Thursday, September 12, 2013

Glue Holds Us Together, Circa 2013

Personal Records in life are hard to achieve. Had once, the onion must be peeled back to find deeper levels of commitment, excellence, motivation, health, consistency, ad nauseam. Normalize by age, the unparalleled feeling of skill and determination needed to continue to PR in distance running races toes the tightrope of overtraining and burn out, to that of rest of recovery. Strike when the iron is hot; sometimes, sometimes not.

This year has been an incredible walk, this running thing. Circa 2013 feels like I’ve been lured into a spider’s web, at first a seemingly safe and comfortable zone soon struck with pain threshold and newfound hunger. An incomparable emotion this year has raised motivation levels to train harder, faster, higher, and stronger; I really love this running thing. It has made all elements of my life more satisfying. And all elements of my life today have made running even that much more enjoyable.

Helping fuel the ambition this year I have seen three different 5k PRs, and finally breaking the 17-minute barrier down to 16:40. The mile smacked me around at Goucher College, racing 4:51.7, ouch! I still cannot put together the right 10k race, but the 10-mile was 60:24 at Club Challenge, and the DC National Half saw 1:19:09 were nice PRs. The Boston Marathon this year on April 15th brought on its’ own challenges, but the 2:50:34 PR effort produced confidence. In total, I think seven (7) PRs this year have all come with the price of admission. Even the 2:57:25 PA Grand Canyon Marathon yielded a happy result, my highest finish at a marathon (3rd), and just an overall fun day on the hardest marathon course I’ve ever raced. A week of recovery and it was back to the training table Galloway with a 75 mile effort in a week, and several more 60-mile weeks thereafter.

Yet still, something feels wrong. It’s not my fitness, or training, or health, motivation, not any of that. It’s the “sport” of running and competitive racing. Why is the sport running out of steam? I’ll tell you why. It’s those darn WTF Runs”, you know the Color Run and the Savage Race. Oh wait, not those, it’s the Mud Run and the Tough Mudder. Or perhaps the issue is the Spartan Race, Warrior Dash, Rugged Maniac, and Rebel Races? No, it’s got to be the Down and Dirty National Mud Run Series. Or the Flag run. Are you freaking kidding me, this is everything BUT running and racing.

Then you take an organization like Competitive Group Incorporated (CGI), who recently announced they are removing prize money, travel expenses, and other perks for elite runners. The sport of running already suffers; but then add stock holders and dolla dolla signs, and who really cares about the pesky train their butt off runner. The runners whom run 14 miles with 10-miles at Tempo pace on a 90 degree day because it’s on the schedule, the ones whom double a few times a week, and the ones who consistently run tired or on the verge of pain every day, just what about them? I tell you, it’s those darn WTF Runs. It’s killing the sport.

Take for instance, the recent Ravens 5k I just ran. With Jamal Lewis and Matt Stover at the starting line, the Ravens 5k had most everything, and almost a race. Matt Stover kicked a ball to nowhere as the starting gun, and the spectacle of a race was off, and what a joke it were. Racing up the Hamburg street bridge I felt strong and focused, and led the race from the start. Continuing in front through the hairpin U-turn (seriously, wtf CGI, we came to an abrupt stop on the turn around a cone stop), up the Ostend Street bridge & through the first mile in (5:06.40) to about mile 1.2 where I was getting drafted heavy and just killed pace to quit doing all the work. That only lasted another quarter mile & I fell back, beyond 1st and 2nd place as I was sucking wind bad in the 2nd mile. At one point we got ahead of the lead, and almost (literally) caught the pace car and nearly had to swerve?? We are the runners! Came through mile 2 in 5:42.63 (10:49.03) in a new 2-mile PR, but didn't fall apart in the stretch. In the Ravens Parking Lot I didn't know to turn left or right, because there were no markings or course marshals, and 4th place was very close behind and closing fast. I had to dive deep, and really deep. My feet were on fire the whole race, and up on my toes. Entering Ravens Stadium down the Shute I floored it past the cheerleaders, coming through mile 3 in 5:14.37 (16:03.4), entered the stadium with a strong 5-second lead, and they handed me a football with 1/10th mile to go & had to finish holding a football? Final 0.12 mile in :38.06 (16:41.46) on my watch, official in 16:40.00. WTF. The result was an immediate Lung collapse and snot nose, and sneezing. They took the practice ball in exchange for a piece of paper award.

I was happy with the work I put in, and ultimately ran a 28 second PR, got an Autographed Jamal Lewis #31 NFL football, a Ravens #1 Jersey, a medal, my first time under 17 minutes ever, met the Dunbar track coach, and got VIP dinner w/ CGI folks. All the perks for a local competitive runner, but I had mixed feelings. I was very happy with the work I put in, and I could not have run one (1) second faster that night. The issue I had is had there been any of a dozen of my teammates who showed up I would not have banked 3rd place overall. I would not have won a ravens jersey, an autographed Jamal Lewis #31 football, and I likely wouldn’t have run hard enough to PR by 28 seconds in the 5k. I ran angry, PO’ed. But why would I do such, and get so upset? I’m never going to be an elite runner, a runner that get’s their way paid. I’m not an entitled runner.

But I will tell you why. The sport needs it, and at a race with 2,500+ finishers, I should not get 3rd place overall, that’s why. It’s not because I don’t want to pump up my ego, Lord Jesus knows I have a large enough ego. It’s because we are losing the element of one runner toeing the line against another runner, and running to see who’s the fastest. Without competition, we lose zeal, zest, essence, the love of the unparalleled feeling of knowing I have the will to try something difficult, a task that most do not start, and having the skill to accomplish it. This isn’t something I ask for in one night; it’s something that has taken 13 years of nothing but distance running to help mold. It’s taken 28 years of competitive sports to mold. It doesn’t happen on the couch.

So, keep running your heart out, or go eat it Rick Springfield. This Rowdy Rowdy Piper is going to go rip a piece of Two Forty Something X in his next marathon; or go down in a blaze of guts trying. After all, it’s just racing. And for the record, the Maryland Marathon in 1978 saw my running mentor Irv Zablocky race a 2:48 to gather up only 152nd overall marathoner. Z was 34 years old in 1978. In 2013, I’m 34, running the same roads, and I’m gunning for you Z! Sadly, given recent results, if I run 2:48, I’ll finish in the top 40. And without an elite field this year, call it top 25, or so I predict. It’s not a slap on why I’m not a good runner. I’m just a local competitive runner, but all that other running fad is what is and has begun going wrong with racing.

Here’s a tip CGI / Et. Al., take your finishers medals and keep them. I run to Make Z Proud and for strength from Jesus, because sometimes the Z’s on my knees, the wonderful name of Jesus, and a pile of road to trudge on forward is all this aging racer craves. So lace ‘em up and God Bless, because on October 12th I’m going to wonder where have all the good runners gone while chasing the Ghost of Z.