Saturday, December 15, 2012

2012 Year End Report and Review

The year 2012 has nearly ended and it's time to once again review how my racing compared to my hopes and expectations at this time a year ago.  The time goals I set in January for 2012 were pretty ambitious, but were based on improving on what I accomplished (or nearly accomplished) in 2011 and were designed to motivate me to train and race very hard.  Overall, I was able to find races to run in most of these distances on the track and roads, which was an important first step.  Unfortunately, I was unable to meet any of these time goals, in spite of feeling I had a successful year of running.  I guess I was thinking a little too big and while I continue to improve (in spite of getting older), I might need to be a little more conservative in 2013.  Here’s what I had hoped to run this year, in comparison to what I did run:

Track                Goal                 Actual
1500m:              4:19                  4:29
Mile:                  4:38                  4:50
3000m:              9:20                  9:42
5000m:              16:15                17:03

Roads              Goal                 Actual
Mile:                 4:40                  no races
5k:                   16:20                16:38
10k:                 34:00                35:21

Even though I didn’t hit a single one of those times, I am actually very happy with my racing this year.  I did get a new PR in the 5k on the roads with a 17 second improvement on my old PR, as well as for 10 miles in 58:31. Moreover, I did something I had never done before as a masters runner or even as a high schooler.  I actually won a few races this year, crossing the finish line first overall, in the Rogue Half Marathon in February and Red River Run 10k in July. 

I also won two masters 5000m races on the track, which were frustrating wins, since I arrived at the races really ready to compete and run a fast time, but sadly had no one to run with/against at the same general pace, and instead lapped the entire field in both races (Prefontaine Masters Classic in April and the Portland Masters Classic in June). 

Heading for home and my first ever win in the Rogue River Half Marathon in February.

I also managed to maintain my streak of always finishing in the top 3 in my age group in road races that were not USATF championships ( I was less successful on the track and in XC).  I have been able to pull this off road racing feat every year of being in the 40 plus age group.  Let's see how long that holds with more plans to find some fast and competitive road races in the Seattle area in 2013. 

With my move to Everett in May, I tried something new, making a once a month attack on the local Forest Park Hill Challenge.  With the record standing at 12 completed laps in the 30 minute race window, I managed to equal that 4 out of 5 times and finish 1st, 4 out of 5 times.  The one time I did not make 12 laps it was raining and I made a blood sacrifice with a hard fall on the 2nd lap and instead covered 11 laps and came up about 20 meters short of a full 12 that day. My only loss of the season on the hill climb was to a speedy high school stud who went on to represent his team at the state Cross Country meet. As the reigning overall season champ, I've got my work cut out for me next year and already know that a few local runners will be gunning for me in the hill climb.

Cranking out the laps on a solo 5000m effort in the Prefontaine Masters Classic in Coos Bay in May.

In in some ways, the first half of the year, I was racing with a handicap, since in June I learned that my ferritin levels were extremely low for a competitive distance runner and in all likelihood my low iron levels were affecting my training and performances.  With the introduction of supplemental iron and dietary improvement, I was able to race and train harder in the second half of the year. It showed, with a win at the Red River Run, a strong running at the Hood to Coast relay, as well as a couple of good cross country performances with Club Northwest, and a new PR in the 5k in November.

Plugging away up a hill in the Yankee Doodle Dash 5k in Everett.

The other thing that left me satisfied with my running in 2012 was holding true to a resolution I made to never let up at the end of a race, which I never did.  Not counting my hobbled finish at the end of the Club Cross Country Nationals meet, I only recall being passed once by someone in the final half mile of any of my races, and that was in a collegiate cross country meet where a group of 5 of us were sprinting to the finish and I caught a few guys and one of the guys caught me.  I ran to compete and to win this year.  In year’s past, I showed up some days and competed on others, but this year it seemed to be a little more important and real.  Of course winning a few races really helped to keep one’s focus on racing smart and running very hard through the finish line.

There were two other goals I set that were not personal performances per se, but instead were team oriented, with the assumption that I would be contributing to those teams in 2012.  One was to see my Oregon running club, Bowerman Athletic Club (BAC) mens 40’s team, make the podium at Cross Country Club Nationals.  The other was for my Hood to Coast Relay team, Leapin’ Lizards, defeat the Slug Hunters team in the mixed-submasters category.

Slogging through the mud with my fellow masters runners in the
Club Northwest orange and blue at Club Cross Country Nationals in Kentucky

With my move to Everett, in May, I changed my USATF club affiliation from BAC to Club Northwest (CNW), which meant I would be running with CNW and not BAC at cross country club nationals.  Transferring that goal to CNW, I was very happy to have been selected to run for CNW at the National Championship meet in Lexington, Kentucky on December 8th; however, it was not a good day for me, as I ended up limping to the finish with a seriously damaged Achilles tendon strain.  The team ran hard but only managed a 6th place finish in our division.  Even if I had run to my potential and had not sustained an injury in the race, the team probably would have only finished as well as 5th place, which is still a respectable finish, but far from the podium and a paycheck for the team.

Gritting my teeth through the pain of a strained achilles to cross the finish line
at Club Cross Country Nationals in Kentucky in early December.

As for the goal of the Leapin’ Lizards Hood to Coast team taking the win from the Slug Hunters, we missed again.  We had a strong team and I think ran as fast as we ever have, but yet again the Slug Hunters pulled away from us and won the division with the Leapin’ Lizards in 2nd.  Those of us on that team that are gluttons for punishment and plan to come back for one more go in 2013 are really hoping that this will be the year.

