Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Slogging and sprinting

One of the benefits of being a government employee is that you are enlightened to the benefits of several holidays you normally wouldn't give a rat's ass about. Like Presidents Day, for example. It's one of those holidays that just seems like it's a federal holiday for the sake of having a holiday. I mean, unless you're in grade school and you get an extra lesson about Washington and Lincoln, does anyone really "celebrate" Presidents Day? I'm not complaining, by an means, as I'll take any excuse for a three day weekend I can get. And being the good government employee that I am, I will also find an excuse to take the previous Friday off and make it a four day weekend. Okay, so I didn't really have an excuse, but I do have annual leave, so a four day weekend it was.

The problem with taking Fridays off, though, is that my wife runs a home daycare and hanging out with a house full of small people bouncing off the walls isn't exactly relaxing. This is where being an ultrarunner comes in handy...you have a built in excuse to escape the house for 4-6 hours. So, Friday morning I was off to Sturgis with the intent of running 25-30 miles on the Centennial trail, depending on the snow situation. Based on my last run on the Centennial, a 24 miler on Super Bowl Sunday, I knew the trail was basically clear for the first 10 miles of the Black Hills 100 course and then the snow got progressively deeper as you delved further into the Hills. We'd had only a light snow and some fairly warm days since then, so I was hoping to be able to push through some deeper snow sections and make it a full 15 miles out and back. As expected, the snow cover was light and basically inconsequential for the first 11 miles or so. After that, as the trail starts ascending a big climb in a shaded drainage, the snow got more and more cumbersome until I was slogging along, post-holing up to my knees and beyond, at about 20:00 pace. I told myself I would stop when I got to 12.5 miles, giving me a nice round 25 for the day, but when I got to that point the snow thinned out considerably so I kept going. Of course, not much further on I was back to post-holing but by that time was getting near the top of the big climb. So, I told myself I would turn around at the top unless things improved again and when I topped out and looked ahead to see knee-deep drifts across the trail as far as I could see, I did just that. Ended up with 26.5 miles for the day in just under 5 hours of running.

With the goal of getting at least 40 miles in every weekend, I set out Saturday morning and bagged another 16 (on roads this time, since I didn't have time to hit trails as I had to be home to coach my son's basketball game at noon). The legs felt great early on and felt good up until about mile 13 before I started feeling the cumulative fatigue of the mileage. I wasn't totally wasted when I got done, I certainly could have run farther, especially if I hadn't been running at 8:00-8:15 pace for much of the way. While that's not a blazing fast pace, it is considerably faster than what I will ever run in an ultra.

So, what to do when Sunday rolls around and you've already gotten in your long runs for the weekend? Run a 5K, of course! My wife had already planned on running the Valentine's 5K in Rapid City on Sunday afternoon and somehow talked me into running too. I had zero expectations heading into it, but was pleasantly surprised by how unsore my legs felt that morning. Just before the race, I ran a couple of miles to warm up and the legs felt remarkably good. So, when the gun sounded I took off near the front, running in a small group (as in a group of 3) with two other guys, Jim and Kip, who are frequently just ahead of me at these local road races (I think I've beaten Kip once, and can't recall ever finishing ahead of Jim). I tucked in behind them early on, but eventually couldn't resist the urge to push ahead. Jim followed and we broke away from Kip for a bit (I think Kip actually dropped back to pace someone else for a little while). I could hear Jim right behind me right up to about the halfway point before he pulled ahead. At that point, I tucked in behind him and basically hung on for the ride. With about a quarter mile to go, it seemed like the pace was slowing a bit so I pushed forward, wondering if Jim was just setting me up for a big finishing move. Turns out he wasn't, as I was able to pull away and finish about 5 seconds ahead of him in 3rd place overall (the first two guys were way ahead of us). My time was 19:15, which would be a 5K PR except my Garmin measured the course at 3 miles exactly. Even accounting for Garmin error, I'm assuming the course was a little short. Still, a much stronger effort than I expected after 42 miles of weekend running. And now I've completed my semi-annual speedwork session.

All in all, not a bad weekend of running at all. Man, I love Presidents Day!

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