Since 1995 I've been involved with the Low-Key Hillclimbs, with a silly gap from 1999 to 2005. I really love the concept of low-key events: no high entry fee, no plastic bag of landfill, just friends, fun, and competition. After riding Saturday's Low-Key Hillclimb up Jamison Creek, I attended my first-ever Dolphin Running Club Embarcadero 10km. Wow -- what an experience! This was the first 10km I did since, I believe, 1991, at the latest. I recall doing a 10km while at MIT, maybe as late as 1990, then I did the Dish Dash early while at Stanford in 1991 (less than 10km, but hilly), and another 10km at Stanford. I trained for these events, including speed work at the track, so I produced what for me seemed good times. My recollection was 41 minutes for 10km. Maybe slightly less. Certainly not less than 40 minutes.
When my friend Nathan suggested Chi Running to me it sparked in my mind the chance to give running another try. Carl Faulkner, a previous co-worker who since joined a Buddhist monastery, had also recommended I try running. Burned out from a long cycling season in which I feel I didn't accomplish what I'd hoped, I decided I needed to infuse some freshness in my athletic life, and decided to see where running could take me this "non-competitive season". So with the help of my excellent cycling coach Dan Smith, and with the running advice I learned from Chris Griffin's Chi Running clinic (and, of course Danny Dreyer's incredible book), I started training, setting as a first goal a solid 10km race, and seeing if I could scale that to a marathon, perhaps Austin, at which I'd previously volunteered as a wheelchair race cycling pacer back around '98-'00 when I rode with Violet Crown.
The race was curious. I started second row, but at the go, was immediately swarmed. One after another rider passed me. What was wrong? Eventually I settled into a crowd near my pace. The answer to my question came when I glanced at my watch at the first mile marker: 6:35. In training on tempo runs I'd managed to get my per-mile pace down to 7 minutes: I was already 25 seconds per mile faster than this. The answer: nothing at all.
I focused on form: relaxation, breathing, cadence, relaxation again. Running is very Zen, meditative. It provides its own cadence, its own tempo, itas own music. I really don't understand the popularity of i-Pods when running: they're a discordance, a dissonance, with running's natural harmony.
Eventually I hit the second mile marker: running miles are a lot longer than cycling miles! I'd lost 10 seconds on this second mile relative to the first. I wanted to try and hold onto this pace, to not settle into the comfort zone, to keep applying the gentle pressure which is necessary for a good result. Yet with the pressure to not break form, to stay relaxed despite the effort.
I began passing people. One guy commented as I passed, "as long as you're not in my age group!" I didn't think I was, but one can never be sure. Running, like cycling, is about consistency. Even pacing until the end, when you can afford to tap into the last glycogen reserves which would inhibit a subsequent effort which will no longer be given.
I watched for mile three. I could see the baseball stadium ahead: "if you reach the stadium, you've gone too far!" Returning runners, including one woman.... Sooner than I expected, there was the chalk mark, not for the third mile, but for the turn-around, it seemed. I'm virtually neurotic about my navigational ability, convinced I'm doomed to take wrong turns. There it was, a thick arrow bent into a half-circle with a horizontal line on the sidewalk. Turnaround, surely! But what if I was wrong? Runners behind me.... I couldn't afford a mistake. I hit the line and turned, touched my watch to trigger the lap time. After a few seconds of regaining my rhythm, I looked behind. There they were. That must have been the mark. I then saw the 3 mile mark I'd missed. Good. Silly paranoia? Perhaps, but perhaps justified from prior experience, and from a low tolerance for personal errors.
The return leg: I tried to pry every efficiency out of my route selection. Apex corners as possible. Transition from sidewalk to asphalt bike lane efficiently with minimal impact. Navigate around the pedestrian crowds as seamlessly as possible. And with every few strides, probe my body for tension: focus on the tension, and release it. Flow.
A runner behind, one I'd passed. I could hear his footfalls. A glance behind confirmed his presence. Was I going to be repassed? The footfalls faded. I glanced behind, and he was gone.
4 miles down. Ramp it up, ramp it up. This hurts, I thought, why am I doing this? The thought was pushed under, rejected.
5 miles down. Two runners ahead. I couldn't see their number tags, but surely they were in the race. One man, one woman. The woman was the lead woman: I'd seen only one on the turn-around.
This was it, the essence of performance. To relax into the effort. To release myself from self-imposed limits. To embrace the discomfort, the pain, while maintaining form. To accelerate toward the finish.
The woman fell behind the pace of her companion. The gap was closing. I didn't think I could close it, but flushed that thought from my mind: negativity is toxic.
Jefferson Street: the finish was close. Cara on the side of the road, cheering me!!! I wanted to acknowledge her, to wave, but I wanted to close this gap, and it could be very close. Car traffic, traffic lights. I knew there wasn't a chance I (or any other runner here) was going to wait for a red light. Fortunately, I got green on each of two lights on the street, the second just barely. I wasn't so much approaching the finish as the finish was approaching me... closer, closer. Oliver Chan, a race volunteer and Low-Key Hillclimb participant, called my name... The woman and the finish line converged. "Congratulations, first woman!" (cheers) The line reached me seconds later. Twelfth overall, eleventh male. "Good job!"
Wow -- the pain of the last miles was immediately relegated to the satisfaction of what I'd done. There was Cara, smiling. 41:16. Very solid. Forty minutes seemed a real possibility for the future. Marathon? I didn't want to think about it. I was just happy with my 10 km today.
Post-race analysis of my split times was promising. My first and last 5 km were virtually identical. There was an anomaly associated with the 4 mile mark: if I assume this was accidentally placed 1 mile from the turn-around, rather than from the 3 mile marker, then my splits make more sense. Comparing the placement of the marker, near the Ferry Building, with that on the race map, close to Steuart Street, supports this hypothesis.
So how to get better?
Well, for one thing Cara reported my torso was bent forward, my shoulders hunched, my arms stiff. She said those around me were much more fluid. This is a key: economy of motion. Chi Running preaches a relaxed upper body, rotation about the spine, a relaxed yet deliberate arm swing. These are the form focuses I need to follow in the coming weeks.
But the other thing is to just get in more fast runs. So far, I've done only two interval sets. I'm still on a steep adaptation curve. With each passing weak, my recovery from runs improves. I'm more limited by muscle weakness than by my cardiovascular fitness. I know my cardiovascular system is sound from my cycling results. The key is to get my musculature to the point where I can fully utilize it. So there's room for improvement there.
3%. That's all I need for a sub-40. I know I can get there if I stay on target.