Monday, January 11, 2016

Average Pace: My Two Year Running Journey (Part 2)

I feel great as I reach the last aid station! I am turning off US-70, and am on my way to the finish line. I have not seen another runner for some time. I am on pace to break my goal. I'm going to finish under-two hours.
     For Christmas, Hilary gave me the most thoughtful, affirming gift: a moleskin running log. I write affirming, because running is a time intensive exercise/hobby. It takes me away from my small family for hours each week, so this gift means that Hilary (in addition to dragging herself and kids to races to cheer for Daddy) believes that running helps me. This small notebook also helps me track my times through digital and analog recordings. 
     And I had made difficult goals for 2015. In addition to continuing with the West Texas Running Club, I wanted to run the half. If I continue the extended metaphor from the first post, the half-marathon became my white whale. I obsessed over conquering the 13.1 miles. I had two ambitious goals with the half-marathon. One, I would run three half-marathons, and two, I would run one under two hours. Two hours, in my mind, made a good, achievable goal for someone like me.
     But first, I needed to find three half-marathon. The first I found in a magazine. While reading Runner's World, I came across a regional half-marathon in Hobbs, New Mexico. Hobbs is within driving distance, so I signed up for the April 18th race. I planned the second one to be in San Antonio, the Carrabas Half. The third was easy: Buffalo Wallow, a WTRC race toted as one of the most challenging in Texas.
    So, I started training for the first race. Unlike the previous year, I renewed my membership with WTRC, and raced with them from the beginning with January's Loop the Lake. Unlike my initial races, which were the shorter distance for the club's monthly races, I decided that most of my races for 2015 would be in the longer distanced races. (WTRC offers thirteen races every year. Most of them provide a two mile race, in addition to longer races.) I still weighed in the 170's, but I was faster and more consistent in my pace. My finishing time for the race was 45:51, averaging 9:10 a mile. True, this placed me outside of age division awards, but this is great for me! If I pushed myself down to 9:05 per mile, I could possibly run a half under two hours. Additionally, there was a stark difference in my appearance from my first race nearly a year ago. I was still overweight, but I was getting faster. I had lost weight, and it showed in my face and legs. With Loop the Lake, I began my training for the New Mexico-Texas Challenge. I found a website that offers manageable training
Prairie Dog Town, February 2014
Loop the Lake, January 2015
programs. Because I failed fantastically on my first half, I chose a novice schedule that had me running four times a week. It also allowed some leeway if I needed to switch days around, which came in handy. March had Hilary and I travelling to East Texas twice. My long runs took a hit, but I was able to squeeze in 12 miles the Sunday before the race. I felt confident and a little snuffly.
     The snuffles quickly turned to a full blown head cold, but I went ahead with my plan. I had paid registration fees: I'm not going to stand by. So on April 18th, Hilary and I loaded the kids up in the car, and drove down to Hobbs. A few hours before the race, I ate a breakfast burrito and drank some orange juice to wash down some medicine. I stretched, and pumped myself for the race. When it began, I started fast; this is a bad habit I have. I always get caught up in the chute's excitement. While I usually recover and settle down, something was different today.
     I finished in 2:25:35. I wrote in my runner's log:
I'm devastated & humiliated. I started strong, but I couldn't keep it up mentally. I also had a head cold, so that could explain some of my sluggishness. I must do better! I have a goal, I'll meet it.
Looking back, I should not have run that day. Hilary likes to point out that most people would not run a half-marathon, let alone try to run one with a head cold. But I think there's a kernel of truth to my first observation. By the sixth mile, as I neared the Lea County Correctional Facility, I gave up. I started walk-jogging. As I started training for the second half-marathon, I would need to be stronger, both mentally and physically.
The last mile and a tenth winds through residential and beside a golf course. It looks decidedly different in the morning light. I was feeling strong, and then it happened. A young man from the military school passed me. I hadn't heard him behind me. I tried to pick up the pace, but the teen had the better stride. Let him pass, I thought. I'm still making great time.
    I had two more important lessons from this first half. One, I ran a few days after the half. The head cold had passed, and I found myself itching to go out for a run. This is a marked improvement from my previous experience. I had built a strong foundation as I trained. I was better prepared, and had a much quicker recovery. Two, I would not be able to register for the Carrabas Half. San Antonio was too far away, the race would be too hot, and I needed to find a cheap race. Some research led me to a race in Roswell, New Mexico. The running club would be hosting the 31st annual Turtle Marathon, Half, and 5K on Labor Day weekend. And the race hit all the right marks. Roswell is close, and had a state park where we could camp. The race would begin at 5:30 AM, so it wouldn't be too hot. And it was cheap. So, without consulting with my wife, I signed up for a race, and began training.
     Labor Day weekend, I felt strong. I had the whole summer to run. I was down to 160 with my weight, and with every pound I dropped, I became faster, more consistent. I had curated a running mix that would begin with Ahab's last oath. I continued racing with the running club, and met with a few members in Roswell. We ate Italian, and they laughed at this young family who were camping out the night before a race. We had set up camp at Bottomless Lake State Park. Lucy wouldn't fall asleep, and Hilary was kind enough to watch her that night. I slept beside Charlie, occasionally waking to a star-filled night. Race day, Hilary dropped me off, I cut it close with pick-up. I was able to drink a little water before the race began.
     The race was an out-and-back that spent the majority of time on US-70. To be honest, I nearly cried when I heard Frank Muller say, "I turn my body from the sun..." True, I was running toward the sun, but it would be another hour before it crested. Starting at mile three, the highway began a slight elevation change that became a more pronounced hill as I approached the turn around. My quads felt the burn from this hill, but I had a realization. The majority of the race towards the finish would be downhill. I could open up my stride, and ride the hill down. Consequently, I had a negative split for this race.
     After I watched the military school teen pass me, I focused on time. Talib Kweli's "Get By" was playing as I reached the finish line. The race officials ripped the bottom tab off my bib, and I stopped my watch. 1:58:55

