Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Back to the Basics

Whenever a sports team gets in a slump, you always hear the coaches talk about how they need to get back to the fundamentals of their sport. NBA players do the same dribbling, passing, and shooting drills that we all did in middle school. Whenever a MLB player is in a hitting slump, the coach always says, "he's just got to get back to the fundamentals of hitting." Jack Nicklaus, the great golfing legend, used to start every season by "learning" how to grip the golf club. You don't get much more basic than that for a golfer.

Personally, I've been running a lot longer than I've been swimming or biking. I come from a family of runners. My dad was runner long before it became cool in the 70s. My older sister was a Texas High School State Champion in the two mile, and was the runner-up in the mile. So when my season wasn't going the way I had hoped it would, I decided that I just needed to get back to the fundamentals of triathlon. For me, that's running.

So I ran the Labor Day 15K in Dallas yesterday. I planned on just running around 6:50 or so (my hopeful marathon pace) and then seeing what I had left for the last 5k. I ran the first two miles in 13:30 (i.e., 6:45 pace). My legs felt really heavy, tired, and slow from all the training recently. But I stuck with the pace and noticed that there was one guy in a green shirt that was way ahead of everyone and then a group of 5 guys that were only about 10 seconds ahead of me. I thought about bridging the gap so that I could just sit in with them and compete for second. But I decided to just be patient and let them come back to me. About that time, my legs started to come around, and I ran that next mile a little harder than the first two. I hit the 5k mark in 20:30 (6:37 pace per mile).

Slowly, I started picking off the stragglers as they were dropped from the group of 5. I caught all but one of them by the turnaround (which was just a little shy of half way). I wasn't sure that I could catch that last guy. He looked stronger than the rest of the group from the beginning, and I could tell that he was the one setting the pace that broke everyone else in the group. I decided that I would just hold my current pace (which had slowed a little) and just see what happens. I'm ok with 3rd.

There was a guy on a bicycle that had been riding to each mile marker and calling out times. At about the 5 mile mark, he rode up next to me. Our conversation went like this:

Bike Guy: "Looking strong. You're in second place?"
Me: "No, third. There's a guy up there with no shirt. He's in second."
Bike Guy: "Are you thinking of the guy in green?"
Me: "Yes."
Bike Guy: "Well, that guy's not part of the race. So actually, you're in second."
Me: "Really?! I guess I better go after him then. You realize, you just made my morning a whole lot more difficult?"

We both laughed, I thanked him and decided to see if I could catch the leader. I was running considerably slower than 6:00 miles, and yet, I was still within striking distance of the win. Apparently no one super fast had shown up to race the Labor Day 15K. Still, a win's a win. It's funny to me how my motivation to catch one more person changed just because I now knew that no one was in front of him. Like I said, I'm ok with 3rd. But I'm not ok with 2nd!

I decided to not let the leader get any further ahead of me, and I would pick it up at the 10k mark. I hit the 10k mark in 41:08 (making my second 5k, 20:38, or 6:39 pace).

Ok, time to chase him down. I sped up again, and was running right next to him when we hit the 7 mile marker. As most competitors will do, when I caught up to him, he matched my pace in order to stay with me. At first, I thought I would just sit with him and wait to attack later on. But I figured that I already had him a little worried, so I should attack now, while his confidence is a little shaken. If I wait, he may decide that he can run with me. Besides, there were only 2.3 miles left. What was I waiting on? So I attacked. Hard. I sped up enough for him to know that I intended on dropping him. He responded at first, but by the time I made it to a turn where I could look back, I could barely see him anymore. I ran the last 5k in 20:17 (6:32 pace - my fastest of the three 5ks).

My total time was 1:01:19 (overall average: 6:35 per mile). That's a little slower than I feel like I should be running a 15k right now if I want to go under 3 hours in a marathon this fall. But I started the race tired, and I only decided to really "race" after 2/3 of the race had already been run. Regardless, I am happy with my effort, my patience, and my strategy against the other runners. I'm also really happy with my running right now. I could have easily run further and faster than I did. For how long, or how fast, I don't know. But I think this is the best I've felt running in September, well, ever. That's a good feeling leading into the Longhorn 70.3 in a month, and a marathon in December.

Perhaps I'll have a couple of good races this year after all.

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