As for a new set of time goals for 2013, I’m a little unsure of where to put my emphases, since I haven’t decided yet if I want to focus on the shorter stuff on the track (after my achilles gets back in order) or if this is going to be a marathon year, for which I would have to adjust my training one direction or the other.  So, with that in mind here’s a set of racing time goals that look at all possible scenarios:

800m                    2:06
1500m                  4:20
Mile                       4:40
3000m                  9:15
5000m                  16:15
10000m                34:10

5k                          16:20
10k                        34:30
Half Marathon      1:15:45
Marathon              2:40:00

Other personal goals are to be selected to race on the CNW men's 40s A team for Club Nationals in Bend in December, to maintain my top three age group finish on the roads, and complete 13 laps the Forest Park Hill Climb.

Crossing the finish line after not letting down at the finish
and running down fellow masters runner Neil Olsen in the Pear Blossom 10 miler in Medford.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Ironing Out a Kink in My Armor - Ferritin Testing for Endurance Athletes

About a month ago when in Portland for a track meet I took it upon myself to get my ferritin levels checked, something I’ve been meaning to do for a while, but just hadn’t gotten around to.  Why, might you ask, did I think I needed to know what my ferritin levels were?  Well, there are a few reasons, but first and foremost, it was not because I thought I was sick or my diet was inadequate or I was feeling especially fatigued in my training and racing.  I mean, sure I would be tired after a hard long run or speed session, but who wouldn’t be and isn’t that sort of the point of a hard workout, to push yourself a little beyond your comfort zone before recovering and doing it all over again? 

No, I had my ferritin checked simply because I wanted to establish a baseline measure for ferritin and to know just how well my body was storing iron.  As an endurance runner, iron plays an important role in our performance and ability to move oxygen via the red blood cells to our fatigued and damaged muscles. 

Ferritin is a naturally occurring protein in the liver, spleen, bone marrow, muscles, and blood which stores and releases iron as needed.  As a result, ferritin levels serve as a kind of proxy measure for the amount of iron available and stored in one’s body.  The specifics of these processes and the different roles of ferritin/iron moving oxygen and muscle repair are more complex than this non-medical professional needs to attempt to understand or restate here.

Suffice it to say, if a runner has low amounts of iron in their body, they will likely not be able to perform as well as expected or desired.  In extreme cases of low iron levels one can be described as anemic or diagnosed as suffering from anemia.  Endurance athletes, especially runners, can be especially susceptible to lower iron levels, due to losses of iron that occur through sweating and through foot strike hemolysis in which red blood cells literally burst and are destroyed by the constant pounding of one’s foot strike.  In general, one is not destroying a significant portion on one’s run blood cells on their daily runs, but with higher mileage running, this can begin to add up and be a factor.  Menstruating women may also suffer from lower levels of iron resulting from monthly blood loss.  Obviously, it is important to maintain a reasonably high ferritin level or at least not have your ferritin levels decline to a level below the normal range.

Researching the topic online, one can find a variety of different values for the range of normal adult male ferritin levels with low ferritin described as anywhere from under 10 to under 24 nanograms per milliliter of blood.  Overall, most online sources (for what that is worth) list 20-24 as low end of normal.

The results of my ferritin test were rather startling, with my numbers coming back at 22.  Wow, I was admittedly surprised.  That is at the very low end of healthy and borderline anemic (although my hematocrit and hemoglobin numbers were not high, they were not nearly as close to the low end of the reference range as the ferritin was).  In my mind I have a pretty healthy and balanced diet for a runner with a pretty good amount of animal protein.  I thought I ate reasonable, but regular, portions of red meat, the richest and most readily absorbed source of dietary iron.  But in learning more about this issue, I became more aware that how you get your iron and with what other foods can enhance or interfere with the iron absorption process.  Iron absorption is improved with the availability of vitamin C; whereas, calcium inhibits absorption of iron.  These are not one to one ratios, but rather are guidelines to remember and incorporate into one’s eating habits to maximize iron absorption.  As a unapologetic meat eater, I haven’t had to change my diet significantly or worry about where I might get added iron from non-animal sources; however, I am trying to increase my iron consumption from plant based, as well as animal based, sources and to cook a little more in cast iron pans which is purported to also add iron to the diet, although I am somewhat skeptical that it can be very significant.

Now, a month later, I am taking iron supplements in the form of ferrous sulfate tablets three times a day (3x65mg) with a vitamin C tablet and avoiding calcium rich foods near the window of time in which I take the iron supplements.  I am also eating more lean red meat in my meals and paying attention to what I am eating with my iron rich foods and supplements.  For example, am I drinking milk (dairy or almond) or eating ice cream near the time I am taking the supplements?  Am I having cheese on a pastrami sandwich (yes I am), and do I need to really worry about every time I mix a calcium rich food with an iron rich food?  Of course I don’t.  Food is a pretty big aspect of my life and I refuse to have my diet completely dictated by something like iron absorption vigilance.  But I am admittedly more aware of these things than I was before.

After a month of taking the supplements and rethinking my iron intake have I noticed anything different?  I think I have.  I feel much stronger and less tired in my legs in my hard workouts especially in longer intervals and tempo runs and I feel like I am recovering from runs much quicker than before.  I’m actually kind of excited to get in the right race and really see what happens.  It is not like I feel like superman, but I do feel that little bit more fresh and peppy than before.

