Not to spoil the ending or anything, but it was the best of times. . .

Well, that was pretty fast: Part I

A co-worker from our Geneva office who runs ultras was in town this past week.  We have worked together for about three years now, but had never met in person.  Since he was going to be around, we planned to head out for a run while he was here.  Wednesday evening after work we headed over to the Chester Valley Trail to get in five miles.  This is flattish rails-to-trails path that stretches from Exton to King of Prussia in PA.  I figured this would be a nice easy run where we could chat about running, racing, and families.  Basically, just a laid back get to know you better type affair.  I probably should have clued him into my intentions because he had much different plans in mind.

We start out on the trail and he immediately takes the lead.  I’m 2 steps behind before we’ve even gone 15 feet.  I quickly accelerate and catch backup, but am still a half step or so behind him.  While I’m having some difficulties carrying on a conversation in complete sentences, I don’t fully realize how fast we’re running until we finish the first mile and my watch flashes up a 7:33.  [parental expletive!]  This is blazing fast for me.  I will occasionally go sub-8 minute pace, but that’s usually on several downhill miles near my house.  After another half a mile, I can barely get more than 3 or 4 words out at a time.  We’re still carrying on a conversation, but it’s rapidly becoming more and more one-sided.  And my co-worker is just cruising along.  Part of me wants to slow the pace down, but being the hardcore 100-miler that I am I decide to just suck it up and represent.

We hit mile #2 in 7:29 and now I’m starting to wonder how much farther out we’re going to run.  We didn’t establish a distance before we left and I’m starting to think he might want to run all night long.  I can run long, but I can’t run fast.  Finally at 2.5 miles, I suggested we head back and he was agreeable.  Now I just had to hold on for another 20 minutes.  I finally mentioned to him that I was struggling a little bit and he was cool to let me set the pace for a bit.  But my ego started talking before I could fully engage my brain and out popped something along the lines of “I never really run fast and this is a good change of pace for me.”  Sigh.  Now I was stuck with a silly fast past (7:33 ended up the average for the 5 miles) for the rest of the run.

In hindsight, this is probably just what I needed.  Everything that I read says you should mix up your paces.  That your hard runs should be hard and your easy runs should be easy.  Well, my easy runs are definitely easy, but my hard runs are rarely what I would call hard.  Every now and again I’ll really get after it, but maybe that’s once every two or three months.  They typically end up like the third bowl of porridge; right in the middle.

Well, that was pretty fast: Part II

Saturday I had a 25 mile run scheduled.  This was my second of three long runs between Umstead and Old Dominion.  I didn’t have any expectations or time goals heading into the run.  My 20-miler two weeks ago ended up being tied for my fastest training run over 20 miles at a 9:23 pace.  I’m like most people and typically slow down the farther I run so was thinking anything in the 9:30-9:45 range would be a good day.  There was nothing leading up to the run (diet, sleep, etc.) that would suggest I could do any better than that since as my long runs increase in distance, my pace always slows down.  Until this weekend.

I knew I was in for something epic when the first mile clicked by at a 8:19 pace or about 30 seconds faster than I had ever started out.  I wasn’t sure yet though whether this was going to end up epically good or bad.  I tried slowing up a bit in the second mile and again split about 30 seconds faster than normal.  Oh, well.  Seven of my first nine miles were all under 9 minutes and all of the miles were below the average pace of my last long run.  It wouldn’t be until mile 20 that I finally posted a split above this, but I’m getting a little ahead of things.

I got back to my house, swapped out a water bottle, and headed back out for the last 16 miles on an 8 mile out and back route.  It was at this point where I started to work a little bit.  I wasn’t pushing the pace by a whole lot, but I was definitely putting forth more effort than I usually do on my long runs.  This in turn led me to start counting down my miles much sooner than normal.  Looking back, as the miles kept ticking off, my effort level steadily increased as well.  I was doing OK pace-wise until I got to my biggest hill at miles 20/21 (117/239 feet gain) where I started to blow up.  My legs went from tired to mostly dead.  Unfortunately, there was no Miracle Max around to give me a magic pill so I really had to gut out my last couple miles.

I typically only check my average pace for a run once at the midway point or maybe 2 times on the longer runs.  Yesterday I was glancing at it almost constantly over the last 2 miles.  At that point, the hay was already in the barn and no level of effort either all-out or shuffle was going change the average more than a second or two one way or another.  But my eyes were mesmerized by what my watch was showing me.  Not only was I below my 20-miler pace of 2 weekends ago, but I was far below it.  And then I was up my driveway and could finally stop with an average pace of 9:08.  I’ve only run faster than this twice before, both times in my road marathons that were much flatter.

To say I’m happy with the run would be the understatement of the month.  I definitely put forth a lot higher effort at the end than normal, but that was only because the first 10 miles were so much quicker.  I didn’t want to waste what could end up being an all-time best training run for me.  At the end of the day though, that’s all it was – a training run.  There was no medal or buckle waiting at the end, only a protein drink and a soft chair.  My legs and knees are pretty sore/stiff today so I’ll take it extra easy for a couple days and hopefully add some extra sleep to the 10 hours I got last night.  My maintenance training cycle looks like it truly is turning into a build-up to bigger and better things.  I’m trying not to get too carried away by a couple runs, but it’s hard.  The dream of an Old Dominion buckle seems to be closer than ever.

Hope your training is going as well as mine seems to be.

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