Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Payton Jordan Invite

Stanford University,  The Ivy of the West.  I've always loved coming to this sprawling land grant campus with its palm trees, spanish colonial architecture, open spaces, and proximity to some of the coolest tech companies in the world (Google, Facebook, Lockheed Martin). This weekend, runners from all over the country and world are descending on the Angel Cobb track stadium for the dependably consistent weather and great fields at the Payton Jordan Invitational.

The 5000 is Sunday night at dusk.  I land at San Francisco International Airport around noon on Friday, giving myself plenty of time to relax and adjust before the race.  The BART train takes me to Millbrae for a transfer onto Caltrain, which takes me on nice ride down to Palo Alto.  Californians love to talk about their mundane travel arrangements so I thought I'd throw that in there.

I'm staying with a buddy on campus, which turns out to be an enormous asset.  I can jog to the track in about five minutes, eat at the dining hall, and pretend to be a Stanford student for the weekend.  I even have a bike to ride.  On Friday night my friend and I went with some of his buddies to see Michael Bay's new flick Pain and Gain with Mark Wahlberg and the Rock.  What a ridiculous movie.  It provided some inspiration for my race though -  Marky Mark has some good lines.  "My name is Daniel Lugo, and I believe in fitness." "be a doer, not a don't er."  It was a hilarious movie that you should see if you don't mind losing a few IQ points.

All this was a nice break from the typical experience I'm used to at meets.  Hotels make me mildly anxious because I can't help but associate them with races.  Being on a campus around libraries and sunbathing chicks makes me feel at home and coming into Sunday I'm feeling pretty good.

Race Day

Usually when I wake up on race day, the coming experience flashes though my thoughts, followed by an acute surge of nervousness and excitement.  I lay there on the air mattress on the floor of my friend's apartment, feeling the adrenaline course through my veins until it ebbs away.  There's no falling back asleep after that.  Now the body knows something big's about to hit it.  It's part of my preparation.

The 5000 entries for tonight are so deep that my 13:38 seed did not make the fast heat.  The Schumacher clan, Oregon Track club crew, World Cross Country sixth place finisher Ben True, and collegians Diego Estrada, Eric Jenkins and Maverick Darling headline a 5000 field that surely every American distance running fan is drooling over thanks to Flotrack's coverage.  Hanging around on the grass before my warm up I'm surrounded by the who's who of American distance running. (Derek Rubis, if you're reading this, I know you'd love being there)

I'm confident going into this race.  Workouts have been going very well, I've been healthy for a long time, and eight days ago I soloed a 3:44.1 1500 back in Austin.  I haven't raced much lately, especially over longer distances and I'm wondering what going past 3k will feel like.  But I push any questions I have out of my mind and get to the line focused.

Two laps in the pace has settled at 65 seconds per lap, right at 13:32 rhythm.  There's a rabbit leading Nouredine Smail of France and Mitch Goose of Iona.  I'm sitting third.  At the beginning of a 5k, tiny changes in pace are very obvious when the body is still fresh and perceptive.  Even a one second per lap change feels like a lot.  Over the third and fourth laps I feel the tempo slack ever so slightly, prompting Smail  to drop a 63 after we pass one mile in 4:21 and the rabbit steps off.  Goose lets a gap form and I quickly go around and get in Smail's wake as we pull away from the rest of the field.  Going with him is a gamble, but it's the only way of giving myself a chance to run fast.  On the homestretch Smail gestures for me to go around him and lead.  I decide to do so, partially since it's polite, and partially because I might be putting money in the bank for later when I'll need him.

I lead for about 800 and with a look over my shoulder, Smail re-passes me.  This time I won't be starting another round of lead exchanges because as we approach the 3k, I'm starting to feel the hurt. I come though in 8:07 and pass two miles in 8:40 (technically a 3200 PR) slightly off of Smail, and from there I begin to slowly fade.  I'm quickly in no man's land (Luckily it's no man's land in front of the race and not behind it) and all I can think about is finishing.  In situations like this, runners either grind it out or they die really hard.  I say to myself, "you didn't come here for the first two miles, you came here for the last one."  I'm running 67 second laps, not on pace but not terrible.  You think about the weirdest things in that situation.  Whole wheat pancakes, volleyball nets, spanish class in 6th grade.  You don't hear anything.  The pain tries to suck your thoughts towards it like a tractor beam.  You go through pulses of focus and loss of focus.  I think about my form as it erodes, trying to switch backup systems on, finding anything I can in my legs and body.

