Saturday, September 22, 2007

Not Very Quick at Quantico

Today leaves me with two nagging questions:

1. Why can I no longer run fast?
2. Why can't Penn State ever beat Michigan?

OK, and maybe a third:

3. Are the two at all connected?

I'm not ready to ponder question No. 2. The wound is a bit too fresh, just about an hour since loss number 9 to the Wolverines. I will say, however, that one of the last times we beat them was when I was a spontaneous college student and Penn State would eventually end up in the Rose Bowl.

It was 1994 and the game that sent us to Pasadena was being played at the Big House. Just about 14 hours before kick off, my friends and I piled into my green Nissan Pathfinder and hit the road from State College, PA to Ann Arbor, in hopes that we'd find tickets when we got there. We forked over $50 each in front of the student union for our seats, which seemed like a fortune to us then. Dressed in blue & white from head to toe, we ended up in the Michigan student section, and as it became clearer that we'd be spending New Year's in California, we grew more boisterous as everybody around us began filing out the stadium.

Ah, the memories. Definitely one of those "best days of your life" kind of stories.
Anyway, today marked my last run of any consequence before Chicago. At the last minute I decided to run the Quantico Half Marathon, which turned out to be a beautiful course of minor rolling hills on the Marine base in Virginia.

After a nice string of beautiful, cooler days down here (below the Mason Dixon Line...), unfortunately the streak ended this weekend. At the start is was 78 degrees with 85 percent humidity. Will it ever end?

I definitely didn't give myself enough time to park, get my race packet, and make it to the starting line on time, so I ended up running about 2 miles before the gun went off. As the National Anthem was being sung, I was just arriving at the line, already drenched in sweat (note to self: Marines dislike it when people continue jogging during the Star Spangled Banner, no matter what the circumstances...).

Just as I hopped into the crowd, we were off. Curiously, although we were using timing chips, there was no mat to cross at the start, just the finish. Hmmm.

I made so many ridiculous mistakes today, I'm not even sure where to begin. I went out too fast. I didn't slow down after I realized I was going too fast. My first mile was allegedly around 7 minutes, which I don't believe -- I think the mile marker had to be off. My heart rate remained ridiculously elevated the entire first half of the race and I pretty much felt like I was dragging rocks with me for the duration. My breathing was pretty labored the whole time, which I chalked up to the humidity ( there an echo in here?).

I made it to mile six at around 47 minutes (7:50 pace), which surprised me, given how slow I felt I was going. I knew if I could maintain that pace, I'd be golden and have a nice confidence boost heading into the marathon. Unfortunately, my body wasn't agreeable to that plan and I started losing steam right around mile 9, which coincidentally marked the start of the only real hill on the course.

I began walking through water stops to give my legs and lungs recovery time, then I'd decided to do intervals to catch the people ahead. That kept me occupied for the remaining miles, but I slowed considerably during the last two, just focusing on my cadence and looking forward to calling it a day.

I finished in 1:47, about 5 minutes slower than my fastest half marathon. I am bummed. My legs aren't sore, they just wouldn't turn over. I was wearing some fantastic new Nikes (love them!), but there was no spring in my step. Maybe I'm still recovering from last week's 21-miler and fatigued from a long week at work and final Chicago preparations for the team.

As I headed out of the stadium, disappointed with myself and in deep contemplation about what October 7th is going to bring me, a woman stopped to comment on my neon-orange Race with Purpose singlet.

"I saw you a few times out there and I just wanted to asked you: What is your purpose?" she asked.

I explained how our team raises money for charities that help at-risk kids live healthy, active lives. As her two small children turned to cheer for their Marine dad who was nearing the finish line, she smiled and said, "That's amazing -- please keep up that great work."

Then, a young Marine who was marshaling the course near the parking lot congratulated me as I was about to cross the street. He asked what my time was. I responded "1:47."

"Wow. You're good," he said. "I'd probably do it in like three hours or something."

Well, if my race results weren't going to feed my ego, I guess a cute Marine would suffice.

Now it's time to taper and I'm wondering how I should go about it, given the signals my body is sending me. Tapering is a tricky time, especially when you haven't had a stellar training season. Should I divert from the team's prescribed schedule or hope that it does what it needs to do for me?

I guess I'll just figure it out as I go. And hope those better days are indeed ahead...for me and my Nittany Lions.



Beth said...

I came across your blog and just had to comment...

That's a great time for this year's Quantico! I was there, too, and pretty much thought I was going to die from the heat, humidity, and hills (especially the killer one during mile 9). Terrific job, and kudos to you for raising money for charities!

Strouter said...

Thank you, Beth! Congratulations to you as well -- it was a tough day out there for everybody. Hope your running continues to go well!