This year I was shooting for my 12th consecutive year under 60 minutes. Despite having a hip flexor injury in the beginning of the year, my training was progressing nicely through May. Then, my gallbladder had to be forcibly extracted, which came with a 4-week moratorium on running. I had about four weeks to train for the Boilermaker, starting at a level where even walking was still painful. To add to the worry, I also was in my friend Andy's wedding the night before the race, out in Albany. So, I resigned myself to the fact that my streak of sub-60s might end this year.
Race day came, and my alarm woke me up in the hotel at 4:00. I was dehydrated, exhausted from dancing all night, and regretting my decision to drink as much beer and wine as I did. But I slowly re-hydrated on the drive to Utica, and by the time I parked, I was feeling mostly normal, except for some slight pains in my hip flexors. I was lucky that the weather was fairly mild; it was only 60 degrees and not at all humid.
I met up with my friend Mark Saile at the start, and we agreed to run together as he wanted to break the hour mark as well. As usual, I started out conservatively; my first 5K split was 20:02 and Mark was right beside me. We opened it up on the downhill after mile 4 and I was rewarded with a 5:40. Mark's younger, fitter legs propelled him to an even faster time and I lost sight of him (he went on to run 57 minutes!). I split the next 5K in 19:15 feeling good. The hill from mile 6 to 7 always drains me, and this year was no exception. Still, the course is mostly downhill after that, and I was able to use that to pick up the pace. I always feel that this course affects my legs more than my lungs, so that by the last mile, I am running as fast I can while not even breathing hard. Despite this, I was able to pass many runners in the last mile, and split an even faster final 5K on 18:54 to finish well under 60 minutes with a 58:11.
Yes, this is my slowest sub-60 clocking since 2008, but it's also my proudest. I was most worried about this year, given my lack of fitness and pre-race activities. However, I was able to stay calm and collected, and use an intelligent race strategy to achieve my goal.
So what's the moral of this story? I think it's two-fold:
- Don't try to make up for lost time. I was smart and cautiously increased my mileage after my surgery to about 40 miles per week. Had I panicked and immediately started cranking out 60 mile weeks in an attempt to get fit, I have no doubt that I would be injured now. Instead, I listened to my body, carefully adjusted my training load as I healed, and went into the race as fit as I could have hoped for.
- What you do on the day before the race doesn't have as much of an impact as you think. I had too many drinks, did not re-hydrate well enough, and danced so much that I was actually sore. But when the gun went off, I felt fine. This is why many college runners can "double" in meets; running one event one day and then coming back the next day for a different event. It takes 24-48 hours for a stressor to really affect your body, so you'll be fine even if your preparation isn't optimal. Don't stress over it, and you'll be fine.