Finally the bell is ringing and it's supper time.  I gather myself, consciously relaxing my face and hands, and take a few quick steps as I head into the final 400.  People told me I 'closed hard' after the race, but any kind of kick must have looked fast compared to my strugglefest coming into the bell.  The final 100 I'm hoping to God the rest of the field that I haven't seen for 2 miles isn't running me down as my elbows are flying everywhere, knees are knocking, and face is grimacing.  I cross the line in 13:40.04, the second fastest 5k time of my life, having run a 61 second final lap.

Back on Earth as I cool down, I sort out how I feel about the race and decide I'm pretty happy.  1. I'm very close to my PR 2. I'm proud of how hard I fought 3. It feels SO good to race again.  I realize that I absolutely want to race the five again this season.  The original plan was to switch focus to the 1500 if this race didn't produce 13:30, but I know that next time that last 2k will get done the way it needs to be done.  A hard race effort like this works wonders mentally and physically for the next go.  There's a rule I think every runner should follow: if you absolutely have a desire to race, race.  You never know when the next time you'll be able to comes around.  So next up it's the 5k at Oxy High Performance in L.A. in 17 days.

After the meet John Simons, an old high school rival who now runs for Minnesota and I hit up Pizza My Heart in downtown Palo Alto.  We had the right idea because as we sat eating some nice greasy pizza, what seemed like the whole meet patronized the place. (again Rubis, you would have loved it)  People asking each other how their races went, coaches bullshitting with each other, and the kids working the Sunday night late shift wondering why their place was suddenly so full - it just makes me love the running community.  It also remands me that I probably take the whole thing too seriously.  Nah.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Training Partners

Tuesday mornings begin early in our house.  Around six I groggily turn off my watch alarm as the traditional grind of the blender  comes from the kitchen.  'well, if you wasn't up yet, you is now' I mutter to myself.  Most of us like to get a morsel in our bellies before the workout.  The ignitor on the stove clicks, the microwave door opens and closes, and dishes collide on the drying rack.  We've got it down to a science: getting those last precious minutes of snooze time, eating, and driving to the track to warm up.  Hardly any words are spoken in our bleary eyed, grumpy state.  It's a familiar dance we perform every workout morning.  I usually try to nap in backseat of the car.

This particular Tuesday we are on the track, starting the first rep at 7:15.  There are several different workouts going on simultaneously.  The guys traveling to Mt. Sac are doing an easier tune up workout - some threshold cruise miles and 400s around 1500 rhythm.  There's a 5k type workout going on too: some 600s at 5k pace with just 200 'float' in between - a real grinder since the float is supposed to be at a decent pace.  There's also some 1500 guys doing 400s at pace.  I am alone for my workout: a threshold mile followed by a mile and 4 x 800 at 5k pace, and 4 x 200 at 1500 rhythm.

Just before everyone starts I look around and think, 'this is ironic.'  I'm about to bust my ass during a hard solo workout on the same track, at the same time, as two All Americans, the American collegiate record holder in the 1500, another 3:39 guy, and a 4:00 mile guy workout separately from me.  They all have to race in four days while I can afford a harder workout, but the separation has been a theme of late.  An unlucky combination of health issues and disparate race schedules has kept our dream team training group from fully collaborating for a workout this spring.  I don't help the cause, being somewhat of a nomadic wanderer; bouncing amongst workout genres in my pursuit of 1500 and 5000 Nirvana like a crazed jackrabbit.  But I've been hankering to take advantage of the talent we've assembled in Austin this year.

I clock my first mile at 4:52.  Generally I begin track workouts with a threshold mile or two.  It's a good way to ensure the quality of the warm up is high without taking away from the main workout too much.  As I taxi around into lane one, ready to take off for the interval mile, I gather myself, wishing I had someone to share the workout load with this morning.

The psychological benefit of running behind or next to someone is incredibly powerful.  It's the force that draws us to meets with high caliber fields.  It encourages us to coalesce into training groups.  It's why meet directors spend money on rabbits on the track and pacers in road races.  There's no questioning it - the perceived difficulty of distance running at a given intensity lessens slightly when someone is in your proximity.  The effect is a combination of instinctual, competitive, and emotional factors.  It's a consequence of human synergy released during collaboration and competition. In a workout, well matched training partners compete, though in moderation and never to their mutual detriment.