Now the question becomes, to what level do I need to or want my ferritin levels to rise to?  Of course, I want to get the number up to a “healthy” value or more closer to the average for healthy adult men.  However, working to improve my iron stores and function, brings up another topic, namely that of supplementing to enhance performance as opposed to supplementing to reach healthy or average levels.  In general, men’s ferritin levels are found to be between 20 and 380 ng/ml.  For me it seems to make sense to get my ferritin to at least 50, but why not aim for higher?  It is fairly widely known these days that many elite endurance athletes intentionally take iron supplements to bring their ferritin levels to around 100 ng/ml or above as a means to maximize the muscle repair and oxygen moving effects of iron in their bodies.

Should consuming supplemental iron in pill or liquid form when you do not have a shown deficiency be considered a form of performance enhancement?  Yeah, it probably should, but what does that really mean?  Isn’t that the point of a training program and everything that goes into it, performance enhancement?  Of course that is the tricky question in sports today, where do you draw the line for what is or is not acceptable for performance enhancement, and why?  Most arguments are either based on creating and maintaining a level playing field or around protecting the health and safety of athletes, especially young athletes.  But in all honesty, that seems like a bit of a farce to me, since the point of training hard to be the best involves intentional stresses and pushing your body to extremes and beyond what is considered normal to force it to adapt and get stronger.   One is intentionally trying to find an advantage over your competitors and taking some risks, pushing to the edges of, and sometimes beyond what is normal or safe.  Like most things in life, the line that has been drawn to divide what is acceptable and what is not is relatively arbitrary and is based as much on opinion, convention, and emotions as it is on facts, data, and logic.  Am I advocating for the use of drugs in athletics?  Of course not, but I am not afraid to be honest and talk openly about their place in the bigger picture of training and competition.

Anyway, since this is my blog and is selfishly about me, back to the situation at hand.  Do I need to aim for a ferritin value around 100 or higher?  Not necessarily, but we shall see how this all unfolds and progresses when I get a follow-up ferritin test at the end of two months of supplementation.  Another test might be how my race results look after my body has had a chance to benefit from the effects of increasing my iron levels regardless of how close to 100 ng/ml they reach.  Another test might be how long I am willing to subject my digestive system to the effects of iron supplements, because there is most definitely a change in the “output”, and it ain’t always pretty.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Portland Masters Track Classic – Rare Weekend Double

Continuing on with the 2012 season on the track, I completed a rare weekend double, running the 1500 meters on Saturday and the 5000 meters on Sunday at the Portland Masters Track Classic.  Held at the Mount Hood Community College track in Gresham, Oregon, this meet commonly sees a handful of good Portland area masters show up for the middle and long distance events.  However, for some reason this year the turn-out was very slim.

After braving an exciting but rain-filled day on Friday as a spectator at the Olympic Trials in Eugene, I got my weekend of racing started with the 1500 meters on Saturday afternoon.  Like Friday, it continued to rain off and on all day, however the temperatures were perfect and the wind never became a factor.  From the start list I saw Jonathan Swanson was in the race and I knew there was at least one speedster in my age group who would be going out fast.  With Kevin Paulk also in the race I figured I would have someone to run with for part of the race.  Kevin was quickly on his way back to fitness, and by later in the summer would undoubtedly be leaving me behind, but based on his efforts as a pacer for Nolan Shaheed in the Portland Track Classic Masters Mile, he and I were in the same ballpark.

As we were warming together up before the race we discussed where we wanted to be time-wise and hatched a plan.  We would work together and I would take the first lap in around 70-71 seconds and Kevin would take the next lap in roughly the same split.  After that

My goal for the race was to at least break 4:30, but I really wanted to get close to 4:25 and also set a new PR.  In 2011 I never managed to do any races on the track, but in 2010, upon turning 40, I hit the track hard and ran a PR 4:28.xx while finishing well back in the pack at a college meet at Lewis and Clark College.  It would be great to better that time today.

As expected, Swanson was gone with the gun and as planned I moved into second with Kevin behind me in third.  Unfortunately, I got a little too eager and went through 400 meters in 68 seconds rather than the planned 70-71.  Kevin was smart and held himself back rather than getting sucked in by my too fast start.  I held the second place position, passing through 800 meters in 2:21, which was more or less the pace I was looking for, but the fast start was catching up with me and I was starting to tire. I tried to focus and maintain for the third lap, but started to falter, passing 1200m in 3:39.  Kevin was never far behind, but with 200 meters to go, I dug in, got up on my toes and pumped my arms for a reasonably strong finish.  Jonathan Swanson ran away with it finishing in first in 4:14.90, with me in second in 4:29.76 and Kevin in third in 4:34.52.

Afterwards, I was feeling pretty good and was looking forward to the 5000 meters the next day.  Unfortunately, the start list for that race was a little thin and I realized I might be all alone….again.  In my one other 5000 meter race on the track this season at a Masters meet in Coos Bay in May I lapped the entire field and was relegated to a solo run, a time trial of me against the clock trying to click off 80 second laps for a finishing time of 16:40.  But on that day I fell off pace and could only muster a 17:03 finish.

It looked like this day was shaping up to be a similar solo run, although the weather was a bit better with no wind at all, cool temps, and partly cloudy skies.  As the first event of the day, getting us runners off the line was a bit shaky, as the starters pistol miss-fired three times before we finally got underway.  I went to the front and quickly settled into my planned pace of the same 80 second laps.  Dammit, I was going to run 16:40 one of these days!  My training and other results said I should be able to do it, I just needed the right race and to stay focused.  But doing that all alone is harder than it sounds. 

