Late last week and weekend offered ample mixing of quality family visiting, crystal clear weather and refreshing runs in the San Francisco Bay Area. In addition to hitting up running routes in Golden Gate Park, Land’s End, out and back on the Golden Gate, a brief climb into the Marin Headlands, and a 19 mile jaunt on cushy, sequoia canopied single track rollers along the Coastal Range west of Woodside in Silicon Valley, I also lined up Sunday morning for the Bay Area Track Club Cross Country Challenge 8k. Only my second 8k, I figured this one would be unique and after scanning last year’s results quite peppy, too. The course consisted of a 2k loop circumnavigating the Golden Gate Park polo fields with additional dirt paths and a roller or two tacked on for good measure. It was a four lap course. Going into the race I knew the field would be quick and that I would most likely get an ass spanking. I just didn’t want to get lapped! I also figured that given my current state of fitness (including Friday and Saturday’s mileage on the legs) and the course a reasonable goal might be to finish somewhere with an average pace 5:50s/mile. When it was all said and done I completed the race in 13th place, in 29:24, for an average pace of 5:55. And fortunately I didn’t get lapped. A small success I was happy to pocket before leaving to fly home later that evening on a redeye.
Tonight I completed a loop after work in Richmond that I have been running somewhat irregularly for a few years now. For those familiar with Richmond and the James River Trail system my route consists of something like this: from my office I traverse the roads of Shockoe Bottom in downtown, crossing the James River via the pedestrian bridge under Route 1 where I hop on to Belle Island. From there I head west along the rolling, unnecessarily turn-y, heavily mountain biked Buttermilk Trail before crossing the James again, this time north over the Westover Hills bridge. Finally, I cruise back to the office along the north bank of the Buttermilk and through Shockoe Bottom. The way I run this loop my GPS watch almost always reads 9.6 to 9.7-something miles. After this evening’s run my watch read a finish time of 1:08:56. This is a fairly respectable time considering the course. The previous fastest time I ran this route was last year in a time of 1:10:22. The time before that was 1:14. Also, tonight I completed over half of the run in the dark. And after suffering a 24-hour stomach virus/bug/flu thingy the previous day and booting my Sunday breakfast, lunch and dinner into some random toilet at SFO before jumping on to my overnight flight it feels pretty good. It is a PR I am happy with, a sign of improvement in my running and another small success I will carry with me into the New Year.
We all know the dangers of running regular routes: that each run can become a contest in PRing. I’m mindful not to approach my regulars in this fashion. I am also keen on cherishing the small successes that increasingly come in my running slowly and bit by bit. As my bro Paul says, it is as if the low-lying fitness fruit of my training days over the past few years has been picked and I now must work harder and more conscientiously for the improvements I seek. Therefore, as this season picks up I am not interested in things like streaking or running ridiculously large volume weeks. I will continue to throw large mileage numbers on the board from time to time, sure, but small, progressive successes are more what I am after. This goal dovetails nicely with another goal I have set out for myself in the early part of 2012: running handfuls of shorter, local races, road or trail. Sunday’s 8k was a good start. The race obviously wasn’t local to Charlottesville but the start/finish area was about 1.5 miles on foot from my sister and brother-in-law’s house in San Francisco, which is where we stayed, and about as local as one can hope for in a race of any size or distance. Running races like this and setting reasonable goals for each is a wise (and fun) approach to training for the looming long distance racing coming later in the summer. Setting goals and realizing them increases confidence. Increased confidence is what we’re all after as runners.