Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Discomfort Zone

I have found, through a LOT of trial and error, the most effective racing strategy for me is: “Find a good, strong rhythm (that I think I can maintain) and just crank away”. This has worked well in the past from the 5k distance all the way up to the 50 miler. My comfort zone. It’s easy, it’s efficient and it makes figuring your splits really, really easy!
Entering the Discomfort Zone
Unfortunately, not all races are set up in a way where this type of racing is practical, or even possible. Such was the case this past weekend at the DH Jones 10m in Amherst, MA. This challenging 10 mile course is one of the most sadistic pieces of tortured tarmac I have ever had the displeasure of running on. I have done it three times now, and have yet to figure out how to beat it. I’m beginning to think it’s not even humanly possible!

Mile 1 is half down, then half up. Mile 2 is a screaming down. Mile 3 is flat then steep up. Mile 4 is mountainous. Miles 5 & 6 are mostly flat-ish, but muddy. Mile 7 is another screaming down. Mile 8 is up then down. Mile 9 is down then up. And Mile 10 is ¾ up with a fast, but twisting ¼ mile downhill finish. Basically, it’s a roller coaster ride. On steroids!
Let's Break a Deal
What made this year’s edition of the race even more unsettling was the emotional ups and downs caused by an impending winter storm. Coming off my course PR at Derry I was looking forward to some more of the same at Amherst. A week before the race, things looked good. 5 day’s out, a storm was brewing. 3 days out, the forecast called for 12+ inches of snow. Crap! There goes my PR race! If they even decide to have one!

I secretly held out hope that it would be postponed. Then I saw the following on the race website: “The 10-miler will take place on Sunday as scheduled, whether we have rain, snow or shine.” Racing & driving in a foot of snow?! Not me! The next day it read: “As of today, the 10-miler is still scheduled to be held on Sunday. We hope to make a final decision by noon on Saturday.” Then the forecast started to waver. Projected snow totals kept coming down and down. Now what? To race or not to race? That was the question!
There's Waldo!
Eventually, the race organizers decided to push the race back by two hours (from 11am to 1pm) which turned out to be the right call, as the storm ended up going out to sea – sparing most of the 90 odd miles worth of roads from Nashua to Amherst. Surprisingly, the conditions at the race would be the best I’d see all day. Just some wet pavement and absolutely no snow. At least until the gun went off.

Unfortunately some stomach distress, and a last minute wardrobe change, left me slightly short on warm-up time. So I hit the starting area a little less prepared than I’d like to be. My one and only goal for this race was to beat my previous best on this course (1:04:25) which would require me to run a 6:25 average pace per mile. A pace, as it turned out, I wouldn’t hit even once over the course of the next 10 miles!

Here’s my stream of consciousness account of the race:

One minute to the start. Pre-race instructions. I never listen. Spit, stretch, GO! Big crowd. Elbows out and don’t get tripped. Speed bump. Nice! Don’t go out too hard. Mile 1 -6:31. OK, a little harder than that! Now it’s time to move up. Where’s that down hill? Oh, here it is. Whee! Headwind and I’m by myself in no-mans-land. Let’s make a deal: If the next split is over 6 I catch the group in front. If it’s under, I drop back. Mile 2 - 5:57. I go forward anyway. Now it’s starting to freezing rain. Ouch. Looking for smooth pavement. Darned frost heaves! First water stop. Can’t breathe, never mind drink and my stomach is still for shit. No water. Here comes the climb. Little pixie-like girls float by me and there are 20 more just like them up the road. Damn! I hate GP races! Then I get passed by a Sasquatch with fat feet. And I realize, I’m not big. I’m just slow! Mile 3 - 6:53 Crap! Up ahead I see Danny Ferreira, coming back to me. I call him something unmanly as I go by - to try and make myself feel better. It doesn’t work. And now I’m afraid I’m going to get punched. Top of the hill and I let out a Whoop! Too soon. There’s more hill. Mile 4 - 6:54 Double Crap! Still going up and now it’s muddy and slippery. I surge by Christin Doneski at the top of one rise. I fly past the pixies but more ups are coming. Next water stop. No water. It’s go time! Mile 5 - 6:34 It’s got to get easier soon. Nope! More headwind, snow in the face, slushy mud and another hill. I pass an injured Amber Ferreira. Triple Crap! Mile 6 - 6:32 Finally over the top and back on some grippy pavement. Picking off runners left and right. I can see Geoff Dunbar up ahead. Here we GO! Mile 7 - 6:02 That’s what I’m talking about! Yeah! What?!?! Legs are cramping! The Downhill has filled them with crap and skipping water is not helping me. Do a “walk-through” at a water stop to gulp down two cups of Gatorade Mile 8 - 6:45 Damn! And that’s the last of the downs. Now Dunbar’s gone. Pity party on mile nine with big hill looming. More frost heaves. Pixie goes by. Try to hang. Can’t. Christin Doneski comes alongside. Oh no you don’t! Oh yes she does! Mile 9 - 6:31. Dude at the RR track says "only one hill left". I swear at him. Hanging onto Christin as we chug up the hill. Surge over the top. 10 strides later I’m flying. 10 more and I’m realizing I’ve gone too soon. Hang on. Sharp turn. Blister? Focus! Guy ahead is wearing 5-fingers and dogging it. GET HIM! I try. I kick. I fail. I swear again. To no one in particular. Mile 10 - 6:40
Me and 'squatch - aka John Rheaume
My finishing time was 1:05:24 (6:32) which is not too bad on this somewhat sloppy course. However, it was still a full minute slower than my personal course record, 13 ½ minutes slower than the race winner Kevin Johnson (who had to stop TWICE to crap himself) and 16 1/2 minutes slower than the actual course record of 48:57 set by Bob Hodge in 1984. 48:57?! Coincidence that "Hodge" can be jumbled to form "He god"? I think not! He must be to crush this course!

Going forward I know I need to work on expanding my comfort zone. Or at least learning how to  deal with being outside of it. Maybe some Fartleks or Tempo Intervals where I vary the pace up and down rather than dialing in to just one pace and staying there for the duration. It will certainly help me on races like this where the terrain varies significantly from mile to mile. I know it will hurt. But, I also know it’s GOT to be done if I want to be able to race well in these GP's!

Just for fun, below is the
DH Jones 10m course – complete with elevation profile.

You might think it looks like a not-so-sweet lollipop. I think it looks like two question marks doing it – while mocking me!

Next Up: The New Bedford Half Marathon


  1. Nice to find your blog here through your comment on Katie's blog. :)

    Great 10 miler! Those darned hills....I haven't yet raced a 10 miler, but i know what hills do to a 10k time. It adds a whole new level to pacing. The snow/slush in the face would definitely add flavor too :)

    Like the map/ profile. Mile 2-3 looks like a killer!

    1. Welcome Raina!

      I actually like the 10m distance. It's shorter than a half and therefore over more quickly. But longer than a 10k so I have a little time to get rolling. And breathe easier! However, this race is a rare breed of 10m. No rolling, no breathing and not short!

      Thanks for checking in and I look forward to reading you blog.


  2. Sasquatch...I love it. Nice job out there and at New Bedford and I'm sure I'll see you out there at some more GP races.

    John Rheaume

  3. That's good. I'd hate to be on Big Foots bad side. Besides, with the way you're running I am certainly a Sasquatch Wanna Be. See you at Hollis? Where the scales (and the road) are tipped in our favor.