LungStrong 2011 – Attempting To Keep The Streak Alive

My LungStrong 15K results over the last few years

Things have not being going well for me and my running.  Recently, my nagging left achilles flared up badly enough that I was forced to avoid running for most of the week.  I spent a lot of time on the elliptical machine at the Y.

On Monday, October the third, I limped, badly.  I struggled through a painful hour on the elliptical.  Afterward, I went home, elevated my leg and gingerly rested the left achilles on a ziplock bag filled with ice cubes.  Good times.

Throughout this achilles ordeal, I have solicited advice from friends.  “Stretch your calves”, advised Coach Spano.  “Whatever you, don’t stretch!” said John Fillette.    “Ice it after every run” advised Dean.  “I read this study that indicates icing slows recovery” said Clayton. “Go to my chiropractor and have him do ART “, said Todd.  “Don’t go to one of those chiropractor quacks”, said another friend.  Man, it’s really tough to navigate through all the conflicting information!

I tried heel raises (see Runner’s World advice here).  I took ibuprofen.  On those rare occasions when I did run, I ran slowly and over short distances.  I stretched (sorry,  John).  But still the achilles tendon hurt enough so that as of Friday, I had yet to sign up for LungStrong.

The LungStrong 15K is one of my favorite local races and the only race where I have any significant streak going – I’ve run it every year since my running comeback began in earnest back in 2008.  The streak was in serious jeopardy this year.

At lunch on Friday, I chatted with Paul, the Run For Your Life Grand Prix leader.  He’d been having a little injury problem of his own as his knee was bothering him.  He needed to finish LungStrong to ensure he became this year’s Grand Prix champ, even if that meant he had to walk the entire 15K, 9.3 miles, which he was considering.  I told him if he walked it, I would walk it with him.  That way, the streak would live on.  But then he mentioned that the knee had been feeling a little better the last few days so he would probably run the race easy.  Paul’s easy bests my PR.  So I was back to trying to figure out what to do.

I contemplated running the 5K.  Shortly after my surgery in 2006, I ran the 5K portion of this race back when it was sponsored by a local radio station and called “Ace and TJ’s Grin Kids 5K/15K Run”.  That was a hobbling 24+minute painful affair that had me convinced I’d never run seriously again.  But if I ran the 5K this year, that would mean I had at least run a race at this event 4 years in a row and 5 out of the last 6.  It wasn’t my favorite option, but it was an option.  As of Friday night, I still had not registered.  I decided it would be a game time decision and I set my alarm for 5:45, early enough to give me ample time to get ready and arrive at the race site to make a last second determination on whether or not to run.

The alarm went off and I got up and went through my normal race-day routine with the key difference being I was limping while I got ready.  But by time to leave, the pain was minimal if not non-existent.  For the first time all week, I thought I had a legitimate shot to run.

I drove to the site of the race start, off Jetton Road in Cornelius, only 2 miles or so from my home.  I parked, hopped out, and found the race day registration table.  Oh what the hell.  I registered and paid for the 15K.  I even got a race t-shirt, unlike in 2008 when they were out of them on race day.

As at any other RFYL Grand Prix race, I encountered many of my running friends.  Derrick asked me if I wanted to warm up, but I declined as I knew he’d run faster than I could go.  Same thing with Jamaar and then Todd Hartung.  I started jogging a little on my own and the achilles hurt, but only a little.  I decided racing flats were not a good idea on this day so I changed out of my Karhu Racers and into a pair of Asics DS Trainers.

Then I spotted the other 2 members of the PMT Three Amigos, Dean and Todd (Spears).  They looked to be jogging at a reasonable pace so I joined in.  I asked Todd how fast he planned to run the race and he told me 8:30 – 9:00 pace.  Cool – I had found a friend that I should be able to run with.

The next thing I knew, Tim Rhodes was signalling the start and Todd and I were running about 8:30 pace.  I felt comfortable and the achilles didn’t hurt.  The streak was alive.

