Blown away at BayState
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind…
Posted Saturday, 22 October, 2005
I knew I was ready for the marathon last week when my mother-in-law told me I looked awful. “Chris, what’s the matter with you? You look awful.”
Ah… Always can count on the encouragement! But, what she really meant was that I had that skinny, lean and haunted look that comes from 3 hour long runs and too much time on the treadmill.
As a matter of fact, I felt great. I never felt better. I was healthy and reasonably well trained. I had made the decision to tackle my old friend the BayState. I was pushed over the edge after my last long run, two weeks ago. I ran our local rail trail end-to-end-to-end for 21+ miles in 3:00 even and had a nice strong kick at the end. The knee wasn’t complaining. The Achilles weren’t too upset and the old body recovered pretty well. Seemed like a ‘go’.
Life is funny that way. I couldn’t run a step 9 months ago after the car crash ate my patella and here I was going to jump back into it again. Turn, turn, turn. The human body is an amazingly adaptable thing if you give it a chance.
Last time I ran the BayState in ’01 at 39 years young I smoked an easy qualifier at 3:10 and change. It’s a forgiving and fun course. I’ve always done well there. It’s in my back yard, less than 20 miles from where I grew up. Not a race to be feared, for me it is truly an old friend.
2001 seems like a long time ago. Since then I’ve worked through some challenges. A ruptured Achilles in ’02 and wrapping my truck around a telephone pole in ’04 have kept me busy. I’m happy just to be moving forward. I managed to sneak in a 3:21:07 at Hyannis in early ’04 before Mr. Telephone Pole whacked me. That was enough to carry me through two sloppy Boston’s in ’04 and ’05. Truth be told, I haven’t run a comfortable 26.2 in almost 5 years. It was setting up like a show down - that the 2005 BayState would tell me what my status really was.
I tried something different this time around. I doubted my knee or my Achilles would hold up for the traditional 50+ mile week training program. Instead I opted for the 3 day a week program that has become popular over the last couple years. Basically you only run the hard stuff. Tuesday speed, Thursday Tempo and Saturday Long. In addition you must cross train on 3 of the off days.
This is not that huge a departure from a “normal” marathon conditioning plan. For me all it meant was replacing my easy run days with swimming. It keeps you from getting those creaky little injuries and tendonitis that are common at the end of a 12 – 16 week ramp up. You know what I mean; you are in great shape but can’t stand up or bend over without wincing? You’ve been there. It’s the marathon irony. How can I be in such great shape and such pain at the same time? With the 3-day program you don’t get that. Your body gets to heal and there is no tendon pain. At least I had none. The combination with the swimming creates a great healthy balance.
But I digress…
I decided it was time to “take the plane for a test fight”, and BayState was it. The weather was rotten all week leading up to the race. We had torrential rain that made the national hysterical news highlights for 8 straight days. When the clouds broke on Sunday morning for the race, the passing front manifested gusting, swirling 40 mph winds. That was to be our lot on the course.
I wasn’t that freaked out by the weather. It was a test drive for me anyway and I only needed a 3:20 (or to be exact 3:20:59:59). Anybody can run 7:30’s, right? Wind is bad, but the BayState always has a little breeze on some sections. I’ve never had a problem with it. There have always been unsuspecting victims to practice nefarious drafting on, especially the ½ marathoners who tend to run in support groups and create nice deep envelopes to hide in. Besides, on a loop course the wind can only be in your face some of the time, right? It’s got to be a tail wind too, right?
I had forgotten Murphy’s laws of running. It’s always uphill and the wind is always in your face.
At 8:30 AM on Sunday a few hundred of us stood in the corral waiting for the gun. The sun was out, but it wasn’t hot, especially with the head wind evaporating sweat off you. We joked about how you can never understand what the race director is saying at the beginning of these things. They could be warning of Tyrannosaurs on the course, we’d never know. The ½ marathoners started earlier. We wouldn’t be sharing the road with them and wouldn’t be able to use them as human windshields.
I opted for a thin pair of tights. My theory was that these would provide less wind drag than my bare hairy legs and there wasn’t much chance of overheating in the wind. So, yes, that was me the chatty bearded guy in the sky blue tights, red Boston ’04 shirt, white Boston ’05 hat, blue sunglasses and iPod. (My first marathon with the iPod)
The wind was in our faces all the way out, non-stop to the Tyngsboro Bridge at mile 8. Not just a steady drag, but a gusting, stand-you-up head wind that had us huddling together in packs, taking turns at the lead. At the bridge I had assumed it would be a tail wind along the east side of the river, the other side of the loop, but I was wrong. Somehow it was still a head wind until the little turn by the Rourke Bridge. The net result was that of the 26.2 miles, about 22-23 of them were into the wind.
The course was well policed and the water stops were plentiful and energetic. Especially my friends from the Squannaccook club who set up a sound system to encourage runners by name at the 7.4 and 17.x mile marks. My folks, my wife and my kids were there handing out water in the gale. My kids love the water stop duty.
The battle with the wind led to a certain camaraderie that always forms under battle conditions. Like sharing a fox-hole with someone. We worked together to draft and fight the gusts. Still, by the second loop there started to be casualties.
It appeared to me that even though the wind took some energy to fight, more importantly, it changed people’s mechanics, and that is what got to them in the end. Long stride heal strikers like me were forced to lean forward and shorten the steps. Forward leaning Chi-runner types were stood up by the wind. The end result being that the strange mechanics caused some muscle group to cramp that normally would not.
For me it manifested all up the back of my legs. The wind was like running with a drag chute on. I’m a big guy and I move a lot of air. I tried to draft, but that meant running someone else’s pace and stride. I tried to visualize and let the wind flow around me without fighting it. “Don’t fight it” I kept saying to myself. I visualized myself as a big ship cleaving effortlessly through the ocean waves. I joked to a couple ladies that we should have sprayed ourselves with Pam cooking oil for slipperiness.
In the end I didn’t crash, but I missed my time. I think the wind was worth 3-5 minutes. I saw more than a few folks walking or off to the side stretching and massaging cramps. I’m willing to bet there were some disappointed runners out there.
I never did the death shuffle. It was more like the wind sanded off just enough pace through miles 16-20. When I finally got that tail wind for the last 3 miles the back of my legs were too tight to stretch out and take advantage of it.
Somehow I feel that I should be upset about not meeting my goal, but I’m not. I’m happy to be out there running. There is always another race and you can’t control the weather. I almost feel guilty that I’m not upset about it…how conflicted is that?
The BayState is still a great race after all these years. It provides a qualifying opportunity for locals at just the right time. I like the new finish in the ball park, although I was too beat up to appreciate it. I really liked the free massage that made it possible for me to walk back to my truck. The massage lady said to me, “You need to stretch more.”
To which I replied, “Now, or in general?” Those are my new marching orders. “Stretch more.” Simple enough.
I’m figuring to look for another qualifier or two this fall since I’m healthy and already in shape. Got any suggestions? Next on the calendar, I’ll see you at the Groton Town Forest Race this weekend. Maybe it will snow! Wouldn’t that be a hoot?