My first 1600 meters passed by in 5:21, pretty close to right on pace as I began lapping people in the third lap.  Going through 3200 meters in 10:50, I was losing a few seconds each lap and knew that 16:40 was out of the question, but I might still break seventeen minutes.  I did my best to stay loose and keep my head in the race, but I never was able to pick it up and lost a few more seconds each lap.  Coming down the straight away with 2 laps to go they rang the bell.  What!  No! I shouted, “Your count is wrong, I have two laps to go!”.  I am glad I was paying attention to my lap count, but how hard is that really?  Just look at the watch or clock and you can be sure where you are.  I sure knew that I wasn’t about to run 15:40 for 5000 meters!  In the end, I managed a time of 17:06.40 in a race that was sadly very similar to the one I ran in Coos Bay, down to nearly identical splits.  I think I need to find a deeper and faster 5000 meter race on the track to nail that elusive 16:40.  Maybe one of the Club Northwest all-comer meets is the best option.

From the posted results at the meet, I saw that at the meet on Saturday morning, Bill Aronson ran a very speedy 34:45 for 10000 meters.  From talking with others who also ran the 10000 meters, it was pouring rain with lots of standing water on the track.  I am not disappointed that I chose not to run that race, but I would have liked to have had someone of Bill’s talent with me in the 5000 meters.  That would have made for a much more interesting twelve and a half laps.

Since I like to over-analyze my races and look at track stats, I thought I’d see how my last three races on the track compared to one another and where they predicted I should be for a well raced 5000 meters.  Those races were the Masters 3000 meters at the University of Oregon Twilight Invitational, the Masters Mile at the Portland Track Festival, and the 1500 meters at the Portland Masters Track Classic.  Using the IAAF scoring table all three were between 539 and 543 points, with 541 a reasonable average.  That is fairly tight cluster.  But most interesting is that using 541 points as a target, my predicted 5000 meter time should be 16:38.70. 

Distance            Time                  Points
1500                  4:29.76              539
Mile                   4:50.54              543
3000m               9:42.39              540
5000m                16:38.70               541

Perfect, right in the ball park of what I am shooting for in my training and racing goals.  Now, to find the right race to make it happen.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Oregon Masters Mile - 4:50.54

With track season now in full swing, I recently had an opportunity to compete in a special men’s masters mile in Portland, Oregon.  The Oregon Masters Mile is a special prize money race at the Portland Track Festival.  Since 2005, Race Director Dave Clingan has done an outstanding job of luring many of the top masters miles from around the country to come to Portland to toe the line, chase the money and maybe set a national or even world age group record or two.  In many years, this is the most competitive outdoor masters mile race of the year, bringing together a better field than even the USATF Masters Outdoor Championships.  The only other comparable race is the Hartshorne Memorial Masters Mile, a similar assemblage of elite masters milers racing each January on the indoor track at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY.

In short, this wasn’t your local all-comers track meet, this was serious racing for masters milers and the field assembled for this year was as deep as ever.  Going into this race, I was well aware that I was completely outgunned and would be bringing up the rear, but I really couldn’t care less.  For me, this was essentially another important moment in my masters running career, a running bucket list item if you will, and just getting into the race was enough to make me happy.  Of course, I wanted to do well and to try and run my seed time of 4:42.

All seventeen of us lined up at the start.  I'm on the orange and black, third from the right.

To me, a time of 4:42 was realistic.  My training was going fairly well, and I definitely had the speed work under me.  What I was less sure about was my strength.  Could I really hold this pace for all four laps?  Concentration was going to be critical, especially on that third lap.  As I stated, I knew I wouldn’t be anywhere near the front of the race, but I wondered what might be going on back where I would be running.  The great Nolan Shaheed was going to be in the race and, at age 62, would undoubtedly be chasing a new American record in the 60-64 age group.  The listed record was 4:58.2, and based on similar performances from Nolan in the last year or so, he would likely be running in the low 4:50s, so that would mean he ought to be behind me, but never far.  I also knew my friend Thomas  Kreuzpeintner from Eugene was running and, while he probably also wouldn’t be way up front, he normally is a bit ahead of me, so I would have Thomas to chase.  Hopefully it wouldn’t get thinned out too badly back in the rear of the race.

Anxious and nervous at the start or last minute jibba-jabba trash talking?

After a 20 minute delay, we finally toed the line, all seventeen of us.  There were some really fast guys in here too, such as Mike Blackmore and Pete Magill, who together had been spending the spring beating up on the men’s 50-54 age group record for the 5000 meters on the track, with Magill lowering it to an amazing 15:06 the weekend before.  Also in the mix were Charlie Kern form Philadelphia and Ian Gillespie of Portland, and it was guaranteed to be quick.  On top of all that, there were a number of 30-something speedsters itching for a fast race.  My goal was to go out in 70 seconds for each of the first three quarter miles and then just try and hang on.  

With the gun, I immediately dropped back and tucked in behind Thomas.  I promptly forgot about those guys up front.  They could do their own thing, I’ll watch the video later to see how that unfolded.  Sitting on Thomas’ heels we went through the first lap in 69.  Not bad, I wasn’t feeling great, but I wasn’t feeling awful either.  As we rounded the back stretch on the second lap, I noticed it was getting a bit breezy.  Oh well, head down, keep racing.  I did my best to stay relaxed and hang onto Thomas, but by 700 meters, I could tell I was starting to falter a little.  I went through a half mile in 2:21, a stride off of Thomas.  Nolan was about 5 seconds back and working his magic with the generous aid of Kevin Paulk who agreed to join the race as a pacer to Nolan.

Still close on Thomas' heels with two laps to go.

