Something Quicker This Way Comes

There are stories, and then there are good days to be savored for their sweetness.

As the rain poured down from the heavy sky and the wind scraped across my soaked shirt, I splashed through giant puddles with shoes like buckets and struggled to maintain the motivation and body heat to continue…

Not really.  It was a crisp sunny fall day in Boise, with what can only be called pristine, idyllic running conditions around 40 degrees at the start.  I wore a short sleeve shirt, gloves, and shorts and it was perfect.

I pushed off with my niggling right foot up the hill and felt a distinct “crack” in the ankle bone.  My form suddenly collapsed to a frightening limp and I wondered if I might finish this simple half marathon, let alone when I might actually run again someday.

Luckily that didn’t happen either.  I had a few twinges in the right ankle that were easily addressed by a slight reduction in pace and keeping my feet light and quick.  Oh happy day!

My quads were on fire coming down the third and final hill.  As I made the right turn to cover the last two miles of rolling pavement to the finish, my energy suddenly petered down to empty and I could only maintain no more than a staggering walk.  I mumbled through a dry mouth to every runner going by:  “Please, good sir, do you have a gel?”  Having gone out too fast, I bonked.  So much for coming back to the road races.

As much fun as bonking can be, I somehow managed to run a good old fashioned half at a pace well matched to my current ability and training.  Even pulled off a negative split!

“You’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting,
So… get on your way!”
― Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

Pre-race in the morning sun: Mark, Paul, Jeff
Pre-race in the morning sun: Mark, Paul, Jeff.  Photo:  Jay Morgan

R is for Road

After a long hiatus from the road races given my long mountainous diversion into the wonderful world of ultras, Mark and Paul gave me a little nudge to come join them at Zeitgeist this year.  Especially when they found out how fast I had raced this course what is now so many years ago (2003, 2005, and 2007.)  Given the way the fall schedule landed and a certain inquisitiveness on my part to find out what speed remained in my newfound master’s division, I put this on the calendar and revived my old weekly interval and hill practice.  It seemed like a good litmus test for the foot too.  The body remembered, and responded.  It was fun to run fast again…except on those days of smoke blown in from nearby wildfires.  On a Saturday in October after the air cleared I talked Mark and Paul into joining me on the track, where they too experienced the joys to be had running very hard in circles.  Their appreciation was visible on their faces.  They even wanted to come back.

As is evident in the opening quotes…the best race reports are the ones where things often go terribly awry.  I’ve had a few good ones, a little easier to come by over 26.2 miles.  When everything goes right, how exciting can it be?  Zeitgeist 2015 was a year when everything went perfectly.  Hence this is going to be a downright dull report.  Gather your pillow.  It’s time for a short story rather than a novella, one that will help you sleep.

The Running Chronicles

I greeted many familiar faces in the start corral, an easy way to stay relaxed and not think too much.  After the ritual spelling out of the Zeitgeist name in front of the full starting line…we were off.  I got myself pretty close to the front given my idealistic intention of hitting the 1:30 mark, and after a little bobbing and weaving through the first couple quick turns I had plenty of breathing room.  It was good because I realized I was working it a little faster than intended.  Maybe the horses playing around in the field nearby got us riled up.  By the time we skirted under the colorful trees and turned up to begin the first huge climb of the course, my watch beeped and informed me I did a 6:31 mile.  Whoa.  I felt good but it was time to mark pace.  Happily the hill helped to manage that for me.

That first climb started gradually.  My fast clip sometimes meant I slipped and tried to reach a bit too far with my leg, or so I think.  My right ankle gave me a little warning, that feeling of bone on bone there I’ve had before, some slight offset and possibly a compensation still going on after the post tib tendontitis.  I found it would disappear by dialing back the pace just a tick, not a bad thing.  First goal as usual was to finish cleanly without making things worse.  A few other strong runners paced by me as we still were sorting ourselves out.  Higher on the hill was the police motorcycle and the lead runners still visible yet.  I had no familiar faces nearby but plenty to keep me motivated and in company.

The climb progressed nicely and I simply adjusted pace to maintain the same level of smooth effort all the way up.  My heart rate (HR) agreed with my senses, staying almost on a flat line around 155 bpm.  It was certainly much higher than my long training runs had been, but it was oddly comfortable and sustainable.  As we crested the hill with just a couple spectators, I adjusted stride very cautiously to let my feet acclimate.  As expected a couple runners blew by me but it was not as many as it used to be.  I focused on keeping the stride light and quick, with the landing absorbed in the big muscles.  The left side seemed to take a bit more of the brunt, a likely residual from the long injury period where I was lighter on the right foot.  Something to keep an eye on and learn from.  My speed was very good as I noticed my HR only dropped slightly – effort almost the same as the uphill climb.

I cruised behind another guy with a Tritown shirt into Hidden Springs.  With lots of volunteers and signs to direct us we made a little snaky S turn through the main square, slightly longer than my practice run a month earlier.  This would mean my time goal would be that much harder to match, but it made sense given the distance my watch had then.

