Thursday, April 30, 2015

2015 Independence Series: Delaware

This morning, I ran the second marathon of the Independence Series.  This race was held in Lums Pond State Park in Delaware.  The course was an out-and-back that we ran 20 times.

I got to bed early, since my alarm was set for 4:00 AM.  I slept better than Tuesday night, but that’s not saying much.  I managed to get about five hours of sleep.  That’s enough to get by, but it was feeling a bit tired.

I woke up feeling stiff.  My Achilles tendons were tight, and my quads were sore.  I did some stretching while I made a cup of tea.  After a bath and more stretching, I started to feel normal again.  After getting dressed, I started the 20 minute drive to the park.  (That’s why I get up at 4:00.)

The weather was a bit warmer than yesterday, but it felt comfortable.  When I woke up, it was 53 degrees.  It would still be in the low 50s when we started running, but it wouldn’t take as long to climb into the 60s.  A shady course and a steady breeze compensated for the warmer temperatures.

My primary goal was to keep my time under four hours.  I was also curious to know if I could win again.  My plan was to start near the other leaders, see what pace they ran, evaluate how it felt, and take it from there.

Doing 20 laps meant the math was easy.  To run a four hour marathon, I needed to average 12 minutes per lap.  I didn’t bother with GPS.  I wore a regular watch and checked it after each lap.

When you race on multiple days, the first mile is always the toughest.  Even if you feel like you’re ready to go, there’s another layer of soreness that you don’t notice until you start running.  You feel like the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz.  You need to force yourself to run to shake off the “rust.”  After about a mile, it gets easier.

We started by running across this field.  The grass was wet from morning dew, so I ran slowly and tried to pick my feet up.

Even though I ran slowly across the grass, I found myself leading the pack.  Everyone had sore legs, and nobody wanted to start too fast.

Next, we ran on this trail.  It was a nice runnable surface.  It was also flat.  I picked up my pace a little bit.

The trail wasn’t technical, but there were a few spots with roots or rocks.  I had an easy time avoid them … at first.

Then we turned onto this road.  By now, I had run far enough to work the stiffness out of my legs, so I opened up my stride.

I reached the turnaround in 5:41.  That was a bit fast, but it was comparable to the pace I started yesterday.  I was still in the lead, but I could see Vincent and Craig right behind me.

I finished that lap in about 11 minutes.  That seemed fast, so I eased up a bit.  My next few laps were between 11 and 12 minutes.  Every time I made a turn, I saw Vincent and Craig behind me.  They seemed content to let me set the pace.  I was happy with my pace, and it felt good.  If they were content to let me lead the way, I had a good chance of winning this race.

After seven laps, Vincent moved ahead of me.  At first, I thought I would follow him.  Then I realized he was accelerating.  It quickly became apparent that his new pace would be too fast for me.  I still sped up a little.  My next few laps were 11 minutes each, which was probably too fast.  Vincent, however, was quickly pulling away from me, and he looked comfortable.

I reached the halfway mark in 1:52:02.  That’s more than a minute faster than yesterday.  Realizing that I wasn’t going to win the race, I eased up on my pace.  All I wanted to do was break four hours.  I didn’t care if I ran positive splits.

During my 14th lap, I tripped on this root.  It was just a few feet from where the trail meets the road.

As my body lurched forward, I was sure I was going to belly flop onto the road.  Somehow, I kept my feet moving until I regained my balance.  I didn’t fall, but I was out of control for several strides.  That didn’t feel good.  After that, I slowed down.  I finished that lap in 12:08.  It was my first lap to be slower than 12 minutes, but that’s OK.  I could afford to slow down.

In my next lap, I had a different kind of mishap.  Along the sides of the road, there were a few branches that extended over the road.  One brushed against my ankle and snagged on my shoelaces.  I kept running and barely managed to pull free.  I felt like I was in an enchanted forest, and the trees were grabbing me.  After one very long stride, I pulled free.  I was off balance again.  That also didn’t feel good.  That lap was 12:22.  With five laps to go, I only needed to average 14 minutes, so 12:22 was OK.

In my 16th lap, I tripped on another root.  This time I fell.  I was on the trail and didn’t hit anything hard.  I was glad I was wearing gloves.  They saved me from scraping my hands.  I slowed down a lot that lap.  It was the first one to be slower than 13 minutes.

By the time I started my 19th lap, it was apparent that Vincent was going to lap me.  I got through that lap without incident.  I sped up a little, so he wouldn’t pass me until I reached the aid station.  I wanted to see him finish.

In my last lap, I tripped on this root.  Does it look familiar?  It should.  It’s the same one I tripped on in my 14th lap.

This time I wasn’t going as fast.  The bad news: with less forward momentum, I wasn’t able to keep from hitting the pavement.  The good news: with less forward momentum, I didn’t hit the pavement too hard.  Again, my gloves saved me from some bad scrapes on my hands.  I was accumulating dirt on my legs, but nothing was bleeding.  I got up and kept running.

At this point, I could have cruised in at a nice slow pace.  Instead, I sped up.  I was still in second place, but Craig was closing the gap.  I wanted to finish ahead of him, so I could be there when he finished.

I finished in 3:52:28.  Craig finished right behind me.  He’s a member of the 50sub4 club, and Delaware was his 48th sub-4 state.  He got his 47th sub-4 state yesterday in Maryland.

After refueling with post-race food and taking pictures of the course, I went back to the hotel.  I had a late checkout, so I had time for an ice bath and stretching.  It helped, but not enough.  I was pretty sore after this race.

As I was packing, I realized I never got my Delaware medal.  The race was still going on, so I went back to the park to get it.

From the park, I had a 90 minute drive to get to the next hotel for my race in Pennsylvania.  Tonight, I need to get to sleep early.  I have to get up early again, and there’s a limit to how long I can get by on five (or fewer) hours of sleep.

I thought I got through this race uninjured, but now I’m not so sure.  The last time I fell, I took most of the impact with my hands, and I jammed one of the fingers on my right hand.  Now it hurts, and one of the knuckles won’t bend as far as the others.  There’s no swelling or discoloration, but I think it maybe dislocated.

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