Spring is almost here?

The twisted logic works like this.  I’m running a “spring” marathon (this is euphemistically what March is called in these parts).  When you are doing a marathon, you try to do a warmup race (10miler, half marathon) about 6 to 8 weeks out.  Today we were racing a 20K (approx 12.5 miles), the DC Road Runners JFK 20K.  So, I guess this counts as a warmup.  That must mean that spring is almost here.

And, indeed, it was markedly warmer than in recent days.  Which is to say that temps at the race start were marginally above freezing.  Maybe that is what contributed to the unusually large number of people running this place.  The turnout clearly caught the organizers by surprise and it was pretty much a complete Charlie Foxtrot at the beginning: a couple of people only at the single registration table and huge long lines for people waiting to register or pick up chips.  It was probably the only race I’ve been to where the shortest lines were those for the toilets.  I’d pre-registered for the race but I was quite willing not to fart around in the line just to pick up the chip.  That’s why I have a watch, after all.

It was more important to me to get a decent warmup.  On Thursday, when jumping out of the pool, my right calf had cramped up (it always seems to be that one).  The cramp had subsided and I felt fine the next day, but even after some light stretching, it began to tighten up on me throughout the day.  So I made sure I got in a good mile and a half before the race started.  As I was making my way back to the start, however, the line had thinned, mainly because there was someone handing out chips to anyone who wanted and asking people to “e-mail us later.”  Yep, like that’s going to happen.

The course was one I’ve run many times on training runs: up the Capital Crescent and then back.  In fact, we did it a couple of weeks ago, and it turned out that that run would pay some unexpected benefits today.

The start was a mess.  Lots of people trying to fit through a very small bottleneck at the start of what is not a particularly wide trail.  People spread across both lanes, trying to avoid oncoming cyclists and runners, dodging ice, calling out the hazards back down the line, lots of bobbing and weaving since there was no seeding.

My goal for today was pretty simple.  Since it wasn’t a half-marathon, I couldn’t really compare overall times to try and get a PR.  But what I did want to do was run a faster pace than my best ever half-marathon time.  That was an 8:50 pace that I ran during my 1:56:05 finish in the Patrick Henry Half last August.

The Capital Crescent Trail isn’t without its challenges.  It is relatively flat for the first couple of miles, then climbs steadily with a couple of short steep sections on some overpasses.  So it is important to try and keep your pace a little in check on the way out.  I was a little worried that I’d messed up in this regard.  I was in zone 3 for the first couple of miles and then immediately hit low zone 4 as we began to climb.  I wasn’t relishing the idea of being in Zone 4 for over an hour and a half, but I didn’t feel too bad, my HR remained relatively steady and the pace wasn’t dropping too much.

I was really surprised to see that there was still ice on the trail, sheets of it.  In fact, there was a stretch where the entire trail was iced over for about 100 yards or so.  Nothing seemed to have melted from when we ran here a couple of weeks ago.  That occasion actually gave me some valuable practice at running on ice (picking up my cadence, staying a little more upright in my stance and up and down in my step) and that paid off today.  I was trailing a large group of runners when we reached the ice, and they slowed and began to pick their way tentatively across the ice.  I just kept the cadence going and passed about a dozen people.

Once we got to the turnaround, however, it was all downhill.  I was feeling really zippy, but tried not to get too carried away as there was still a long way to go.  But I got into a rhythm and slowly began reeling in a few more people (passing several once again as we crossed the ice field).  I was having a few body/equipment issues by this point.  I was getting some serious chafing in the red zone from my tights; strange since I’ve worn these tights a lot and even raced in them.  I also need to think about new shoes; even though I only have about 270 miles on them I’m getting some serious pain in my left.  It is as if the shoe has completely broken down and there is no cushioning at all.  And today, to add insult to injury (or rather, injury to more injury) I ended up with a huge blister on the ball of my foot.

The final part of the trail can be a little demoralizing, because it flattens out; you’ve just been running these zippy times and suddenly you start to slow and everything gets a little harder.  But my pace didn’t really drop that much; I was running right on the edge of Zone 5 for about the last 3 miles, finally kicking it into high gear in the last half mile.

The result?  1:47:06.  Pace: 8:37.  Mission accomplished!

Team Z turned out in force today. Ed was helping out the race organizers by allowing them to use one of our tents to cover all their food.  But there were the familiar black chairs, the coolers all set up near the finish line. . .   It all felt pleasantly familiar.  Nodding hello to people at the start line, chit-chatting, exchanging bemused shrugs at the messed up fiasco of it all, hearing my name from team-mates on the trail and giving a shout out in return.  In the final half mile Tracey was there offering that final burst of encouragement, the team Z posse at the finish line.

As usual there was plenty of food, beer, but best of all today, hot coffee on the camp stove.  Temperature-wise I was comfortable while I was running, but it was a fine balance between an air temperature that was a little colder than I expected, and the fact that I was putting out a lot of heat.  As I bent over to get my breath back after the fast finish I noticed that my crotch was steaming.  That hasn’t happened since I was in college.

I was soaked in sweat, and getting cold rapidly despite throwing on every piece of clothing I’d bought with me.  I’m finding these days that after hard efforts my body temperature just plummets.  In my fantasy world this is because all this training is causing my body fat percentage to head south.  In reality, its simply because I won’t admit just how cold it really is outside.

After shuffling our car around to avoid the zealous Georgetown parking police who must’ve sensed a fine bonanza in the making, I joined the team as we all waited for the final finishers.  Several people headed off for pizza, which I admit was really attractive, but I was glad that I hung around.  Otherwise I would have missed the sight of Misha massaging my wife’s legs.  Or Coach Ed getting high on Cheetos.  Ah, those precious Team Z moments.

So, a great day.  I didn’t believe I could sustain that kind of Zone 4 effort for that long, but I guess that’s the track work really beginning to pay off.  A lot of fun hanging with the team.  And when we got home it was something that was almost sorta warm.  So, because spring is almost here, I was inspired to round out the day with some yard work.

Splits, with HR in brackets.
8:46 (148); 9:00 (151); 9:02 (152); 9:17 (155); (missing time) (156); 8:51 (158); 8:41 (146); 8:11 (158)8:13 (159); 8:07 (159); 8:17 (161); 8:29 (163); 5:01 (168).

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