Coming into the third lap, Thomas maintained and I lost ground as I really began to labor.  I made it through 3 laps in 3:34 and thought I might be able to muster something of a kick and run a solid 70 second last lap.  Unfortunately, I was out of gas and did my best to hold my form together and keep my legs moving forward.  It was a humbling experience to just begin to round the last curve near the steeplechase water jump and hear the announcer calling the finish of the same race I was competing in.  I kept moving forward, but could hear Nolan coming on behind me, not to mention the cheers of the crowd to carry him to the finish. 

Coming down the final straight away.

I made it to the finish in 4:50.54, about 10 meters behind Thomas and a few strides in front of Nolan, who ran a blistering 4:53.01 to set a new American record for his age group.  Technically, this was a new PR for me, since I had raced a full mile on the track.  My 1500m PR of 4:28.26 from 2010 coverts to approximately 4:49.30 (when compared on the IAAF scoring tables) so, this wasn’t a bad day for me, although I was a little disappointed that I wasn’t closer to the 4:45 range.  What mattered most was that I got to toe the line with a great group of runners.  

This was also my first race wearing the orange and blue of Club Northwest, a competitive running club I joined from the greater Seattle area.  

Aaaaand, that's a wrap.

My next race is another masters 1500m on the track, and although I am sure there won’t be nearly the depth in this race at the Portland Masters Classic as I experience in the Oregon Masters Mile, I am hoping to run closer to the equivalent of that 4:45 mile time, which would be around 4:24.15.  Let’s just say I have unfinished business.
2012 Oregon Masters Mile
  1 Tim Gore (42) Team Bsk 4:19.81
  2 Jonathan Swanson (40)  Unattached 4:21.18
  3 Charlie Kern (43) Greater Phil 4:21.70
  4 John Boosinger (36) Unattached 4:21.94
  5 Randy Wasinger (36) Kansas City 4:22.09
6 Ian Gillespie (42) Unattached 4:24.28
  7 Rikki Hacker (34) Kansas City 4:25.40
  8 David Weiler (31) Unattached 4:27.02
  9 Mike Blackmore(50) Bowerman Ath 4:27.67
 10 Kristian Blaich (46) Unattached  4:32.91
 11 Ron Kochanowicz (41) Kansas City 4:33.24
 12 Peter Magill (50) Cal Coast Tr 4:34.50
 13 Ray Knerr (52) Cal Coast/Compex    4:34.75
 14 Thomas Kreuzpeintner (48)   Oregon Track Club 4:45.55
 15 Matthew Thomas (42) Club Northwest 4:50.54
 16 Nolan Shaheed (62) SoCal  4:53.01

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

My Last Hurrah! - Pear Blossom 10 Miler - 2012

The biggest road race of the year in the Rogue Valley came and went last weekend with the 36th running of the Pear Blossom 10 Miler. Hey, why are all the fruit tree flower races 10 miles long? The Cherry Blossom in DC, the Pear Blossom in Medford? Anyway, since this was to be my last race in the valley with my move to Washington coming two weeks later, I wanted to put it out there and feel good about having raced hard and giving it my all, especially in the masters division, for which there was even a cash prize on the line.

Also, my friends Louis LeBlanc and Bria Wetsch were travelling down from Portland to stay with us and for Bria to race. From discussions with Louis, Bria’s coach, and from racing with her in two half-marathons last year, I knew that Bria and I were fairly evenly matched and that we would likely work together for the first part. In my mind, it always helps to have someone there to work with in the early stages of a big and longer race. So, it was important to me that I take this race pretty seriously.

Going into the race we (Bria and I) thought we knew what to expect as far as competition and race conditions. For me, it was a battle of the local masters runners and I would be chasing Bob Julian and Neil Olsen. For Bria, based on the race confirmations, she looked like the favorite. Somewhat surprisingly, last year’s winner Marci Klimek was not listed among the entrants. Imagine our surprise when, as we were doing our final strides, my training partners Mercy Ray (who just won the 5k) and Bree Ray ran up and told us that Marci was here and was running. Alrighty then, there will be a race for the ladies after all.

Start of the Pear Blossom 10 Miler with all the wannabes crowding the starting line.

The gun went off and I settled into my target pace of 5:45-5:50 for the first mile. But for some reason it didn’t feel very comfortable. I kept checking my Garmin to see if it was off, but I was pretty sure it was correct. Oh well, I just worked on staying relaxed. Bria pulled in next to me and we ran along picking off the posers that go out fast and fold up after the first couple of miles. Right away we eyed Marci about 30 meters ahead.

Clicking along, Bria and I slowly worked our way closer to Marci until we were only 10 meters back going up the hill at the turn around for the first time. It was my plan to run relaxed and stay conservative for the first half and then go for broke once I got over the hill on the way back. But as I usually do, I attacked the uphill and leaned into the downhill. As we got over the hill and made the turn around, I surged and got right on Marci’s heels. Unfortunately Bria wasn’t able to go with me.

Bria Wetsch and I working our way up the hill at four and a half miles in.

Up the hill again we were hit with a bit of a head wind as I ran along side Marci for a few strides but kept digging in and moved ahead. Right after passing her she did the smart thing and immediately tucked in behind me. But I was having none of that and surged hard to open it up as I thought to myself, “sorry, but I’m got going to make this easy for you and help you beat my friend.” Marci, if by some odd chance you read this, no hard feelings. I’ve never met you and it’s not personal. It’s just that I protect my friends and want to help and not hinder them when and where I can. I think you’d understand.

I should note that by this time I knew Bob Julian was way ahead and long gone. At the turn around I did the normal thing and surveyed who was close by behind me who I knew was a masters competitor or at least looked like one. I was surprised to see Neil Olsen behind me by around 20 seconds, but he wasn’t that far back and who knows how his race was going, I only knew that he was tough and he was close by and we still had 5 more miles to run.