Hilary captured my face as I recognized what I had accomplished. I had broken two hours. Those are looks of joy. Jubilant! Hilary says I was radiant that day, as I celebrated with Charlie, Lucy, and she. Truthfully, I was swimming in that runner's high I hear so much about.
     The rest of the year improved on that time. At Buffalo Wallow, I opted not to wear a watch, although I found myself asking people the time. Marketed as one of the most challenging half-marathons in Texas, Buffalo Wallow has a killer hill that runners face twice. It's right after the dam that regulates Buffalo Springs Lake. Even with walking that hill the second time, I finished the race in 1:56:31, establishing a new personal record. I established new PR's in the two mile (15:06), 5K (24:24), five mile (42:21), and 10K (51:21) as well. As part of the Runner's World Run Streak, I ran at least a mile every day from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day. Cumulatively, I registered 95 miles.
Buffalo Wallow, November 2015
On my best days, I weigh in at 159 comfortably, although I am currently heavier. I have come to accept that holiday season means more meat and sweets, and that I will have the spring to work down to a better weight. If I use 159 as my lowest weight, I have lost 19 percent of my body weight in two years. For 2016, I am only running one half, the Buffalo Wallow, and will focus on getting faster. I have a goal for the 5K in particular, but I will leave that for another day. I also want to log at least 1,000 miles between running, walking, cycling, hiking, etc. I want to be more active, and invite others to join me.
     I want to close this post with perhaps my favorite running quote. It comes from Mary Austin's "The Walking Woman." As the unnamed woman works frantically with an future lover to save a flock of sheep, she relates to the narrator, "Until that time I had not known how strong I was nor how good it is to run when running is worth while." When I started running, I did not feel great, but I felt something that kept me going. I identified that as pride. Maybe it is pride, but running is worth while to me. It is good to feel strong, and I ashamedly say that I am more confident now because of that decision two years ago.