First off, although I know nobody actually reads this junk, I did want to thank Hillary Biscay for all of her help. She gave me tremendous confidence to execute the plan, despite a leadup to the race that most people would consider a bit non-traditional. Having her in my corner made a huge difference. She evaluated my training, looked over what I was eating, encouraged me, and kept me from shooting myself in the foot. On top of that, she had her own race to deal with, half a world away, a large number of other athletes, a recent engagement to a wonderful (and hot) dude, and a turnaround in her own racing and training. I have always been a big fan of Hillary since I met her, but I think the last 3-4 weeks has peeled back another layer of her onion for me, I see deeper into her intensity, her willingness to help, and her true passion for life, and I am truly grateful for her help.
I also want to thank Luc for doing some of the recent key workouts with me and pushing me to work hard on many of the others. Luc is my favorite training partner because he is so ruthless, both to himself and to me. I love his sour humor, and I really enjoyed the run we did with his daughter, Anais, where I got to see the two of them interacting in a quirky yet cool manner with lots of give and take, mutual respect and understanding. If I am lucky enough to have a relationship like that with my own child, I will consider myself blessed. I think seeing Luc's softer side gives me a unique perspective on him that others may not see, but I am sincerely grateful for everything he has done for me over the past decade, to make me a better runner, and a more surly individual :p
On to the race itself.
The morning started off early, 3:15 was what I set the alarm for. I thought about 3:00, but decided the extra 15 was worthwhile. I stumbled out of bed and grabbed the leash. Hunter has been adorable lately, and I felt if I could get him his walk and breakfast before I left for the race, it would make both of us feel better about the day ahead. Walking hunter that early in the morning is nice for another reason, there are so few cars that I feel safe unclipping him, which means he gets to cover a lot of extra distance and really get his nose into all sorts of things that he doesn't get to smell on leash. We had a nice walk, and I managed the poop duty pretty well with my headlamp (one of my bigger fears every morning is making a huge mess in the dark when it is time to pick up what Hunter leaves behind). I figure my time with Hunter has really prepared me for future diaper duty.
We got back and I got my things together, made my breakfast drink of maltodextrin and gatorade endurance. David Lipke was in my kitchen when I came downstairs from putting on my race gear, so we chatted a bit and headed out. We picked up Betty Morin, a longtime friend from the old yellow page, who was staying at another friend's house in LJ. As we drove down, I checked in with Scott who had picked up my packet the day prior. Sometimes the day is just charmed, and as we exited on 10th and proceeded to A, I spotted Scott and Eric walking. We pulled over, they piled in, and the 5 of us headed off to the parking lot with nervous excitement. The bus line was a typical fiasco, but I kept reminding myself that the ideal scenario is a late but not too late arrival at the start because it is just a cluster out there.
I got to chat with Betty on the bus ride while Scott and Eric sat together and Lipke chatted up a stranger. One thing I really love about Lipke is how excited he is to meet and get to know others. Seriously, if you want to make 10 new friends in 24 hours, just hang out near Lipke and introduce yourself. The guy takes charm to the next level, he has some real outgoing qualities that I admire and that I should try to incorporate into my own life. Betty and I talked a bit, and though it has been a while since we've hung out, it seemed like it could have been yesterday. She is in such a pleasant spot right now in her life, she just seems to be in a nice, happy groove. It was such a great way to take my mind off things, such a great start to the day, that I walked off the bus feeling ultra relaxed. I gave Betty a hug, and Lipke and I proceeded to the vip staging area.
At AFC, the start is such a cluster that the VIP/Elite area is absolute gold. It is night and day different to be separated from the crowds, have space to breathe, separate port-o-potty's, etc. I am so grateful for David Kloz who had gotten me into the elite area twice now. I hadn't earned it before, always being slower than the time requirements needed for official access to that section, but I guess sometimes friends help each other out. Thank you David.
All of the team BSK/Running Center "smurfs" got a lovely warmup together, Okwaro, Joey, Morgan, Sergio, Lipke, and myself. There was a bit of a headwind along the first section of the road, and when the busses passed we could really feel it. When we turned around, we felt the tailwind and the quiet. I knew that starting out with someone to draft might be worth a few seconds in the end based on the warmup. I also want to say, without sounding too much like a freak, that I really felt connected to the group during our warmup together. I've gotten to know all of them over the past year or two, and I see the joy and spunk in all of their hearts, expressed in different ways. It was a special moment for me, feeling part of a team, being accepted and respected for who I am and even appreciated for any humor and positive energy I could contribute. I told Lipke his goal was to hold off Joey and that it would take a 1:18. I was secretly hoping for a showdown with the two of them pulling each other up the hill and both beaming with smiles at the end. My time prediction was just about right, but Lipke ended up a little behind Joey as she passed him on the hill. I am stoked to see Joey coming back to life after a few injuries and some distractions with raising two beautiful girls.