Coming down the hill the last time I dug in and dropped my pace to around 5:45, passing about 3 guys. Nobody around me was going with me and I was gaining on the bodies in front of me. As much as I wanted to know how the ladies race would unfold, I had my own race to run and I kept pushing harder. With 3 miles to go I closed in on my own personal cheering section with Bree and Mercy Ray screaming loudly from the side of the road. It was like running through Wellesley College at the Boston Marathon. I could hear and see them from 100 meters away. That gave me a great shot of adrenaline and I dug in some more as we curved around for the long 3 mile straightaway into the finish.

I could hear a few folks hanging on behind me, but only one person caught me the last half of the race, and it was Neil Olsen. Neil pulled up next to me with 2 miles to go and then a step or two ahead. I tucked in behind, not so much to draft, since there breeze was minor here, but to get pulled along or more accurately to try and hang on for dear life. Clearly Neil was running faster than me, I was pushing hard and dropping the pace and he caught and passed me, which nobody else did. I hung in that spot for almost a mile until we got to the Black Bird, the infamous icon marking one mile to go in the race. But Neil just pulled away.

The infamous Black Bird, icon of Pear Blossom racing pain.

We both kept gaining on a guy in front of us and passed him with about 400 meters to go, but the gap between Neil and I got bigger. As we came into the thicker spectators near the finish I reminded myself that this was it, this was my last race in the valley. I also said to myself, “dammit, you have speed and you have a kick, use it. It won’t hurt any more, you are already hurting, just flip that damn switch. You know Neil is an ultra-marathoner, he can’t have a kick (I have no idea if he did or not, this is just me talking to myself), you race on the track for god’s sake, sprint!” We rounded the corner with about 150 meters to the finish and Neil was ahead by 30-40 meters. I took off, and I sprinted…..and I sprinted. I was closing the gap but I was going to run out of road, I pushed harder and just made it by half a stride right at the line. As I crossed the line I heard the announcer say my name and something or other, but I don’t know what it was, I was just determined to catch him.

Relief after crossing the finish line with the best sprint I could muster.

Truth be told, I would probably have sprinted that hard regardless of who it was in front of me. It wasn’t just because it was someone who I knew was in my age group and I respected as one of the best masters runners in the Rogue Valley, but that most certainly helped. But one of my new year’s resolutions this year was to never give up at the end of a race and if there was someone to catch or race I had to try to beat them no matter what. Neil just happened to be the target this time.

My final time was 58:31 and I was the 11th runner across the line. I figured I got second in the masters race and was feeling pretty good about that. At the finish I turned and watched to see how the women’s race unfolded. Sure enough Marci came around the corner 1st and won the race with Bria only about 20 seconds behind. I later learned that Bria did catch Marci and run with her for a bit, but in the end Marci was stronger over the last couple of miles.

Later that day, when checking the race results online, I was shocked to learn that I actually finished 12th overall and was the 3rd masters male. It seems that, even though I crossed the finish line ahead of Neil and had a gun time one second faster than his, he had a chip time that was 1:20 faster than me. What? I may not have gotten “chicked” in this race but I got “chipped”! Apparently, Neil missed the start by over a minute and had to run like hell to catch up, which explains why he was behind me at the turn around. I’ll admit that it annoyed me to think that I sprinted my ass off to try and beat someone only to show up behind them in the results because of a difference in chip timing. I mean, come on. I crossed the line ahead of them didn’t I? At first I thought there must be an error with the timing system, but then after reflecting on it, I had to admit that, no, Neil is really that fast (and faster than me) and he had to have absolutely hauled ass running through and past all those people to get back up towards the front. That is simply amazing when you think about it. So, hats off to him for an amazing run.

Now that the race is all over it makes me chuckle that, in a way, I screwed myself out of the $100 for first masters runner, since I informed Bob Julian a couple of days before the race that there was actually $100 being awarded for the first masters runners who were USATF-Oregon members. Apparently Bob had let his membership lapse and with the news of a cash prize smartly renewed that day. And as I expected, Bob ran a fantastic race and went home $100 richer! However, with the age-old conflict in official results for chip time versus gun time, it would have been interesting to see how the USATF-Oregon folks would have handled it if Bob had not renewed his membership. Without Bob in the mix, and based on gun time I would have been the first masters runner, but based on chip time, Neil Olsen would have been first (assuming his USATF membership was up to date too). In the past, USATF has been pretty clear about the rules, stating that races are about competition, and are won by the first person across the line and not necessarily by the person with the fastest time. For this reason, they recommend that race directors clearly state that awards will be given based on gun time, but as we all know, most races and race directors these days (Pear Blossom included) do not clearly articulate such details for the benefit of the participants, nor does USATF-Oregon clearly state that on their Long Distance Running Blog which announces the Grand Prix Series prize money.

I should emphasize that in my writing about this, I in no way harbor any ill feelings towards any of the folks I race against. Bob is a friend and a training partner, and Neil is one of the best masters runners in the valley against which I was always going to try my hardest. For me, it is part of finding the pleasure in running through being competitive. I simply see these guys as my peers and my rivals, in the best sense of those words, and maybe if I really get lucky, one day I will triumph!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Prefontaine Masters Classic - Coos Bay, Oregon

I recently ran my first track meet of 2012, opting to tackle the 5000 meter distance at the second annual Prefontaine Masters Classic in Coos Bay, Oregon. Since I am hoping to race on the track a fair amount this year it was time to get things started and lace up the spikes. The thing is, the last time I raced that far on the track was 1988, nearly 25 years ago! Nevertheless, I was mentally and physically ready.