As we left the houses and hopped onto Dry Creek road, the middle climb began.  It was a mere bump compared to the first, but it was quite enough to keep us honest and give me a small pace advantage over those that blazed me on the downhill.  I slowly reeled them in but kept it friendly.  As I crested the top there was an aid station there cheering loudly with Gatorade and water.  I had brought none and was utterly enjoying the simple lightness of running, but picked up a cup here in advance of the last big climb and savored the bit of moisture.  It felt just right.

I maintained pace on the downhill without any speedsters passing, and thence began the last, steepest climb up Cartwright.  Being a road it now seemed an order of magnitude easier than any ultra climb I had done in recent memory, and I could simply dial my pace neatly to align with the effort as with the first hill.  There were a few more scattered spectators here, some with big lenses to capture their favorite family runner.  On one side of the road a father and very young daughter slid down the steep hill where they had been watching.  It was so steep they were having trouble staying upright but it was apparent from her giggling she was enjoying the slide.  I foresaw a likely trail runner in the near future.

The last steep bit required a conscious dialing back to save some effort for later.  I knew the others behind me were feeling it as much as I was, maybe more if I was lucky.  As I finally crested the hill I could hear feet start to pound behind me.  My own feet were holding up pretty well but I was careful in recalibrating for the swift change of grade.  That first short slope down to Pierce Park was a wakeup call.  I let the aid station go by and focused on speeding up my leg turnover and keeping it enjoyable.

I vaguely recall one or two runners passing me during the bulk of that downhill, which included a few light ascents in my favor, much better than I expected.  We all played the turns to the hilt when the cars were out of sight, trying to keep our line straight.  About a mile from the bottom an aid station sponsored by the Pulse popped into view.  Lots of familiar faces recognized me and gave me a serious cheering.  I again skipped water but felt a nice jolt of energy from the ruckus and picked up the pace a notch.  My watch took note and the HR ticked up.  Right about here I passed a red/white shirted runner in my distant sights for much of the race.  Passing on the downhill with enough in reserve boosted my spirits even more.

Running Wine

We turned onto Hill road for the last two miles of rollers.  While the effort was high it was not unsustainable, and I suspect I started smiling even though my breathing was harder.  (Perhaps best to not have a picture of this.)  The guy I passed fell out of earshot.  There were a couple guys in sight ahead and I found myself slowly reeling them in step by step, rabbit by rabbit.  Any time the grade shifted to downhill I could hear a hint of gaining on me, but on every uphill it would usually fade back.  I was quite sure at least one of them was keeping me in his sights, though, and I savored the extra push.  As we connected to old Hill road much to my satisfaction I pulled in and passed three more.  The last one went the easiest somehow, he must have been hurting in the last half mile.  I glanced at my watch somewhere in here and saw 1:28 and knew a 1:30 was impossible, but let that go and focused on serving out my remaining energy over the last testing climb.

A hill and competition in the last tenth of a mile. Photo: Jay Morgan
A hill and healthy competition just before the finish. Photo: Jay Morgan

Less than a quarter mile from the finish, Zeitgeist has always thrown in one last hill for good measure.  It happens to go by a small cemetery, and true to form a volunteer was dressed up as the Grim Reaper making sure we all took this last hill before we saw the finish line.  I could feel my heart rate tick up to its last bracket as I shortened stride and gave it what I had.  Jay Morgan stood at the top of this hill, prepared to catch his wife later in the race.  I had enough breath to mention that I was glad to be done with that!  But I silently thanked the hill for the possibility of shaking off my pursuers.

Then it was time to let it all out on the swift downhill, across the road and into the finish chute.  I had enough left to give it a hard strong push the way I like to close.  It was a good thing too, because results showed the next guy only finished five seconds behind me!

Finish line. Photo: Dondi
Finish line. Photo: Dondi

Results:  1:32:o2, 12 of 554.  Negative split:  First half=46:20, second half=45:42.

As was mutually predicted, Mark came in next at 1:40:06, then Paul at 1:48:48.  The winner however was truly exceptional this year.  Kyle Perry took three minutes off the record with 1:13:31 with a huge gap on the field.

Distance:  13.1 miles (Garmin slightly farther thanks to some bobbing and weaving)

Average pace:  7:01 min/mile

A few more photos (no camera in race this time!):  Smugmug gallery

The Illustrated Zeitgeist

My training was certainly less of a careful bookkeeping practice than it had been in the old days. This time it didn’t seem as necessary and was even helpful not to match a hard schedule with my long term recovery.  I trained by feel but with certain principles in mind, and during the running I reflected on how much new experience I carried with me from ultras that much more clearly defined my limits and what I really needed over this “short” distance.  This period was also a reminder there is hard fast, and hard long, a different sense of running but all good tools in the toolbox.  It all blended into a perfect day and yielded one of those rare races where everything went right.  Yawn if you are still reading.  Maybe there is another minute or two there on the table with even more careful calibration and training, but then, there always is.

I assembled a quick plot to see how my Zeitgeist time has shifted with age and my running career:


It’s not quite y=mx+b, especially that jump from 2005 to 2007 where I added 4 minutes, but I’m going to look on the bright side and see I held the line well from 2007 to 2015 with only another 4 minutes over a lot more years.  More important was the sheer enjoyment of this latest rendition.  By no means does it have to become less fun or enjoyable.  Something I hope to remember next time I’m deep in low zone of some ultra walking, and maybe running, but still moving.