Also at the start I got to see Omar again. I hadn't seen him in a while, and I just love that guy's sense of humor and his overall happy-go-lucky vibe. He was one of the founding members of the team, in our first photo he is right there smiling, and there are some great shots of him with his tennis ball bleached head from later races too. It just set the stage to have him helping all of us out with gear bags, water, and calm encouragement. Thanks Omar!
The starting line came together and the gun went off. It was a bit of a surprise for me that the race was starting, I guess I wasn't really ready for that to happen yet. In years past, especially years spent in the main staging area, I've been itching to get going long before the gun, but this time I was a bit unprepared. Maybe since it was overcast and we didn't get the usual sunrise I just hadn't switched over to race mode. Anyway, I forced myself up to speed and tried to find a position. I really wanted to have a group in front of me to help with the headwinds.
Unfortunately, the main pack pulled away quickly and I didn't feel anyone substantial behind me. I was left in no-man's land, the space between the main pack of real elite runners, and the unpredictable string of everyone else. I checked my watch and saw numbers that made me scared, low 5's which is more like my 5k PR pace. I tried to relax, and thought of Kloz saying "ruuuuun reeeelaaaxed" in my head. Just before mile 1, the lead female caught me. She was running low 5's as well, and though I was concerned about the numbers on my watch, my breathing was ok, maybe a bit high, but not out of control, so I tried to stick with her. We cranked past 1 in 5:15 or so and 2 in 10:30-10:35 together. She was running just slightly faster than I thought I could maintain, so I was torn. On one hand, running with the lead female gives you a great boost, the crowd gets pumped when they see her, there are often cameras and bike escorts. It boils down to the difference between pretending to be a celebrity and running in your own isolated bubble. You can use all of that extra energy as propulsion, but it can also go to your head, cloud your judgement, and wreck your day. This wasn't a 10k, and a meltdown could cost me my PR. I ran past Kloz on his bike taking photos and he said I looked good, so I figured I should man up, put my ego on ice, and let the woman slowly drift ahead. I think that ended up being a key decision, I just was not ready to run with her. As much as I would have loved to finish a minute ahead of where I did, and be in some of her photos, share her airspace and pacing, it wasn't the right day to try that kind of cowboy stunt.
I actually drifted back on the long descent, which is very unusual for me. Usually when it comes to downhill running, I push the pace and pass people. I also had one other male elite run past me (going much faster) on the descent, so I hit the bottom a bit worried that maybe I had already sabotaged my day with the aggressive (for me) start. I saw Kloz on his bike for a 2nd time before Seaport Village and told him I was scared. This was my moment of weakness, and he talked me through it. I actually don't remember what he said, but whatever it was did the trick. I also checked my pace and realized I was now running 5:20-5:25 which I knew should equate to a PR, and I was closing in on the 10k mark.
I ended up hitting the 10k mark at 32:23. That would have scared me if I didn't remember John Healy's words that everyone who has run well at AFC has hit 10k at PR pace. OK, so what does that mean if I'm 45 seconds ahead of my 10k pr? Yikes. I used up my John Healy confidence in this section, still trying to hold that invisible bungee cord to the lead female up ahead, and for the first time ever, I was looking forward to the out and back section to get an eye on the rest of the field.
Before entering the out and back, roughly at the midpoint of the run, I took my first and only gel. It was a mint chocolate (I love mint and I love chocolate, and the mint chocolate works great in training for me). My breathing had switched from 4 beat to 2 beat, so as I snarfed the gu, I took a breath. That was a bad mistake as I think I got some gu down my trachea. I grabbed a cup of water to try to wash it down, but I think I spent the next minute gagging, coughing, and sputtering. Somehow I managed to keep the leg turnover going, and pull myself together. The stomach did not rebel, but I think in retrospect that I should probably only take gels in races longer than a half when going for PR's. Then again, maybe the boost made the difference over the final section. I got to see the leaders on the first out and back and that was a real treat, usually they are on the 2nd long before I hit the first. I saw Sergio and Okwaro as well, and I was surprised at how close they seemed, but I had to remind myself that out and backs are like an optical illusion, everyone seems closer than they really are.
I ran better to the 2nd out and back, perhaps because of the tailwind, and rounded that turn hard and tight to the curb. I saw Kloz and gave him my 2nd gu, I was done attempting that. Also worth mentioning that the only cup of water I had on the course was the 1/4 cup I tried to sip after that gel at about mile 6. It was overcast and I didn't want to risk any more issues with breathing, so I figured I should skip fluids. I had to work hard through the rental car lot section. There are a few tighter turns in that stretch, and you can't see ahead, so it can be demoralizing. Plus we had some headwind getting to it, so I just really had to focus and push. I used some mental imagery in that section, whatever it took to get the gps to say 5:20 instead of 5:25.
