Chasing a Kenyan & feeling on top of the run

The summer heat and humidity took its toll on my body, but it also affected my mind and confidence.  Sure, I had a great race at San Francisco and was pleased at the outcome, but all summer long, and through the race, I hadn’t felt “on top” of my running.

What I mean is that I would go out on runs not feeling that I would dictate the run, or that I was in control, rather that the run was somehow going to control me.  I lost that confidence to shape the run as I saw fit according to my abilities and fitness level.  I became anxious before runs, especially long runs, and found that I had sometimes let the run affect me before I had taken a stride.

Such is the effect heat and humidity and the resulting pace struggles had on me and my dis-functional brain. It all worked to my advantage over the long run, as I ran 3:33 at San Francisco, and feel so strong now that Fall has arrived.  Finally, though, the weather has turned, the humidity has fallen, I can breathe again, and my running has returned to normal. I am a cool-weather runner, I guess we all are, and that is when I feel most in command of my runs.  Saturday was a perfect example. I have been trying to overcome this pre-long run anxiety that set in during the summer when it became quite hard to hold goal marathon pace for long periods.  And my confidence has slowly returned with cooler weather and some modification to long-run structure.  But Saturday was something of a breakthrough.

On the schedule: 16 miles. Perfect weather greeted me as I walked out of the house. It was just around 43 degrees as the sun rose.  I was excited to try out some new shorts. I purchased a pair of Brooks Infiniti Short Tights.  (Weird side note: I love the way my tights feel on my legs during cold-weather runs, but never thought to try short tights. Crazy, huh?) This is the first real cool weather we’ve had, so it took me a while that morning to decide what to wear: singlet with arm warmers? T-shirt with arm-warmers? Skull cap vs baseball cap?  I settled on the shorts, tech t-shirt, arm warmers, gloves and ball cap.  I know I’ve chosen the right clothing when I step out of the house and feel kinda cold.  My body will warm as I run.  If I feel comfy as I step out fo the house, then I’ve overdressed.

The plan was to warm up for three miles, run 2 at the 8:15-8:25 pace, run 6 at a 8:05-8:15 pace, then 3 at goal marathon pace of around 7:30 or faster, then a 2 mile cool down.

I typically know how well a run will go by the time I’ve finished the second warm up mile.  This day was no different, I knew this would be a good run. I settled into my paces and just ran, enjoying a sunny but crisp fall day.  At mile 9 or so, as I was turning off our local bike/walk trail for a water bottle refill, I was passed by a member of the cross-country team for the university for which I work. I’ve seen this guy before, running along the dirt and grass beside the trail.  He is from Kenya and runs, naturally, quite fast.

We kept pace for a few hundred yards until I turned off the trail. At that point I estimated his pace to be around 7:45.  I was running at just above 8:00.  I refilled my water and hit the trail again, as I began the approach to my goal MP miles. I had decided to run 4 MP miles instead of three, and planned to do a “2 miles out and 2 miles back” loop until I reached the trail head and the time for cool down.

As I reached my turnaround point with 2 MP miles to go, I spotted the Kenyan, in his red jacket, a few hundred yards up the trail in the direction that I had been running.  I decided to hold a sustainable pace and see if I could hold him off for a while.  After a couple of miles in the low 7:00s, I held a 7:14 pace and was confident that he wouldn’t catch me. His gait just seemed so easy and smooth, no way he was running faster than 7:30. Or so I thought.

But soon after thinking this crazy thought, I saw him out of the corner of my eye; just gliding along the path, hardly straining at all. He WAS sweating, as I saw a patch of sweat on his back. This made me feel somewhat better about myself. I decided I would try to keep up with him for as long as I could. Why? I have no idea other than I felt like Superman on this morning and felt in control of this run. And why not? Running is fun. Running is about pushing ourselves beyond that which we THINK we can do. There is ALWAYS time for daring and play in every run!  I wanted to keep up with that Kenyan!

Ok, so 7:14 wasn’t gonna work. I sped up, he gained ground. 7:10, he kept pulling away. 7:05, 7:00. Dang! He’s just floating along that path! 6:58, 6:55, 6:50, 6:49. He kept pulling away. I kept the distance from growing as we climbed a slight incline along the trail. We both settled at 6:50 for the climb, but once he reached the flat, he pulled away again. I maintained 6:55 for the rest of the mile before reaching 14 miles and the cool down point at the trailhead for the path home.

That dude could run!

I was happy with my effort. It has been since late spring that I could pop a sub-7 mile that deep into a long run. Part of me wanted to keep going, to see if I could hold another sub-7 mile. I am confident I could, but my goal is not to chase Kenyans, but to do very well at CIM in December. Play has a place in running, but so does being smart with one’s training.

If you find yourself running across a Kenyan, don’t be afraid to test yourself.  Have a little fun.  I loved it when he peeked back at me. He knew I was chasing him. Of course, he was probably thinking: “Heh. Silly bald man.”

Splits: 16 miles in 2:10

9:39, 9:13, 8:45, 8:16, 8:18, 8:11, 8:14, 7:57, 8:12, 7:57, 7:26, 7:19, 7:14, 6:55, 7:54, 8:36

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