I spotted Colonel, my Hood to Coast Big Kahunas teammate, snapping pictures from the sidelines.  “Colonel!” I yelled out.  Then from behind, I heard another Big Kahuna call to me, “Is that Tracker?  Tracker!”  as Hammer blew past on his way to pacing Eimear.

I won’t lie, it was a little difficult to watch people I normally beat cruising up ahead.  But after a second or two, I was so grateful to be running at all, that I let the competitive part of me, along with all my rivals, pass.  I settled into just enjoying this picture-perfect day for running.  The sky was sunny and bright with only a handful of wispy clouds.  The trees in Jetton Park were just beginning to display the beautiful colors of fall.  And the temperatures hovered in the high 50’s to low 60’s.  Running weather perfection.  I relaxed and soaked it all in.

Todd and I cruised along at about 8:30 pace, up and down the rolling hills of the lovely course.  Todd made his usual jokes with volunteers, confusing some, humoring others – when it was blatantly obvious which way to go, Todd would point in the direction of the course and ask, “This way?” to the volunteer.  Some took this seriously and said things like, “Yes, right” while others laughed, picking up on the fact that Todd is a goofball.

At some point early on, I started feeling a little digestive tract distress.  I got a little panicky, thinking I could not traverse 9+ miles this way.  Luckily, somewhere past the 4-mile marker, we passed a little construction site that had a port-a-john.  I told Todd that I’d try to catch up later as I shot over there to, um, take care of business.  Some lady tugged on the door while I was inside and I yelled “Occupied!”  I didn’t know who to feel sorrier for, her or me.  But I finished up and said, “Sorry!” to her as I jumped back on course.

Keeping an eye on my watch for the entire, er, detour, I had lost some 3 minutes or so (my mile 5 split was 11:29).  It was going to take some effort if I was to catch Todd before the end of the race.  I picked up the pace considerably.

I dropped below 7-minute pace and felt no ill effects.  I had an immense feeling of optimism as, with no significant pain in the achilles, I zipped past runner after runner.  I called out to Larry Seavers as I ran by.  (After the race, Kathy, Larry’s wife, thanked me.  She said, “I thought I must have been flying to have been ahead of you that late in the race!”)

I passed Emily Barrett who was walking through a water stop.  I grabbed a cup, and turned around, jogging backwards, and asked, “What are you doing?” as this was considerably slower than Emily would normally run.  She responded with, “What are you doing?”, apparently thinking the same thing about me.  We explained to each other in detail after the race when I learned that Emily, in a similar situation to Paul, would clinch her age group in the Grand Prix merely by finishing.

I ran the next mile in under 7 minutes but Todd was still nowhere in site.  And again, mile 7 was under 7 minutes as well and I started wondering where Todd was.  I passed a slew of people who had been in front of us when I had been forced to temporarily exit the course.  Finally, I spotted Todd on the horizon and caught up to him shortly thereafter.

In my absence, Todd had sped up to low-8 minute pace.  We cruised towards the finish when, less than a mile to go, one volunteer told us, “You’re almost done.  It’s all flat from here.”  which Todd and I knew to be a lie – there was a significant little climb ahead.  With less than a quarter to go, Tim Rhodes told us to “Finish strong!” to which Todd replied, “This is finishing strong!”

We crossed the line in a little over an hour and nineteen minutes, about 12 minutes slower than my PR and about 6 minutes slower than my slowest time.  This was a far cry from a sub-1-hour time, which, early in the season when I was running well, I thought I might be able to accomplish on this day.  But I was perfectly fine with the time, and actually I felt pretty darned euphoric for having run it at all.  They can’t all be PR’s.  The LungStrong 15K streak lives!

Now if I can just figure out what to do about Savannah…

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One Response to “LungStrong 2011 – Attempting To Keep The Streak Alive”

  1. Hammer Says:

    Bro, take care of that achilles, but glad you got through the race. Nice read.

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