This morning I ran the Gr8ter Race, an eight mile race that starts in downtown Los Gatos, heads west on Highway 9 through residential neighborhoods to downtown Saratoga, which then doubles back to finish in downtown Los Gatos. The race was part of The Great Race, which starts in Saratoga and finishes in Los Gatos along the same course. The Gr8ter race is just The Great Race doubled.
Well, the good news I set my all time 8 mile PR. Never mind I’ve ever run an 8 mile race before. I finished in 53:18 which is about 6:39 per mile pace, not bad for a race full of rolling, nagging hills. None of the hills are particularly tough but it’s one of those courses where you’re always going either up or down. Considering I ran around 6:30 pace for five miles eight weeks ago on a much flatter course at the 408k, I’ll call this an improvement.
I would give you the blow by blow of the race, except I barely remember what happened out on the course just a few hours ago. Only about 100 people ran it, so the field thinned out pretty quickly. After the first couple miles, I was pretty much by myself. Then I tired towards the end and with about 1 1/2 miles to go, a couple people caught me. I finished in the top ten, so I thought I might win the 50-59 age group, but it turns about a couple guys over 50 beat me. It’s great that old farts like us dominated the race, but then where were the young guys?
There a some races where you do well, creating that satisfying sense of accomplishment and excitement. Then there are bad races which you simultaneously try to learn from and forget at the same time. Then, there are others like the Gr8ter Race where you do OK and move on.
So the Gr8ter Race is over and done. On to the Across the Bay 12k held in San Francscio in six weeks.
Running seemed to be going good for me early 2018, but you never really know how good running is going until you test yourself in a race. So I eagerly lined up in Sunday morning’s 408k, a 8 kilometer race that starts at the SAP Center (I still call it the “Shark Tank”), weaves through San Jose’s Rose Garden neighborhood and finishes at the swanky Santana Row Mall. It was 35 degrees F during the early morning warm-ups, frigid for Bay Area conditions. But with clear skies, the sun quickly warmed things up for ideal conditions at start time.
My goal with to break 33:00, and felt a hitting a time faster than 32:30 would be pretty difficult. So when I passed through the 1st mile just under 6:30 pace feeling reasonably comfortable, I took that as a good sign. Continuing to focus on pace, the next mile was about the same time and mile three was even a little faster, all the while slowly moving up the field, picking off two or three runners each mile. Some small hills on mile 4 and mounting fatigue begin to wear on me, and my pace slowed to over 6:30 per mile pace. I started to get a bit gassed on the last mile, but had enough left to finish strong and crossed the finish line in 31:50 on a course that was probably about a tenth of mile short, based on my GPS watch. Adding about 40 seconds to my time to compensate for that tenth of a mile seemed about right, which puts me right at 32:30 for the 8 kilometer distance, right on fastest target. So I really couldn’t ask for a better racing start for 2018. Next race up is the Gr8tr Race, an 8 mile race from Los Gatos to Saratoga and back, held on April 29th.
That success was tinged with sadness that morning with news outlets reporting the passing of running legend Sir Roger Bannister. In many ways, Roger Bannister was in the right place at the right time to break the 4 minute mile barrier, but mere circumstance could not have picked a greater running ambassador. His humility in his achievement of excellence was inspiration to countless runners, including myself. During a time in the early 90’s at my running peak, I devoured his book, The Four Minute Mile. Bannister’s amiable style, coupled with a scientific approach to running, honesty about his failures and weaknesses, and a matter-of-fact attitude about his supreme accomplishments moved me at the time. I wanted to be him.
I’ve choked up a couple times since learning of his death. Rest in peace, Sir Roger. You are so badly missed.
After an encouraging 2017 running year, I decided to lace up the racing flats for the Kiwanis 2018 Resolution Run held New Year’s Day at Mountain View’s Shoreline Park, one of those small charity races where a couple hundred people show up in a good mood full of holiday spirit.
