September 23, 2012
Some days, it counts as a win if you don't die or shit your pants.
I'm calling today a win.
Over the past few years, I have had the opportunity to meet a good number of good folks who happen to love poker. I have enjoyed sharing some food, cards, and hijinks with a group of poker bloggers at the annual Winter Poker Blogger Tour (WPBT) held each December in Vegas. However, a subset of these fellow degenerates—loosely based in parts East—gather each year in G-Vegas (Greenville, South Carolina) for an event known as "Mastodon", a primal celebration of man's (and woman's) refusal to evolve. Mastodon has always been alternately alluring and frightening (check out the official invite/warning video), but this year, I figured it was high time I got high in South Carolina.
Part of this year's Mastodon festivities include an optional spin through one of the road races on tap for the Spinx Run Fest. Now I've been a runner since high school, but I gave up running road races years ago. As age and complacency have taken their toll, my commitment to running has gone from fanaticism to routine workout. So Mastodon—as well as the Vegas Rock 'N Roll half-marathon during WPBT in December—served as good motivators to kick my running up a notch.
I started training to get back in racing shape this summer, bumping up my mileage while throwing in the occasional long run (7+ miles) and tempo run (faster paced runs). I pegged the Des Moines Capital Pursuit 10 mile race today as a good training race, combining a long run with a chance to knock the rust off my road racing skills (such as they are). Back when I was a serious runner—10 years and 20 pounds ago—Capital Pursuit was one of the regular stops in my annual road racing repertoire, ranking behind only the Dam2Dam 20K as fun yet challenging distance races.
One of my best road races ever was finishing Capital Pursuit in 1:08:37 (6:51 min/mile pace). Considering I'm older, fatter, and lazier, my expectations for this year's Capital Pursuit were modest—don't die, and break 1:30:00 (9:00 min/mile pace). Secretly, I hoped to break 1:27:30. It's good to have goals.
Then last week happened. I was on the road for three days for work. I came down with a sinus infection I couldn't shake. I went to the doctor who put me on an antibiotic that led to, ahem, "intestinal distress". More ominously, the meds came with a four page brochure warning of horrific possible side effects. The most disturbing warning, taking up half the brochure, dealt with a rather alarming side effect. To paraphrase the warning:
CAUTION: This medication may cause spontaneous tendon rupture and random explosion or dismemberment of one or more extremities.Well, that could put a damper on a casual run through the park.
Long story short, I took a full week off from running, mostly because running and intestinal distress make for an uncomfortable combination. I thought about skipping Capital Pursuit, but I had paid for my registration, my sinuses were feeling better, and my knee and ankle were feeling as good as they've felt in years, having had a chance to let my chronic tendinitis calm down.
So there I was this morning, waking up at 4:45 a.m. to start the pre-race ritual I hadn't followed in at least eight years. Rehydrate with a couple of Gatorades (the low-cal version for my older, fatter body). Munch a granola bar to get some carbs in my system. Curl up on the couch with my dog in my lap while I read my Twitter stream and Google reader feed. OK, so that last part is new. I'm a modern runner.
The weather this morning was about as perfect as could be asked for a road race. Temperature was upper 30s at the start, and mid-40s by the finish. Light breeze, low humidity. The stuff where personal records (PRs) are made.
The race followed the long-traditional course from downtown to the state capitol, then up to the Drake University area, on to the Waveland neighborhood, then back down the Ingersoll business district before the final dash though the heart of downtown Des Moines to finish at Nollen Plaza. The course is fairly flat, with no major hills and all inclines fairly gentle.
I committed the newbie sin of starting out too fast, letting the adrenaline of the start and the pace of the lead pack pull me out at a fast clip around 8:00 to 8:10 min/mile for the first three miles. For those of you who aren't runners, you have to trust me that running 30-45 seconds per mile faster than your goal pace is very difficult, and a recipe for disaster. Even thought I felt comfortable at the fast pace, I knew I likely could not maintain that pace over the entire course in my current conditioning level. I decided to pull back a bit for the middle part of the race, going closer to the 8:30 min/mile pace, and feeling good about it.
Then, disaster struck. Somewhere in Mile 7, I felt the dreaded signs of the return of my intestinal distress. Being three-plus miles from the finish line and the nearest kybos, I was in the uncomfortable position of not knowing if my guts wanted to break wind or make it rain. Letting out a small test sample was inconclusive, as the mind senses butt sweat and assumes the worst. So, I had no choice but to suck it up and finish the race with a noxious bubble of who knows what churning up and down my intestines.
Just past Mile 7, when I wasn't sure if I could finish the race, I spotted the sig other and our dog, Berkeley. Berk looked like he wanted to jump into the race himself. Seeing Berk (and the sig other) gave me a little boost, and I started to pick up the pace. I didn't have as strong a kick at the end as I would have liked, but I still tripped off the last three miles right at 8:00 min/mile. As I was pushing toward the finish line, some 40-something woman came sprinting out of nowhere to try to pass me in the last block. I tried to dig in, but quickly realized I was not going to beat her. So, I got my azz kicked by a woman—along with several dozen teenage soccer players, AARP members, mothers and fathers pushing strollers with infants, and people who outweighed my fat azz by 30+ pounds. Such is the world of running; all can compete, and often effort and training matter more than physical talent. Still, I finished in a comfortable and satisfying 1:22:21 (8:12 min/mile pace) (54 minutes in Paul Ryan timing).
As an aside, I must apologize to anyone who was in the downtown Des Moines Marriott approximately 9:35 a.m. and happened to stumble on to my version of this scene:
Altogether, I was pleased with my race. My pacing was not perfect, but I ran the entire race without feeling stressed or winded, and I feel like I could probably coax a little better effort in my next race. Coming off a rough week, I ran better than most of my practice runs. It's tough to extrapolate this race to the longer half marathons coming up, but I feel I have a solid shot at meeting my goals of running Spinx in under 1:54:42 (8:45 min/mile pace), and Vegas in under 1:51.26 (8:30 min/mile pace).
Assuming I don't die in a South Carolina bar during Mastodon, of course.