Last October, I stood at the door of the CARA tent from about 6:30 A.M. until just minutes before the Chicago Marathon started. As each runner walked out of the tent with the temperature nearly 80 (look back to see what time I mentioned) and the dew point (whatever that is) at some crazy point, I handed each runner a bottle of water and the following simple advice “run smart.” Those two words say more about running, be it training or racing, than nearly any others. And the four of you reading this (there must be 4 by now, I hope) know that is a challenge for me once I pin a bib on my kit.
I thought of those words as I got dressed on July 4 for the Wilmette 4 mile race. As I dressed, I did something I have never done before — I strapped on two kinds of watches on my right wrist (lefty). I put on my Nike+ band for pace feedback and my heart rate monitor (HRM) for exertion/heart rate feedback. I viewed the race not as a race, but rather as a data collection experiment. Full on sprinting was forbidden as was any effort that resembled sprinting. I didn’t fear this. But I did prepare. I didn’t wear a singlet (too racy) and I took the advice of my good friend (here comes credentials and name dropping) and two time marathon Olympic Trials participant Chris Wehrman, and wore trainers. As Chris put it, “how can you be racing if you aren’t wearing your flats?” He’s a good man and that is a damn strong point.
Establishing shot: July 4 was unusual for its weather. It was 60 degrees along Lake Michigan as I did my warm-up jog sans striders. I lined up about a third of the way back from the starting line. I find this helps moderate the pace of the first mile. I ran with cycling pal Eric. He hadn’t run in 6 months, but figured his strong return to cycling form would carry the day. It nearly did, but his results would indicate his current status as cyclist on a lark rather than hearken back to his days as a high school cross country runner.
The start was chaotic as I struggled to start both the Nike watch and the HRM. Lots of button pushing, but a fast start wasn’t needed, so it didn’t much matter. As we rolled out, I watched my HRM climb to 140 bpm and then 147 pretty quickly. I looked quickly to the Nike and saw pace was 6:35. I signaled Eric that we need to slow the pace and we managed the pace to a reasonable 6:58 at the mile. Somewhere between miles one and two Eric drifted first off my left shoulder and then I no longer heard his heavy breathing behind me. We had planned to run together, but every runner knows that you have to let the faster guy go if an obvious disparity arises. His eventual finish time was slower than my current training pace so I am not so sure that staying with him would have been good for me in any event.
The truly remarkable thing was how evenly I was able to run the race. At Mile 2, my split was 6:55. The next two miles presented the greatest challenge because they covered cobbled streets. I watched the ground like a hawk to make sure I didn’t damage a foot or ankle. I spied my pace on the Nike a few times and was again rewarded at Mile 3 with a 6:56 mile. Steady as she goes.
Between Miles 3 and 4, I spotted a woman I had seen at the start. She looked very fit, and I had made a mental note of her during the button pushing fumbling start. I thought she would be someone I could beat. Well, there she was and she provided the final “run smart” test of the day. As I transitioned off the pave (cobbles) onto smooth pavement, I began to close the gap between myself and woman runner all while maintaining pace. I wanted to pass her, but I had no intention of hitting the gas after running such a beautiful race through nearly 3 and a half miles. The chasm shrunk to about 50 feet and I saw the male runner she was running with literally step aside to let her power away from him. Temptation, a nagging HRM and the competing twin desires to finish smart ( a close cousin or subset of run smart) and beat her. Well, reason prevailed, I reminded myself that this race was a step, a means to an end and, at last, a data collection project. Off she went, and I let her go. She beat me, but I didn’t mind. I kept things even, crossed the line, handed in my chip and found the water table.
I felt great and was eager to see how I would feel later and the next day. That was more data I needed to call the experiment a success. The next day, Saturday, I rode a fast-paced group ride for 55 miles with long stretches above 25 mph. And then Sunday, I awoke to legs that felt good if incompletely rested. I call that success.