Won’t bore you too much with a blow by blow of the race, mostly because with the small field, everyone basically separated after the first couple miles and I was running by myself for the last five miles of the 6.2 mile course. My goal was to break 42 minutes, which seemed challenging as my legs felt a little creaky and not so energetic. Going out at what felt like an easy pace, I looked down at my Garmin watch and noticed I was running about 6:25 per mile pace, significantly faster than 42 minute pace. I eased off just a little more, and still passed a runner just before the mile marker. Up ahead was a guy in a blue shirt. Keeping eye contact on the blue shirt while trying to keep a 6:40-6:45 pace, a followed him over the winding path through Shoreline Park. When it was over, crossed the finish line in 41:24, which is 6:40 pace. Having run a number of well-paced races in 2017, it was an encouraging running start going into 2018. I have a goal to break 40 minutes in the 10k this year, and the morning’s effort made that seem very possible.
Unfortunately, that afternoon’s home brewing session was a lot less successful. It’s been a couple years since I brewed, and it showed. I had no good way to cool down the boiling wort so after stacking the big stock pot on bags of ice, and then pouring it into a couple 1-gallon jugs I used as fermenters, the wort eventually cooled down enough after a couple hours and I pitched the yeast in the warm brew. Twenty four hours later, not a lot of fermentation is going on and I fear I may have killed off or severely weakened the yeast by pitching it into wort that was too warm. We’ll see what happens in a couple weeks.
A good 10k race and a dicey homebrew session. I can think of far worse ways to start 2018.
Let’s face it, 2016 was a bummer for me as far as running was concerned. I showed up to the starting lines at the Napa Valley Marathon and Healdsburg Wine Country Half-Marathon with nagging injuries which led to both disappointing results in both races and bad hip injuries, which took a few months to fully recover from. Hobbling into 2017 at age 49, I began to hear the whispers of self-doubt that maybe I was just starting to get too old to be running races and handling all the day-to-day training grind.
Well, screw that! This year turned out to be a fun year for running. Starting from last March, every 4-6 weeks I raced a series of shorter 4 mile to 10k events as I gradually shook off the injuries and slowly upped the weekly mileage. By the end of the summer, I decided I was ready to give the Monterey Bay Half-Marathon a go.
I’ll do my best not to bore you with how the half-marathon training went. I opted for the tried and true “hard-day/easy-day” routine, but made the hard-days a little less intense than past years and also mixed in a greater variety of work-outs. Most hard days were some new challenge and it took away from the “if it’s Wednesday, I must be doing a six-mile tempo run” rut. Not only was this a more enjoyable way to train from previous years, this routine kept both my legs and mind fresh so I got the starting line last Sunday ready to go for 13.1 miles.
As for the race itself, my plan to start the early miles no faster than 6:45 per mile pace worked to my advantage as I maintained almost exact pacing throughout the whole race. I crossed the finish line in 1:29:00, a 6:47 per mile pace, good enough for 4th in the 50-54 age group. Without going into a tedious play by play of the whole half-marathon, let’s just say the musicians along the course and enthusiastic crowd gave me a lift for the first few miles, while the beautiful scenery along the ocean-side miles of 5 through 10 was inspiring, even if I could’ve done without the wind and rolling hills of those middle miles. I’m grateful a large pace group shooting for a final 1:30 time, which was actually running about 1:28:30 pace, caught me just before the 11 mile mark just as I really started struggling. Holding on to this small pack for dear life the next couple miles provided a badly needed lift and I actually slightly picked up speed the last couple miles.
That concludes my last race for 2017. What’s in store for 2018? Haven’t decided what races to do yet, but where ever running takes me in 2018, I’m looking forward to it.
When I was a was a twenty-something runner, I figured my knees would be totally shot by the time I reached age 40, and could no longer run. I was wrong on two counts. First, my knees weren’t shot when I turned 40, and now at age 49, I’ve been running a lot since. But while my knees have been mostly fine in my 40’s, it’s my hips that have given me problems. The upshot from thinking long ago I’d be done by age 40 is that every race is now is a gift. That’s still true, even though this year I’ve spent most of the time either battling hip injuries or recovering from them.
It was with this mindset that entered the Applied Materials Silicon Valley Turkey Trot this past Thanksgiving with a slightly bad wheel. My right hip which gave me problems in October’s Healdsburg Wine Country Half-Marathon had recovered some, but was still sore. The goal was just to go out, find a good pace, hold on, stay competitive, and finish strong. I wore a watch to monitor pace, but went in with no time goal. A well run race, getting the most out of your fitness level, is it’s own reward.
