Saturday, September 1, 2012

Second Verse, Same As the First

2 mile w/u
Target: 5.5 miles @6:00-5:55 pace; 6 min. jog/rest; 5.5 miles @5:55-5:50 pace
Actual: 5.5 miles @32:30ish; 6 min. jog/rest; 2.5 miles @14:40ish
3+ mile c/d
Total: 14 miles

Two weekends ago, fresh off an extended trip to the left coast and a restless redeye flight, I dragged Jordan down to the Charles to join Jenn, Emily and some BAA dudes for what was intended to be a 12-mile tempo effort. Due to my general state of exhaustion and a gravely necessary bathroom break, that workout ended up morphing into something slightly less intense and significantly less impressive. This morning, with Jenn already planning to maintain a faster pace (5:50 was advertised as opposed to 6:00 like the previous run), I knew that even without a built-in jet lag excuse I wouldn't be able to hang on for 12 miles faster than my half-marathon PR. Instead, I planned to stop at essentially the same location where I made my bathroom detour last time, as this was almost exactly at 5.5 miles and would thus allow for a delightfully long recovery segment before the group turned around and caught back up with me. Hopefully by that time I'd feel refreshed enough to tuck in and tough it out for the remainder of the workout.

Within a few minutes of starting the warmup, however, I could tell the conditions would be adversarial. Unlike the cool, calm, overcast morning that greeted us several weekends ago, today the already-prominent sun radiated a dense, sticky heat. A warm wind whipped off the water, making it immediately obvious that we'd have to battle its gusts for several miles of both halves of the u-shaped run route. Don't get me wrong; things could've been much worse. In fact, for any purpose other than attempting a hard workout it was by all measures a beautiful morning. But these were hardly the weather conditions I'd pick to race a half-marathon, which is essentially what we'd be doing. 

As 8:00 approached, so did a trickle of runners to our meeting point from virtually every direction. By go time there were almost a dozen of us, mostly the usual suspects and including our favorite baby daddy Terry Shea. On his suggestion, I joined him and Emily for a 15-second head start on the group. Quite simply, neither she nor I wanted (or really needed) to hit 5:50 pace right out of the gate on a run of this length, especially since she was contemplating extending even farther beyond 12 miles. Instead Terry led us out in a calm, comfortable 6:05-6:10 (not sure the exact split as I intentionally avoided glancing at my watch) at which point we were absorbed by the chase group as planned. From that point onward I focused on settling in and locking my eyes on Jordan's back just as I've done countless times before. Jenn was situated at my left and seemed quite comfortable, but I could hear Emily breathing harder than normal just behind me. It clearly wasn't a fitness issue, seeing as she crushed me in the original workout two weeks ago, but for whatever reason I could tell that she was struggling to find her rhythm. The miles clicked by, and before I knew it we rounded the bridge that signaled the approach of the 5.5 marker. I slowed and trotted to the side as planned and was not entirely surprised when Em did the same. It wasn't her day and she knew it, so rather than force the issue she was content to jog with me for a few minutes and then shut things down. Emily is smarter about listening to her body than almost any runner I know, so I didn't question her decision. (Though I would definitely miss her company on the second half!) 

I shuffled along for a few more minutes until I could see the group approaching in the distance. At that point it was time for me to refocus and, unlike in the first segment, commit to pushing past my comfort zone. My breathing to that point had been surprisingly calm and relaxed but my legs were heavy. (As well they should have been, as I'd already logged over 90 miles since Monday.) I felt sure of my ability to lock into 6-minute pace or even 5:55, but if Jordan stepped on the gas like last time I'd be toast. Steady as clockwork, the group materialized around the bend behind me and I seamlessly fell in line. This time it was Jenn whose breathing sounded increasingly ragged, and every step we took into the wind seemed to sap a bit more of her strength. I, too, began to fall off the boys but was still maintaining some semblance of the intended pace, so when Jenn and a few others decided to stop at eight miles I continued onward for a few more uncomfortable minutes. I tried to stay focused on the backs of the guys in front of me (even as those backs grew increasingly more distant), but after one more mile I knew I was almost in the red. The heat, the wind, the dead legs--it was all too much to allow me to finish the entire distance feeling as strong and confident as I'd hoped. Instead I waited for Jenn to approach so we could commiserate and cool down side by side. It wasn't our best workout ever, but that certainly doesn't discount the effort or the fitness gains attained.