216 days: Shaking off some rust

I have a plan to raise $10,000 for some awesome organizations by Sept. 22, 2013 – the day I run in Ironman Lake Tahoe. Almost 5 months in and so far we are about on schedule. Raised so far: $3,565!

Last week the Tri-ing for a Challenge blog apparently sprung forth from the dead with a phoenix-like return from the ashes. I like to think of it more as waking up from a Rip Van Winkle-ish slumber. Regardless of how we frame it, the pressure cooker release valve of the real world has been exercised… and this means WE’RE BAAAAAACK!!!!!

This means there is training for events. Racing in events. And, most certainly, fundraising for some great causes.

Recall that the endgame goal is to raise $10,000 for a selection of some fantastic charities. We’ve had some hiccups along the way with some of the charities – for example, the famed founder of one organization was publicly shamed since we began this effort. In some cases my/our faith in an organization or two may have been rattled… in other cases that faith has been redoubled. I’ll talk about these hiccups in upcoming posts.

My race schedule for the season has begun with a steep rampup, even though my training the past few months has suffered due to work commitments. The first race of the year is always a time to shake off the rust. To experience the pre-race butterflies that are magnified when you haven’t toed up to a starting line for a little while. This year I chose the Pasadena Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon as my rust shaker, quickly followed by a marathon two weeks later. So much for easing into the season, huh?

When I put this race on my schedule, I had already mapped out my “A” race for the year: Ironman Lake Tahoe in September. My “B” races were already on the schedule: Napa Valley Marathon in early March (two weeks away! Zoiks!) and Ironman 70.3 St. George in early May (another ZOIKS!). So… this, along with the rest of my races, slots in at best as somewhere between a “B-” to “C” race.

Entering this race with compromised training was theoretically mitigated by the low level of expectations I had placed on this race. Hey, it is only a “C” race for me… a chance to shake off the rust… get the year started. If I do well, super. If I do poorly, that is OK, I wasn’t focused on this race. Alright, yes, you’ve certainly caught on already. Though I might try to convince myself I actually believe this story, that isn’t how I’m wired. I did view this race as a “C” race… but I always expect “A” results.

One bit I haven’t been advertising in blog or Facebook posts: I’ve been nursing a couple of injuries. Last year I biffed twice on curbs during training runs: the first I severely jammed a finger and scraped up a bunch of knee and hand flesh; the second I severely rolled my left ankle (falling face first into a mud puddle in the middle of a rainstorm at a busy intersection… humbling). More recently I hyperextended a knee and pulled a calf muscle. The first sets of injuries are (mostly) behind me… the more recent set of injuries continue to linger.

So, we showed up to the Rose Bowl at 5:30am for the 7:30am race. Those who don’t live in southern California often believe that Los Angeles is 72 degrees and sunny, 24 hours a day, every day. (Common mistake… that would be coastal San Diego). It can get cold at nights here in the winter, particularly in the foothills of Pasadena. This particular morning it was 43 degrees. Fortunately, we were prepared for this – I was sporting arm and leg coverings, a beanie, and insulated sweats. After a quick examination of race start logistics we returned to the car to stay warm.

A bit before race start we made our way back to the start line, I got in a quick warmup and stretch, and I jumped into the start corral a few minutes before the start gun.

Just before I entered the starting corral. It was chilly, and I am fighting off some lingering injuries, hence the arm and calf sleeves.

Just before I entered the starting corral. It was chilly, and I am fighting off some lingering injuries, hence the arm and calf sleeves.

This was my first race Rock ‘n’ Roll series race. For that matter, this was my first race managed by the Competitor Group. I was quite impressed… the expo and packet pickup were great. The pre-race communication and on-site logistics were fantastic. The post-race festivities and finishing chute were top notch. But, best of all, the implementation of monitored starting corrals was particularly welcome – I hate nothing more than spending the first mile of a race fighting through walkers and very slow runners that crowded to the front of the race (please don’t crowd… these races are chip timed so your race time doesn’t start until you cross the start line).

The course itself was wonderful. A nice run up out of the valley the Rose Bowl is nestled in brought us to Orange Grove Blvd – the start of the Rose Parade. A run through Old Town Pasadena on famed Colorado Blvd. A loop along the fabled Caltech campus. A return trip through historic Old Town, across the Colorado Bridge, and a finishing lap around the iconic Rose Bowl. Hilly, but not too hilly. Flat, but not too flat. Just enough vertical to keep you honest, but not so much that it becomes the race focus.

At about mile 8 a couple of things happened.

  • One good: a kid was standing along Colorado Blvd – along the Rose Parade route – holding up the best sign of the day: “Worst Rose Bowl Parade EVER!” We all got a good chuckle out of that.
  • One bad: my tender calf flared up very aggressively. I had to nurse that the rest of the way home, trying to stay fast but not aggravate it any more.

Lauren surprised me by showing up on the side of the course with about 2 miles left in the race – it turns out she was monitoring my progress on the course on her phone (another cool feature they offer for the Rock ‘n’ Roll race series). She was staying warm in the car, and the race passed by just a few feet away from our parking space. She got some pictures/video as I went by, then raced back to the finish line to catch the endgame. A special shout out to my race sherpa! Lauren is quite the trooper at all of these events!

If I were in top racing form my target time would have been 1:18 (about 6:00/mile). Since this is early in the season I had originally targeted 1:24 (about 6:20/mile)… but with my training hiccup I would settle for 1:31:42 (7:00/mile). With about 1.5 miles left I realized I was on 1:30 pace. And I also realized that I had a little bit left in me – I kicked it back up to about a 6:00/mile pace and hit the finish line at 1:29:02. 87th place overall (out of 4940 participants). Am I satisfied? Given the circumstances, absolutely. But I know I can do better… and this feeds the fire.

The race is done. I beat my readjusted race target... and am ready for a nap.

The race is done. I beat my readjusted race target… and am ready for a nap.

Later in the day I realized that this was my first dedicated half marathon. That struck me as an interesting quirk… I’ve run plenty of marathons and half-ironmans that include a half marathon… but never a dedicated 13.1. I like this distance. I really, really like it. Just long enough to highlight the need for a deep endurance base, but short enough to show some speed. I can say with certainty that I’ll be adding more races at this distance to my calendar – this just might be my preferred race distance for running events. It is also right around the distance of many mid-length training runs I’ll be doing this summer for 140.3 training…. hmmmm….

Next up: Napa Valley Marathon in two weeks. I’m adjusting my strategy and set of expectations right now… and preparing to kick off a quick-and-dirty fundraiser for a cause that started this whole “racing for charity” thing for me two years ago… hint… and another hint…

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