Coos Bay is not really in the neighborhood of Ashland, Oregon where I currently live, and since one of my car pool mates was racing the rarely run 10,000 meters at nine that morning, we opted to drive over the day before. In this case, we consisted of me and Team Sting-Ray, namely Suzanne Ray, running the 10000m, and Mercy Ray, running the 5000m. This was a special race for Suzanne since she was at the tail end of the women's 55-59 age group (turning 60 the next month) and it was a rare opportunity for a masters 10000m race on the track. Moreover, this was her last chance to break the Oregon state age group record in that event.

Mike Fenelli, Jeanette Groesz, and
Suzanne Ray ready to roll in the masters 10000 meters.

Come start time Saturday morning, Suzanne lined up with two other runners to bravely run in circles 25 times. Her companions on the track were Jeanette Groesz of Portland, who was also running for a Oregon State age group record in the 60-64 division and Michael Fanelli who travelled from San Francisco to the meet. The weather for these three was perfect with cool temperatures, virtually no wind and overcast skies.

Suzanne Ray all smiles as she guts her way to
a new state of Oregon 55-59 age group record in the 10000 meters.

As expected, Suzanne accomplished her goal and demolished the old women's 55-59 state record by over 5 minutes, running 43:01.29. If anyone is unsure just how fast this really is, here are a few comparisons to consider. In the 2011 world rankings for her age group at 10000m on the track, this time would have put Suzanne at 8th in the world and the third American. If you bump it up one age group to 60-64, which Suzanne will soon move into and be running in one months from the time of this race, her ranking for 2011 would have been number 2. Second best in the entire WORLD for that age group. All I can say is Wow, I'm honored to be able to know and run with Suzanne and to share some of the fun of seeing such great performances happen.

Jeanette Groesz bringing it home for another
state of Oregon 60-64 age group record in the 10000 meters.

Suzanne wasn't the only record setter in the race as Jeanette Groesz also put a new mark in the books for the women's 60-64 age group finishing in 46:55.52.

After watching these great performances in the morning, I was antsy to get my race started. Unfortunately, over the ensuing couple of hours the weather went from nearly ideal to a little warm and sunny, to overcast with a strong breeze on the curve off the 200 m starting line.

Early in the race, head down into the wind.

I got off to a reasonable start with my goal of clicking off 80 second laps to bring me home in 16:40 or better. But from the get go I was just a tad off pace at 81-82 seconds and was feeling myself lag each time I turned into the wind. Knowing I was going to be all alone out there, I put my head down, literally and figuratively and tried to focus on my form and breathing. In that regard, I really feel good about the race and felt like I was running smoothly and on my toes the whole way.

Trying to stay relaxed and keep
my breathing controlled as I continued to roll along.

My training partner Mercy Ray was also in the race and our pre-race plan should we both execute our individual races as we had hoped was that I should not see her until I am coming down the final straight away. Unfortunately it was not Mercy's day and she developed some breathing issues that slowed her in second half of the race. But she stuck it out and I came by her right as I hit the bell. Since Mercy was running in second (they combined the men's and women's heats) and I was passing her, I had just lapped the entire field. Once again (see my previous blog post) I was on a solo run.

Rounding the curve with about 500 meters to go.

In the end, I clicked off laps in the 81 to 83 second range going through 1600 at 5:25 and 3200 at 10:57. I slowed a bit in the last mile, but did keep my form and even managed to muster a sort of finishing kick, albeit, with no one to match it against. The final time was 17:03.67, a bit off the goal of 16:40, but all things considered, a satisfying solo effort that I am happy with. I am happy because I stayed focused, in spite of very little to focus on, I kept my form comfortable and fluid and smooth (trying to channel the form of some of the smooth runners out there like Evan Jager and Galen Rupp and Jordan MacNamara), and was not ideal conditions with the wind for setting records. It wasn't the PR I was chasing, but it wasn't very far from my PR on the roads of 16:55. The time will come and this was a good step towards making that happen.

Oh, and since this was my first 5000m on the track in many moons, it was also the first time I raced that far in spikes in a long time as well. I was sure my achilles would be shredded afterwards, but much to my surprise my new Nike Matumbos did great and I was not especially sore (more than I am after any race). I was worried about that considering my plans to race on the track more this year. I won't declare victory over my chronic achilles tendinosis, but I will say that I think I have managed to find away to train and race with it.

Bringing it home to the finish.

Since this was the Prefontaine Masters Classic track and field meet named in honor of Coos Bay’s most famous runner, Steve Prefontaine, it was only fitting that Steve’s mother Elfriede Prefontaine was the guest of honor. Mercy Ray and I were lucky enough to get our photo taken with her.

Matt and Mercy with Elfriede Prefontaine.

Also, since Pre was the theme of the day and we were in Coos Bay, it was only fitting that we should make a pilgrimage to his house and stop for a photo on our way out of town. Fortunately one of great folks from Coos Bay that we met at the meet kindly gave us directions.

At the home in which Steve Prefontaine grew up in Coos Bay.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

My First Win and Realizations About Running In the Front

Like many competitive runners, I’ve convinced myself that at least once I wanted to be able to win a road race outright. To be the first one across the line is the ultimate accomplishment in this whole racing thing, isn’t it? In my mind, if it was ever to happen, it would most likely occur in some short and small local race like a 5k where I might have a really good day and the local speedsters might have stayed away. I never expected it would happen in something like a half marathon, but it did. Yes, for the first time ever (hopefully not the last) I actually won a race. Not just my age group or the overall masters division, but the whole damn race….and it wasn’t a 5k, or even a 10k, it was a half marathon. In many ways, I’m still kind of shocked.