Everyone exists differently in the self imposed, cocoon like comfort zone that is a pack or pair of runners.  There are half steppers, hanger-oners, shoulder mongers, heel clippers, sitters, yo-yoers, abreasters, pace pushers, you-name-it-someone does it-ers.  (The worst are two-steppers)  Some prefer to feel the competitive advantage of being ahead - leading workouts and races.  Their patient foils enjoy leaving the mental work to others as they turn their brains off and follow.  When you take away the team aspect, the act of running itself is an individual sport, but even that definition blurs when you talk about using - or being used by - other runners.

As the workout progresses things are going well in the other groups.  The 5th year transfers are healthy and rounding into shape after a shaky indoor season.  The younger guys are working hard and getting stronger.  People seem relaxed running fast.  It's good to see everyone on the track instead of in the training room, even if our schedules don't match up perfectly right now workout wise.  I finish my last 800 of the morning and head in.  Soon, if everyone stays healthy, we will collaborate on a Tuesday morning.  After all, the best training partners I can ask for are right there in my kitchen, making oatmeal in the morning.

.    .    .    .    .    .    .    .

fast forward.  Post Mt. Sac 1500 in which Merber, Van Ackeran, McGregor run 3:41, 3:42, 3:44

text from me to Kyle Merber: 

Nice runnin tonight Kyle.  You're back!

Kyle: Lets workout together!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Fly me to the (California) Moon

Frank Sinatra mixes with the patter of rain pouring steadily on the back patio.  Merber's making his famous turkey burgers and the scent of cooking meat and blue cheese wafts into my room.  It's been smelling like this for what seems like hours, and I'm getting hungry.  Outside, thunder ambles across the sky, the first thunderstorm of the year rolling slowly over Austin.  Our house is an island, safe and cozy, the storm providing an excuse to just stay put.

A long day of work, alternating between using my legs and my brain.   A humid 52:24 ten mile marathon paced run in the rain and reluctant gray morning light, lost in thought and numbed by the familiar instinct of a faster tempo and the crunching of gravel underfoot.  Mind racing and heart pounding after a difficult exam an hour later.  More class, pages of notes, a set of 200s at mile pace on the track in the afternoon as the sun tries to break through the clouds.  It does, and in the humidity I sweat.

Texas Relays Jerry Thompson Mile.  I'm wearing #3.
Later as I cool down through campus, dark clouds threaten above the Texas capital building's glowing red bell tower and the smell of the imminent storm saturates the thick air.  Being at home in the evening, my legs up, listening to the rain and life of the house is enormously relaxing.  Nothing makes a runner happier than a period of solid training (except a great race) and sometimes that can erase the worries of the day.

My training philosophy since indoor nationals could be described as something like "base with workouts".  I'm doing summer-type mileage but maintaining the genre and intensity of 5k workouts characteristic of track season.  Many people here at Texas have identified me exclusively as a miler and act surprised when I tell them I'll be focusing on the 5000 this summer.  I can't blame them - my indoor season went in a direction away from the longer events because of how races and qualifying scenarios panned out.

I've come to accept that I don't possess the "stupid speed" required for the end of championship 1500 races - the ability to throw on the afterburners and consistently close in 51-52 over the final lap and rake people in over the last 100m.  I do have a nice combination of strength and acceleration - and that's why I believe I'll have the most success in the longer distance.  That's not to say I won't be running any more 1500s - I have one scheduled for next weekend here at UT, and plan to tag along for the ride in May's Oxy High Performance 1500.  Maintaing legspeed while developing strength has been the name of the game throughout my career, and I won't be changing that system any time soon.

A newfound sense of freedom charges my running in the day to day and long term perspectives.  Without conference, regional, and national team obligations I'm now able to focus more on training and less on racing in the spring in preparation for the summer circuit, when I'm aiming for a later peak than usual.  I haven't changed many elements of my day to day routine, and being associated with Texas' program provides a huge boost.  I still feel very much a part of the team and that has helped the transition.

With a busy running and school schedule I make sure to set aside time to think about all this stuff, especially when the weather puts me in a contemplative mood.  The next big race for me will be the Payton Jordan 5000 at Stanford in 19 days.