Coming out of the junkyard (it feels like a junkyard doesn't it, I keep waiting to see a pit bull charge the fence at me) I cheered up as I could again see the lead female and I also caught a glimpse of Sergio as she caught him. I could tell his day was over, and I felt bad since his last race had not gone so well either, but at the same time I had a selfish idea that if I could catch him, maybe he could help me. Of course I knew that when a 1:15 guy catches a 1:06 guy, the 1:06 guy isn't going to be in the frame of mind to do any work, but I figured the hope would carry me through. We rounded the corner onto Broadway, across the trolly tracks, and I thought of breakfast at Grand Central for some reason. That was a good memory from my past, and it gave me a little boost for the first mini climb. As we hit A street and the climbing kicked into full force, I was lured forward by the clocks I had seen previously. I was too fatigued to do good math, but my gut feeling was that a PR was almost completely certain, and sub 70 might even be a possibility (it wasn't). Sometimes rough math can help, sometimes it can hurt, and in this case I think it helped even though it wasn't very accurate. At the same time, running up A and then 6th, I had flashbacks to 2006 when Kloz had yelled at me the entire way and his encouragement got me to catch and pass one of the female elites. I really dug deep that day on the hill, my HR was as high as I've ever felt it in a race, so I was scared of hurting that bad. I also felt like I was crawling on this section, with the lead female now so far ahead I could barely see her, and my pace slowing to what felt like a walk. This was probably my weakest moment, somewhat alone (though I did get some good cheers from Jim O'Hara at the top) and questioning my effort level despite feeling exhausted.
Once I got to the top, my doubt eased off as my pace quickened on the relatively flat section on the bridge over 163. As I made it to the fountain for the final push before the descent to the finish, I saw Jeff and Stephen off to the left and I got a great boost from their smiles. Jeff (who lives in Sacramento) has a tendency to show up at just about every event, function, social engagement, etc, and seeing him was a nice comfort. I turned the corner and tried to pick it up on dead legs. The final .22 clocked in at 4:35 pace, so I guess I did ok, though I remember seeing the clock tick down and past the 1:11 mark and I remember being bummed that I was not able to push hard enough to finish sub 71. I quickly got out of the glass-is-half-empty mode in the chute as the reality of what I had pulled off (not quite a 3 minute half marathon pr) sunk in. I gave high 5's and knuckle bumps to the female champ (I remember Mike Riley saying something about course record while I was pushing toward the finish, but I was too fuzzy at that point to remember his words). I also tried to cheer up Sergio about his day, he was really gracious when he congratulated me, though I'm sure that it stings to go from winning a half marathon just a couple of months ago to getting caught by a joker like me.
After the race I got to spend some time with Lipke and get him his t-shirt (that guy loves race t-shirts) as well as chat with a happy-but-blistered Joey and see Sergio and Morgan. We also bumped into Betty, but missed seeing Scott and Eric. Lipke and I left to go to swim practice (his favorite post-race activity) where I basically drowned and was heckled by the coach for about an hour, then we ate some insane pancakes at Claire's. I also drank my first full cup of coffee at breakfast, with Lipke's help on the correct technique of cream and stirring. I find it funny to not be a coffee drinker at age 35, so that is something I may try to acquire with time. I know almost every person I admire is a huge coffee fan, so I figure I am missing out on something.
The coffee turned me from zombie back to silly, so when I got home I decided to take the Merlin out for a spin. Trevor's gf, Darcy, joined me, and though we stayed on the coast and were almost killed by errant drivers, I felt pretty good with the chance to spin out the legs and get dropped by a chick. I had forgotten to raise the saddle back up since the bike was last used almost exactly a year ago, so I felt a bit like a fat guy on a little bike, but the extra quad work of a too-low saddle position seemed like a good idea, and Darcy wasn't interested in stopping, so we just rolled through it.
As I drifted off to sleep, I got a bunch of messages from Rod as he was finalizing his plans for Leadville. It is pretty darn cool to go from one great weekend and bounce right into the next. Although, as I am typing this, Darcy is getting up and making her way to the pool for 5:30 masters and I am slacking by sitting in bed with the laptop. Oh well, I guess it is time to give Hunter another walk and start my day.
A big thank you to everyone who cheered and raced yesterday. Thanks to Hillary, Luc, Lipke, Scott, Eric, Betty, Kloz, Omar, Sergio, Morgan, Joey, Okwaro, swim coach Kate (even though my arms are throbbing) Trevor, Darcy, Steve, Steve's wife Lindsay, and of course Hunter for a day I hope to remember forever.