Saturday, March 24, 2012

A Master's Runner Looks At His Return To a 5k,Self-Perception vs Reality

Recently, after helping another runner prepare for an upcoming 5k race,it struck me that it had probably been close to 15 years since I'd run a road 5k. I have raced almost exclusively on the trails for the last 25 years. Recognizing the truth in Cerutty's words that,"those who can't do, can't coach," I sought out a 5k to race. I found one that was advertised as a beach race but running on the beach only comprised about 300 meters of the total distance. My preparation for this race, and the race itself, taught me a few things that may be of help to those of you who are "getting on" in years.For you younger runners,you may want to file away some of the things you are about to read for the time when you reach the Master's ranks. I'll say a few things to begin,I had sort of forgotten that there is a world of difference between racing on the roads and racing on the trails. There is no doubt in my mind that racing on the trails can be an equalizer for some runners who may have slower per mile speed but who thrive on the type of footing and undulating courses that make up many of the trail courses. Here's the other thing,just because you think you feel like you did when you were 40, doesn't mean your body does too. As I looked at last year's finishing times for this 5k, I was stunned by how seemingly slow they were in comparison to the 5k I had run.......20 years ago.So,about the preparation for this race. I should say that I had 4 weeks to "step it up" in fitness before race day.I believed I was reasonably fit prior to this time. One thing that all older runners should recognize is that inactivity is something that must be avoided. Taking a week off or so from running for reasons other than illness or injury opens up the potential for acquiring an injury once you resume running. Bolstered by the fact that I had shed 17 pounds in the months prior to the race,as well as the fact that I ran at least 5 days a week,I assumed a 4 week "sharpening" period would be adequate.After all,it had worked in the past. As those of you familiar to this blog realize, I am a firm believer in the fact that as we age,we must back off on our anaerobic work and step up our aerobic work. Sure we do the Lydiard prescribed pick ups and leg speed drills,but as far as hammering out the intervals? No, not a good idea long term.I immediately increased the length of the 3 aerobic runs I was doing a week,I also kept doing the easy fartlek run of about 35 minutes long and did a "pace" run of about 1 1/2 miles on another day. I was just looking to get fitter,I knew I wasn't going to get into my very best shape. I was mindful of the fact that attempting to do much more distance and intensity in a short period of time was unwise.I should add that I would take a day off after 3 days training and then take another after 4 days training. Outside of a little fatigue on occasion,the added training felt good. As race day approached I recall saying to myself,now don't do something stupid and get yourself injured where you can't race. That was something I never considered in my younger years. I took 2 out of the 3 days prior to the race off but you could never say I was inactive on those rest days. You may feel like you are 40 but the calendar says you are 62, and once again,your body registers as 62,you need more rest in preparation for races as you age. As the race started I made it a point of containing the adrenaline and anxiety and went out at a reasonable pace. Isn't that the indicator of someone who knows how to race, that they ignore everything around them and go out at their projected pace? Heaven knows I've had my time when I've ran too fast early and just sort of hung on the best I could and finished.Although there were 1200 runners in this 5k, after a mile I was struck by how many runners were ahead of me,somehow I figured I should be further "up there." I averaged a slower per mile pace then I had planned but at least the miles were all about the same speed.However, when I was about 400 meters past the 2 mile mark,my plan to increase the pace significantly and finish strong just didn't happen. Conjuring up thoughts of Cerutty,Elliott,etc. didn't work like they had in years past. I finished ok,I suppose,but not how I thought I would.
Winning my age group was satisfying but I found that the satisfaction was somewhat diminished by my not reaching my pre-planned finishing time. As I considered this and other things relating to the whole experience of the 5k,the preparation and all,I found that my self-perception seemed to have been locked in a time warp or frozen in time 2 decades back.The self-perception was not in tune with reality. My days of quick trips to racing fitness are gone,the unhealthy, neurotic thoughts that rear their ugly head before events you deem important have begun to appear as well as the occasional fatigue that seems unwarranted. These are the unwelcome guests in this master runner's life.I suspect they have also visited most other runners of a similar age. But,there is good news. With every change that seems to have the potential to diminish performance,adjustments can be made to minimize them. It's like life, with the passage of time there are the inevitable changes,how we view these changes, and how we deal with them determine whether or not we are happy and successful in the future. Who doesn't want to be happy,especially with our running? Recognize and accept the changes,the best is yet to come!

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