Closing the Gaps

Yesterday was the first day of spring. Mud season. The snow is melting fast, and the Colorado River is rising, first sign at the coming runoff. I slopped through the mud on my trail run, laughing much of the time at the slipping and sliding as my Montrails sunk into the ooze.

But today I switched gears shoes for a brisk, timed five mile run on the asphalt in my hot new Nike road shoes. The Bolder Boulder 10K is only 70 days away. It's time to close the gaps between what I'd likely run the race if it were today versus what I hope to run it in on Memorial Day, between my present per mile time and target race pace, and my present weight and anticipated race day weight.

Nowadays I only run one race per year so the Bolder Boulder's special. I'm very happy running trails most of the year, but the Bolder Boulder is so much fun -- the hoopla, the bands, the crowd, the exhibits and free goodies, the stadium finish, the elite runners -- that it calls my name. And it's a good opportunity to calibrate my running fitness from year to year. For me, it's a rite of spring.

It's not like I'm doing a crash training program because I run year around, but trail runs put much different stresses on the body than a relatively flat road race at a steady pace. This year was snowy, making my trail accessible only on snow shoes for much of the winter, so I was forced to run more on the roads, but slowly because they were snow-packed and icy. However, the past two years I have also done much more strength training than just running. I've added more muscle weight to my upper body, which is of marginal value to a pure runner, like those you see on the cover of Runner's World (actually I think they use just one skinny male body and one slim female body, then Photoshop on different smiling heads).

In preparation for the Bolder Boulder, my tried and true strategy has been to drop my per mile time by dropping a few pounds (mainly less beer per week, more veggies), go for longer runs on the weekends, and simply run more miles (steady pace and intervals). Each year as I age, it gets a little harder to pick up the pace, but I think it will still work.

I always have a target finish time and pretend it makes a difference, though it really doesn't. It's good to have a goal. Puts a little drama in your life. Makes you work harder and hurt a little. Losing a few pounds and watching what, and how much, you eat is good for your health. I'll strap on the heart rate monitor a couple times a week and see what my cruise range is.

Each year I have to figure out and practice a sustainable pace. Today at daybreak was chilly. I ran the first mile too fast, even though I felt really good. If you run too fast too soon, your time falls off later in the race because the lactic acid builds too fast; you may gain 15 seconds in the first mile, but you lose 30 seconds in each of the last two miles fast. I was a sprinter in high school and never have been great a pacing because my instinct is to go fast and over stride. The excitement you feel when your wave goes off in the Bolder Boulder makes you prone to start too fast, which I've done many times in past years.

70 days is plenty of time to close the gaps. Trying to close the gaps is half the fun. As the poet Robert Bronwing said, "Ah, a man's reach should exceed his grasp or what's a heaven for?" Come Memorial Day, a few pounds lighter, I'll float like a butterfly. With the discipline of a Zen Master, I'll start slower, even though I've got fast shoes. I hope.

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