t the whole point to push all of your boundaries and lose yourself in the effort?

I suppose the escapism offered by cycling isn’t all that different from burying your nose in a book, or a good movie, or playing the guitar, but there’s generally a lot less suffering involved with those activities.  At least 3 days a week, I roll up to a nondescript, empty parking lot on my bike with a dozen or so mostly middle-aged men, and we try to rip each others’ legs off.  Some days I’m the one sprinting ahead of the pack for a sign on the side of the road, and other days (more often the case), I’m shelled out the back and burying myself to catch back onto the group.  And so we do this for 30 or 40 miles, all with the same goal in mind – to feel the breeze blow by our ears at 30mph, to feel the lactic acid build up in our legs sprinting up a climb, to maybe try to set a new record on an arbitrary Strava segment, to come home and climb off my bike and have to sit still for 15 minutes before I can summon the energy to take off my sweaty kit and clean up.

The Chicago Marathon is 3 weeks away, and I woke up before dawn this morning to run 20 miles.  My legs always have some soreness in them from all the miles I’ve been tallying up lately, and I was filled with doubts that I would actually get through my run this morning.  I was tired, my hands were freezing even with my gloves on, and it was just me and the quiet, quiet Sunday morning.  A funny thing happens after about 50 minutes of running though – my legs loosen up, feel light as air, and go on autopilot – running becomes almost effortless.  You probably don’t believe me, but between minutes 50 and 120, I can float.  My feet kiss the ground and pain turns to numbness, and my brain forgets my legs are even down there, doing their thing stride after stride.  Invariably, some hitch brings me back to reality, but this time, I caught a second wind of sorts after breaking through the paper thin pain barrier that had risen, and I finished not really all that tired.

I don’t recommend this to anyone really, because I know it’s not an entirely sane way to spend a Sunday morning, but for me, for right now, it works.  I was talking to a coworker who grew up in a small town in Indiana and used to be a really good cross country runner in high school.  In explaining how he go to be so good, he matter of factly said, “Well, there was nothing else to do growing up in that town, so I just ran all the time.”  I can never listen to music while I run, because I think, like Tyler, the goal isn’t to distract yourself from running, it’s to focus so deeply on the state of pain and the art of the act that you escape from reality.  Sure, I think through other things while running – work, future life plans, the lyrics to the catchy song stuck in my head, whether girl X or Y likes me, what’s for dinner – but those minutes when all I can see is a few yards of pavement ahead of me and my mind goes completely empty as I float along, that’s divine.

And so I’m not even that sore or exhausted.  I wish I was so pooped that I could collapse in my bed and get a long, full, decent night of sleep for once, but it feels like I could’ve done even more today.  My toes are tapping and I’m antsy for more.

Kisscross Cannonsburg Race Report

Cross season has finally started, with the first race in the area at Cannonsburg Ski Area last Friday night.  I’d ridden my cross bike all of a couple hundred yards since April, so needless to say, there was a little rust to shake off.  I got there early, watched the “C” race while drinking a beer and trying to not to freeze in the cold rain that suddenly started falling from the sky.  But it turned out to be the perfect temperature once I actually started racing and got warmed up.  Also, maybe beer isn’t the best pre-race drink.

Jack Kunnen Photography: Cannonsburg Night &emdash; IMG_5163

The course that was drawn up had quite a variety of terrain, from going straight up the ski hill, then straight down the ski hill, to off camber sandy turns, to a few barriers on the back half of the course that was PITCH BLACK by the end of the race because there were no lights over there, to even a stream crossing with 4 foot high banks on each side that got progressively muddier and muddier:

Jack Kunnen Photography: Cannonsburg Night &emdash; IMG_5327

But overall I don’t think it was too technical, which is good, because I’m much better on the pure power sections of courses.  The first lap was crowded as everyone tried to get to the stream crossing first to avoid being held up, but I was squarely in the back third of the pack anyway, because I can’t sprint off the line.  Also, on the fastest part of the lap near the finish line, the guy in front of me hit a bump and lost control of his bike and bit it HARD.  I narrowly maneuvered around him as he was still sliding/tumbling to a stop, and I think he was banged up pretty badly.  He certainly didn’t get back on his bike and finish the race.  After the first lap, the pack spread out and I never really had to fight for a line, but it did take me half the race to actually figure out the cleanest lines.

Jack Kunnen Photography: Cannonsburg Night &emdash; IMG_5275

Over the rest of the race, I continually passed more and more people as they all got tired and my endurance only made me stronger.  I was having a blast, even if my hands and arms were ready to quit trying to hang onto the handlebars over all the rough bumps.  I took a beer hand up on the last lap, and also somehow cut my hand at some point, leading to a bloody knuckle.  I finished somewhere in the middle of the pack, with muddy and sandy legs, and a huge smile on my face.

Jack Kunnen Photography: Cannonsburg Night &emdash; IMG_5300

Running in circles

scenic world

There was a man with a leaf blower at the state park this morning trying to clear the sidewalk that leads to the pier of sand.  The sidewalk that cuts over the beach and is surrounded by sand.  The sidewalk that ALWAYS has sand blowing over it because well, it’s the beach.  And it was indeed windy this morning.  I’m guessing by the time he got to one end of the sidewalk, the other end was already dusted with sand again.  Oh Sisyphus…

I was supposed to be riding my bike 120 miles over actual hills in Ohio this morning, but the race got cancelled because of all the thunderstorms in the forecast brought on by the remnants of Hurricane Isaac, and my weekend opened way way up.  So instead, I woke up early this morning and went for a long run.  From my house to the pier at the state park and back – 18 miles.  My legs were still sore from being up and about all day yesterday, and it took me 50 minutes to warm up and feel comfortable.  And then I just floated for the next hour.  I had the highest of runner’s highs.

And later, because I didn’t eat enough, I suffered and had to shuffle the last several miles home.  But I’m still learning, every day.  It was the longest run I’ve ever done that wasn’t a race, and because I’m actually pretending to follow a training plan this year, I’m feeling stronger every week.  I am so so confident that the Chicago Marathon this year is going to go off well for me.  The only weird thing is that I’m trying to focus on marathoning and cyclocross at the same time.  One requires long, slow endurance, the other requires sprints and short, max efforts.  The first cross race of the season is on Friday night at Cannonsburg, and luckily those don’t get cancelled because of rain.  Muddy terrain is the goal.

There’s been an algae bloom for the past 3 weeks in Lake Mac.  You won’t believe me, but when the water is still, like it was this morning, and has been for most of my runs past the Heinz plant in the evenings, it is glowing green.  Not quite neon, not quite Simpsons-style radioactive, but green like the Chicago River when they dye it on St. Patrick’s Day.  But completely natural.  Well, if you count massive fertilizer runoff from the watershed feeding algae that consumes all the oxygen in the water as natural.

I finally got around to reading On The Road for the first time.  I’m upset that no one ever made me read it earlier.  I dog-eared a dozen pages of Kerouac’s stream of consciousness excellence.  I felt less alone reading his stories.  I also felt like maybe I need to go out and see more of this country, without any plans of what to really do along the way.