The man in black, heads down around mile 2 of the half marathon.

Here’s how it went down at the Rogue River Half Marathon. I ran this race last year and had a pretty good result, finishing third overall, and running a very satisfying time of 1:17:54 at a time of the year where I had been mostly working on getting in some quality mileage and weekly tempo runs. The course the year before run on the roads along the south side of the Rogue River and was pancake flat on out and back loop with little wind, perfect for running fast times. Also, in 2011, I had some company for the first half of the race with a small pack of guys hanging together at 6:00 per mile pace. After the turn around last year, I took off dropping the guys in the pack and running for home on my own.

This year, everything was a little different. Instead of the flat road course, we ran on the north side of the river mostly on the newly paved bike path that winds along into and through Valley of the Rogues State Park before hopping out onto the roads for the middle four miles of the race. In addition to the somewhat winding nature of the route, we also had a cross country-style stretch (twice as an out and back) across a grassy section of the park. Also, the weather was a bit spottier this year with a chilly breeze from the northwest and patches of sun and rain throughout the day. In fact, it was raining pretty hard on me when I drove to the race, but lucky for us, the sun periodically poked out and it never opened up during the race.

Before the race I spotted last year’s winner Tyler Davis, and commented to my training partner Mercy Ray that there’s today winner. However, in chatting with Tyler and also his father Mike before the race, I learned Tyler wasn’t racing and was recovering from an illness and races from the previous two weekends. Looking around at the rest of the potential “competition” at the start, it was hard to say who might win. As usual there was a good group of quick high schoolers warming up who were probably running the 5k, but I couldn’t be sure. Other than that, nobody I recognized really stood out, so I thought, maybe I could do better than last year’s third place showing. Hmmm, this could be interesting. The one person in the race I knew that could beat me easily was my friend Bob Julian, but on this day he was pacing his friend Scott, so in all likelihood, he wouldn’t be breathing down my neck, or more accurately, someone for me to chase.

From the word go and the first step off the line of the start, I was in the lead. I purposefully went out a little quick since in the past I’ve been too slow of a starter. Plus I wanted to get out ahead of the masses in the first mile where the course is very winding and rolling on the bike path. There were two ladies leading the race on bicycles who surged ahead a good 50-100 meters and pretty much stayed up there for the whole race, which, on one hand was great. Up at the front with them leading the way, there was almost no way to go off course, plus the route was well marked and pretty simple. I thought a few folks might there to run with for the first part of the race as folks settle into their race, but it wasn’t to be. I was alone and was going to stay alone until the finish line.

Heading for home with about a mile and a half to go accompanied by
my trusty pacer and drill instructor Mercy Ray

Well, that is not really true, because I was fortunate to have the company and support of Mercy for the last part of the race. After having raced and won the women’s overall division in the 5k, Mercy ran back to meet me at the 10 mile mark to run in with me for a few miles before going back to run in with her mother Suzanne (who, at age 59 finished as the 2nd female overall in the half marathon). It was great to see Mercy at that time since I was starting to get pretty tired and having been out there for an hour with no one to talk to, I was getting sort of lonely.

That was one of the most unexpected surprises to me, how alone I felt running at the front. Plus, even though I snuck a peak back on some of the tight turns to see where the next runners were, I was still running scared, thinking someone must be coming to catch me. In actuality, I didn’t like leading that way and for that long. I am so accustomed to chasing some body and having someone else to key off, I didn’t really enjoy running up front. Admittedly, it made me nervous and it didn't feel comfortable.

However, one thing that I thought was really neat and I had never experienced before was how supportive the other runners were when I made the turn around and was running back towards the finish. So many folks, up front, in the middle and in the back of the race yelled things like “nice job, way to good, and looking great”. I really was touched and tried to say something back or give then a thumbs up. That was one of the most memorable parts of the race.

Running behind me in second for the entire race was a small group of guys, including John Leuthold, Scott and Bob Julian doing his pacing duties, all a bunch of fellow local masters runners. With about a mile to go in the race, Mercy tried to play head games with me and told me the Bob Julian had made a break from the group and was coming on strong. Aw, crap. She knew that this was probably the one thing that could really scare me at this point. I was tired, but still running well enough, but if Bob was digging deep and close enough he could potentially catch me. But I knew Mercy too, and she’s crafty. I said, “That sure would suck if he caught me. You wouldn’t lie to me would you?” “Oh, of course I wouldn’t” she said, and “he’s breaking away”. “Oh great” I thought, "time to dig in", but I didn’t let myself look back over my shoulder and just kept on plugging away. If he was going to catch me, I was going to make him earn it. Bob was strong than me, but at the very end of longer race coming down to a kick, we might be a good match. Of course, this was all a complete farce and Bob was not breaking away and nobody was closing in to catch me, I had nearly a half a mile lead at that point.

Coming in to the finish I pushed hard up the final hill and ran strong though the line. The crowd was, of course, very small with just under 100 runners in the half marathon and about 75 in the 5k, but they gave me a nice cheer and applause. And I think I finished with a smile on my face, at the very least I was smiling inside, knowing I had accomplished another of my running goals, and in a half marathon no less. Who would have ever predicted that!

As for the stats, my finishing time was 1:19:00, almost 3 minutes ahead of 2nd place with my first and last miles the fastest of the day at 5:55 and most of the miles in the middle run at a very consistent 6:03 to 6:07 mile pace.