Thursday, April 22, 2010

Ooo La La (Anatomy of Two Races)

Funny how life turns out. I had set a comfortable (semi-confident) goal of sub-3:30. Why the lack of confidence you ask? After all the year had began well with a 1:33:XX half mary. Not much later though, I ran into a wall while "pacing" the 3:40 hopefuls. It was at mile 22 where, due to severe dehydration, I threw in the towel; my spirit was defeated as my legs failed to produce. Fortunately there was a co-pacer who carried the few remaining soles to the finish. I slogged my way to finish in 3:44:XX... feeling sorry for myself.

Paris is one of my favorite destinations. Alas, my memory was mired as I had ran this race (slightly different course) back in 2001, in a PW of 4:05:57. I was foolish then... no real sense of what it took to perform at this distance. A sub-3:30 would be more than redeeming to this battered soul.

I left LAX at noon on Thursday, and arrived at CDG on Friday at 9 AM local time. Somehow I managed to get some sleep during the flight even though it was against my circadian rhythm's logic.

After I checked in, I managed another 1.5 hours of sleep. Nice. Went to pick up my bib number and called it a day. That night, I took a sleeping pill, an iron supplement and my allergy medication. Result: close to 12 hours of sleep. Jet lag be damned. Did a bit of sightseeing and heading "home" early the following day. Drank 16-oz of gatorade and, again, took a sleeping pill and an anti-histamine. Slept for close to 8 hours. Felt as rested as I have ever felt.

Race morning had me so relaxed, it seemed I was getting ready to go for an easy stroll rather than a 42.195 Km journey. I was wearing a long sleeve T over my singlet and decided to wear the plastic poncho provided by the organizers. I also wore cotton gloves that not only kept my hands warm, but also were used to store three hammer gels. A bag of jelly-beans was going to be a new thing for me; they were to be ingested 15 minutes pre-race time. I quickly ate half a banana and I was on my way. My Nike Zooms only had 17 miles in them and I worried that they had not been broken in; what's more, they felt a bit too snug. Too late.

The subway trip took just about 25 minutes. Amazingly, the CDG Etoile [Arc de Triumph] exit was not crowded; I guess runners who took the subway took it in waves. I had about 20 minutes to spare. I promptly made my way into my corral (3:15) and lined up way in the back, next to the 3:30 corral [3:15 was my goal when I signed up in October]. Jelly beans were quite tasty. The temp was coolish, 40s... perfect.

The horn goes off (no national anthem sung here, nor a fancy flyover) and we're off. No. Wait. We walked. It was a cluster-f*ck. We did not start running until we crossed the starting mats. I immediately got into a nice easy rhythm. At one K I checked my watch and it was just over 5 minutes. Perfect. Champ Elysees had never felt flatter. At 2K, and while rounding the Place de la Concorde, I tossed my throw-away long-sleeved T. Two kilometers of cobble stones conquered.

[2001] At two K I begin to feel pain in my knee;
not a good sign. The pain does not subside. Rain started to drop. It was
not strong, more like a drizzle.

The back top feels surprisingly soft; my Nikes are light, they make my feet feel fast. We continue by the Louvre and the pace feel just right, unlike in Berlin where I had trouble breathing. I hit the first 5K in 24:59. Perfect. The first aid station is on the right and I am on the left side; a swarm of runners shift to the right and I stay put, thinking that there MUST be other tables on the left. Thankfully I am right, but I practically came to a full stop as we had to pick the 12-oz bottle from the tables. I grab a piece of banana as well. A fellow runner slips in front of me. Banana peels and half-eaten orange quarters litter the road.

The 3:30 pacers pass me and I let them go, but I keep them close. I keep a sustainable effort and keep up. The second aid station would only be on the left side. I missed it. 10K in 50:01 (25:02). I bent to pick up a half-full tossed bottle; I do not want to go through premature dehydration; I don't care who drank from that bottle earlier. The crowds are feeling a bit claustrophobic and I subconsciously pick up the pace while running on a dirt path. I pass the 3:30 group. It was nice that the group was more of a line than a wall. At around 12K I decide to make a quick pit stop that would eat 20 seconds off my final time. The 3:30G passes me again. I see a split that does not make sense, 4:45. How could I have sped up that much without feeling it? Hmm. 15K, 1:14:39 (24:38).

It was here where I chose to pass the 3:30G for good. I am running on an adjacent running path, taking full advantage of a tail wind. 20K, 1:38:14 (23:35) WTF? I'll take it. Somewhere around the next 5K I started feeling a head wind and I went back onto the road, drafting off of others.

Right where we go under a tunnel by
the Seine river, I decide to favor my injured leg; this appears to work.
Everything seems to be ok until the half way point where I feel like hanging
up my shoes. My knee had flared up again, and it was quite frustrating
seeing people pass me; I felt helpless to do anything about it. I
crossed the half-marathon marker at just over 2:02, or 9:20 mpm.

By K24, the pain in my knee was so overwhelming, I had to stop to massage
the culprit area

25K, 2:02:12 (23:58), still running and feeling strong. We go through a seemingly endless tunnel that really had me praying it would soon end; it was dark, warm and noisy. The under-passes felt no different than the flat areas, signaling that I had done well tapering. 30K, 2:26:12 (24:00), the splits keep on giving me positive feedback. There were some that I must have lost concentration as they trickled too close to the 5 minute mark. Right around this point, my left calf begins to cramp. Shit. Not now. Not when I am having one good day; what am I saying? I am having a GREAT day. I lower my knees hoping that the electrolytes in the hammer gel I just had will soon kick in. The cramping does not last long, thank goodness.

At just after 30K,
I stopped to stretch and massage my calf and to release my bladder. Lo and
behold when I tried to continue with my shuffling, I cannot even move my
left leg, for the pain in my knee is overbearing. For a second time, I want to quit so bad it batters my already wounded ego.

35K, 2:50:32, (24:20). Damn, I am slowing down. I need to pick it up if I want to go sub 3:25. I do the math and it is well within my ability. I push the pace on what are now tired legs. Thankfully, I am left with plenty of energy to finish strong. The splits are getting faster and faster. I try to stay with a female runner who's running splendidly. I can't keep up; she has the better fitness. I relax. 40K, 3:13:46 (23:14) and my fastest 5K of the race [7:29 pace people!!!]. 41K, 4:38. I try to sustain that pace. 42K, 4:24... WTF? Where did that split come from. Last 195 meters in 45 seconds. I cross the finish line feeling elated. 1:43:24/1:40:09 =3:23:33 with a very satisfying 3:15 negative split. And a 42+ personal course record. How do I like 'em apples? ;-) On this day, j'adore them!!!

The last K went by quicker than I thought possible while chasing another runner (4:48) and from somewhere I managed to get some race-like feeling that took me to the finish banner in 47 seconds for the last 195 meters. My stop watch read 4:05:53. Almost even splits.

One benefit that has been the rule, rather than the exception, is that the recovery time is minimal when I have ran negative split 'thons.

I was limping badly after the volunteer clipped my chip. I guess the rush of endorphins had stopped a few seconds after I crossed the finish line.

Thanks for reading and may your next race be as satisfying as this one was for me.