Even with a bad hip and reduced expectations, the morning reminded me about everything I still love about racing. The nervous anticipation building up to the start. Being a part of the surge of humanity released by the “Boom!” of the starting pistol. Running in the tightly packed herd, punctuated by foot strikes and heavy breathing, in the early miles. Finding ways to overcome the doubt as fatigue sets in around the halfway point. The battle towards the end and the fight all the way through to the finish line. The post-race comrade of strangers who all just experienced their own personal journeys through the course. The feeling of accomplishment after giving just about everything I had. All of that happened one more time.
I figure I’ve run well over 350 races over 36 years in my life, and while a lot has changed over that time, a lot has also stayed the same. I’ve never grown tired of it. In fact, as I get older, I appreciate it even more. So this past Thanksgiving was time for giving thanks for a lot of things, and being able to race once again was a big part of that.
Looking up one of the many hills at Alamaden Quicksilver Park
As I try to find ways to break routine in my running, Sunday I ran the hills of San Jose’s Almaden Quicksilver Park for the first time in over a year. There is no flat at Quicksilver. You’re either running up a hill or running down one. No two footsteps are the same and your legs are constantly dealing with the force of gravity in all sorts of new directions not normally experienced on flat residential streets. That’s why trail running over terrain like Quicksilver is a great way to develop strength and balance. I also noticed imbalances and slight flaws in my running form over the hills I’ll be working on over the next few weeks to correct.
I’m going to need good hill fitness since I’ve signed up for the Healdsburg Wine Country Half-Marathon this October 29th and the course has a couple good sized hills on it: A tough 140 foot climb to start the first 0.6 miles of the race and a steep, 160 foot climb between the 8.6 and 9.6 mile marks that will probably make or break the race. So you’ll probably see more of me on the Quicksilver trails and doing hill repeats on some of the highway overpasses in and around my hometown of Campbell.
Hills are tough taxing and tedious. They also make you a better runner.
Tortillas litter the ground on the Bay to Breakers Starting Line
There’s the old sports cliche’, it’s not about getting knocked down, it’s how you get off the mat. I’d say I got off the mat rather slowly and deliberately after shredding my left hip in the Napa Valley Marathon last March. It took nearly four weeks after the marathon before I tried running again, and that just a slow hobble of a lap around a track for a grand total of 1/4 mile. From there, I slowly, and at times painfully, built up from there to a half mile, then one mile, then two miles, and finally 3-4 miles started feeling pretty manageable. I’m not sure which were tougher: Those 20 miler training runs for the marathon, or those 3 mile runs on a day my left hip could only hold together for about a mile.
I was already signed for Bay to Breakers since last fall, so recovering enough to tackle the mid-May 12 kilometer race was the goal. Day after day of careful runs and twisting myself into bunch of odd, awkward positions to stretch and strengthen the hip, I finally got to the point of completing 8 mile run with hip holding up pretty well. So was pretty confident I could handle whatever Bay to Breakers could throw at me.
And handle it I did. Bay to Breaker is one big San Francisco-themed mob scene of a race, a flow of humanity from the east side of the city to the western edge of Golden Gate Park. The idea was to just go with that flow. I had a modest goal of finishing under 7:30 per mile pace, a little less modest goal of finishing under 7:15 per mile pace, but basically, I just wanted to put in a strong effort for 7.45 miles. At the top of Hayes Hill, a check of my watch had me at just over 7:30 pace at three miles and I wasn’t feeling so good. Not an encouraging sign, but I just kept working on getting my knees up, found a second wind, and started zipping through the latter downhill miles in sub-7:00 minute pace, finishing in 52:45 with little soreness in my hip the whole way. That’s something like 7:04 per mile pace, faster than I figured to do. I’ll take it.
Next race up, Santa Cruz’s Wharf to Wharf on the fourth Sunday of July. I’ll leave you with a few pictures from Bay to Breakers I snapped with my iPhone.
Tortillas fill the air at the starting line
Star Wars costumes were popular. Just ahead of me were a bunch of fast Princes Leia’s